Tuesday 24 January 2012

Naval Navel-gazing

                     "Never had a doubt, in the beginning..."
                                                     -Naked Eyes

               Back when I was an in-debt, post-college kid, my first grown-up job as a sales professional was selling cars for a Lincoln-Mercury dealership. One day early in my tenure, the dealership's top producer, a grizzled veteran salesman, buttonhooked me and asked how I liked the job.  I answered in the affirmative, and he asked me if I planned to make it a career.  I opined that, indeed, I could see myself climbing the sales ladder, maybe moving to the management side. The old guy (he must have been at least 40 years old, maybe even 45,)  nodded, and asked if he could give me a piece of advice.

             "Sure", I replied, grateful for any advice this sage could provide.

             "Quit attending parking lot meetings."

           A "parking lot meeting" is a gathering of two or more salespeople (or IT guys, or mechanics, or chefs, or sailing club members.  Come to think of it,  it seems like any gathering of two or more humans could become a parking lot meeting), trading experiences and opinions. Never positive experiences.  Oh no, a parking lot meeting is all about discussing how bad things are, how tough the job is, how poorly things are managed, how stupid the executives are, the customers are,the politicians are,  the other club members are.  It's toxic, and it is an easy trap to fall into, because complaining is FUN and easy.  There is always someone willing to listen and trade stories, and, let's face it, it takes actual effort to change anything.  It's easier to just bitch and blame.

        Sometimes it seems like the internet is just one big parking lot meeting.

        The interweb is a wonderful tool for research and interaction, putting at your fingertips trillions of bytes of information, some of it even factual, provided by millions of "experts," some who might even actually, possibly, BE experts, sans air quotes.

       But damn, sometimes you gotta shovel a lot of manure to find the pony.

       Here's an example:

       I need to calculate the theoretical waterline of my catamaran project, which means I need to figure out displacement.  I am a mathematical idiot, who is also a software idiot unable to figure out how to use any of the 5-and-counting CAD programs I have loaded on my computer, so I need some help. I turn to my handy Googlemachine and join one of the multi-hull forums.  After the requisite introduction, because you can't just ask a question on a forum, oh no, one must introduce oneself to the group, establish credentials, explain why one is asking the question, then upload design drawings (really?  You need to see the drawings to tell me what formulas I need to use?), thank those who like the design,  then explain why one is building a boat, why one is designing the boat personally, why all of the designs/designers linked by the inquisitors have been considered and rejected, apologize for hurting feelings of those who own boats designed by rejected designers, thank those who comment that boatbuilding is a bad idea that takes too long costs too much and is too hard, defend the use of plywood and lumber in this age of composites and fiberglass, endure the suggestions of those who want to change the design, gently remind the group of my original query, smooth feathers ruffled by rejected design suggestions....

     ......  and I STILL don't know where to draw my waterline.  I'm just gonna guess.  Hell, it's worked for most of the measurements for most of my other projects.

     How about the poor novice boat buyer who mentions that he has found a boat he wants to buy that has some blisters.  He asks if that is a major problem, and somebody replies, "blisters will cause your boat to sink."

     Or the newbie sailor who joins a forum all excited about sailing and starts a thread wanting to find a boat for coastal sailing, occasional weekending with his/her spouse,  20-25' in length, (the boat, not the spouse) under $5000.  By the time the thread reaches 3 pages in length, the newbie has been informed that he needs a boat at least 27 feet in length, that anything less than $10 000 will require at least $5 000 in repairs and he should really just join a club and take lessons for the next five years until he knows what he is doing anyway.

      In the interest of full disclosure, here's what prompted this ramble:
     I realized that sometimes I (yes, even me,) am guilty of doom-and-glooming greenhorns.  My intentions are good, but maybe, just maybe, I should sometimes shut up.

    Case in point:  Last spring a breathless young kid pops up on Sailnet and explains "I just got a boat that does not have a working motor, that I need to get up toward Baltimore/ Annapolis from about 70-80 miles south. she's a heavy, slow vessel that I have never sailed. She is a ketch, and I am a novice sailor. wondering what kind of ideas you "experts" can come up with to get my girl to make the trip in one piece. I was thinking about getting a tow out into the chessy, and try to sail her up, then find another tow in to port."

   To recap- 70-80 miles through some of the busiest shipping waters on the East coast by a novice skipper in an unknown, apparently neglected, engineless boat.  Guess what I did?
   Instead of answering his question, I tried to talk him out of it.
" With an engine, "  I further opined, "A novice sailor is only an occasional temporary hazard- without auxiliary power you should be marked on every chart and your mugshot posted in every marina, boatyard, SeaTow office and Coastie wardroom. Fix the engine, take the trip. If you can't fix the engine and can't afford to replace it then you shouldn't have bought the boat. "

     As you can probably figure out, I didn't make a new friend.

    Was I wrong?  No.  But, maybe, I wasn't really right, either.

    A month or so later, the kid made the trip. It took two attempts but nobody got hurt and the boat didn't sink.  He probably gained more experience, and had more fun, on that first cruise than many sailors do in a season.

    Was he lucky?  Yeah.

     But he also made his own luck, by enlisting some experienced volunteer crew willing to join the adventure, keeping a prudent schedule and working with the weather.

    I could have offered to help, maybe had a fun cruise, taught and learned something along the way...  instead, I held a parking lot meeting.

    Fewer people every year are boating, and I think part of it is the parking lot meeting of conventional wisdom.  Many get scared off before they even try it.

   Let's kill the cliches.
    Boating doesn't HAVE to be out of reach.
   The two best days of a boater's life AREN'T when he/she buys a boat and when he/she sells it.
   Blisters will NOT sink your boat...for decades, anyway.
   Varnish is NOT endless maintenance
   You CAN build a boat in less than a lifetime.
    Diesel engines AREN'T hard to fix.
   Yes, you CAN do it.

    Hey, it may not change the world, but is there really a downside to being more positive?

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  1. Thanks for a positive and compelling post. I know that I have been guilty of Parking lot meetings with new sailors. As a result of this, I will try to hold back the negativism in the future.


  2. Thanks for the "screw the negative input" post. In my short time with my Siren I have been told all kinds of things usually based on opinion not experience. I have chosen to ignore most of them when they are the usual general sweeping statement and try to learn something when they are specific and based on experience. Of course it helps if someone like you is being den mother and wondering why I haven't returned to the slip in an appropriate amount of time. I like our tradition of cooking and drinking in the parking lot. Much more civilized.

  3. I have come to understand that most things in life are as simple as see one, do one, teach one. That's just not true with navigating forums. lol

  4. Great post and I agree wholeheartedly with it. Some places are just like that, nothing but a parking lot meeting....

  5. How about build the boat.
    When your finished launch the boat then mark it at the waterline.

  6. Well, sure, Jack, yeah, I COULD do it that way. But it just sounds too damn simple. And direct. And straightforward. When the hell have I ever worked that way?

  7. As long as the waterline remains above the deckline, you're golden.