By J.V. Houlihan Jr.
If people don’t push limits and boundaries they don’t learn things and move forward. A kid takes his first solo steps and then it’s game on: wandering, exploring and troubleshooting become the order of the day—for years to come. When the training wheels come off our bikes we get a blast of exhilaration and adrenaline—prerequisites for adventure. Then, in the course of our crashing and banging our way toward being fine upstanding adult citizens, we will eventually make some mistakes. We may break a bone or just banged up and get some scrapes—stuff happens. As a result of testing our limitations most of us will probably learn something.
As we age some of us may find that putting ourselves in harm’s way is a great way to test our skills; however, we need to develop said skills before we embark on our quest to go and evperience something. (Training wheels are called training wheels for a reason) This is a prudent mindset. On the other hand some may say we must throw “caution to the wind,” and just jump into whatever endeavor we chose to experience—self-preservation be dammed. “No guts, no glory” is an audacious attitude to possess. This platitude also sounds romantic, and the five syllables strike a deep part of us all. So we are presented with a conflict, and a conflict cannot be resolved without action. So what are we going to do? Should we be prudent and proceed in a judicious manner and weigh our options, or do we “just do it,” (another platitude) whatever it may be.
Now make a note of this five word platitude: prior planning prevents poor performance. I’m not sure how this string of alliteration got tucked away into a file in my head, yet here it is sitting perfectly in the context of this column. The aforementioned simply means that we must be somewhat circumspect when we decide to do something. A guy I knew down in Florida attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical School in Daytona Beach. He was studying to be a pilot, and is currently a pilot for U. S. Air. Before taking a plane ride with him once in a Cessna 182, were did a pre-flight inspection: elevator and rudder, tires, aileron freedom, flaps (down for inspection), remove tail and wing tie-downs, remove gust lock, fuel, lights, remove chocks, (check fuel), et al. The list was long. Rick was a student pilot stacking hours of flying time, and this was the drill before we took off to fly over sunny Daytona Beach. This guy was meticulous with his inspection. “A good flight involves a good landing,” he said as we did some touch and go landings on some grass strips along the coast. My friend was a funny guy; however, while flying the Cessna he was all business. Furthermore, while on our final approach with a crosswind, he was in complete control of his aircraft as he kicked the rudder and greased us in for an interesting landing. This is a fine example of the previous platitude. Rick had a plan and performed it well.
Recently, a father and son from Australia bought a 43 foot sailboat on Craigslist for 10.000 dollars. Their plan was to sail the boat back to OZ. “We’ve got plenty of food, plenty of booze, good sails and all the safety gear we need, so we’re going to be OK,” said the son, “ we’ve never done anything like this. Dad’s not even a sailor, but he’s a quick study.” This is what we would call an extremely ambitious father and son adventure. However, we will find that these guys did not really dial in to the “prior planning prevents poor performance,” thing noted earlier. This boat was sold for short money, because it had problems. One very major issue was hull delamination, which would no doubt alter the structural integrity of the sailboat—serious stuff on an ocean passage. Furthermore, these guys were advised by the USCG to not leave Newport. The men didn’t listen even though they were warned that a serious ocean storm was imminent. They felt that they would be fine.
Their plan was to sail across the Atlantic, round the tip of South Africa, and then sail through the Southern Ocean to their destination. As a result of their plan they ended up in serious trouble 150 miles south of Nantucket. Subsequently, the men had to alert the coastguard. Because of the inexperienced men’s capricious endeavor, they put not only themselves but also the coastguard rescue team in harm’s way. They did not weigh their options. They were irresponsible and foolhardy. By the time they were safely in the helicopter the winds had increased to 60 knots, and the seas jacked up to 25 feet and were increasing. A few hundred miles further south, the outcome could’ve been much different.
In my book, The Monkey’s Fist, there is a true story titled, “Prudence, Patience and Hope.” This story deals with a small adventure about sailing my 30 foot Ericson sloop, Reverie, from Newport up and around Prudence Island one late October day. What started out as realistically planned sail turned into a test of me and my boat. Moreover, before sailing out of Newport, I had carefully weighed my options. On the way back to Newport after rounding Prudence, I got caught in 40 knots of south wind and things got dicey and very dangerous. Although I enjoy pushing my sailing limits, I did not intentionally put myself or anyone at risk. I wrote the story so I would learn from the experience, and never forget what had happened. Then, I sold it to a sailing magazine. The experience has never left me. Finally, it is good to push limits; however, there is a personable responsibility we all must abide by, and that is to not put someone else in danger—for our folly.