Saturday, June 30, 2012

Sailing into disaster

I was over at Less Wrong and came across a discussion of disaster books and the lessons to be learned. Many of them I had heard of, but as with any crowd of bright people there are some interesting finds.

One book noted was Tall Ships Down, a book that goes into details of the the sinking of five modern tall ships:  the 316-foot bark Pamir in 1957; the 117-foot brigantine Albatross in 1961; the 117-foot bark Marques in 1984; the 137-foot schooner Pride of Baltimore in 1986; and the 125-foot brig Maria Asumpta in 1995.

Curious, Less Wrong 20 April 2009

[Discussing the noted book above: Tall Ships Down]


Big lessons:

1) if you have a weakness (personally, in your competence or temperament, or structurally, in your vessel or equipment) and spend enough time in an unpredictable environment, it will eventually be exploited.

2) the fact that an environment is unpredictable does not relieve you from the responsibility of considering risks and working to minimize them.

3) we often have an inkling about our weaknesses, but if we've gotten by so far without major incident, we see no pressing need to address them.

4) if you're the captain/leader of an operation, know what the hell you're doing. if you're the equivalent of an ordinary seaman, make it a priority to become competent enough to identify a leader who doesn't know what the hell s/he's doing.

What I find interesting is that you could take those same proscriptions and apply them to many many human endeavors:  the company you work for, your own company, Portugal, Greece, the United States, etcetera.

In the four lessons, Number 3, is a fairly strong explanation for a lot of our problems.  It takes time, and effort to correct known flaws.  Occasionally we may not have the resources to address the issue in the most thorough manner.

One issue noted in the book, is that during the 19th century, unlike modern tall ships sailing, there was no expectation that ships had a set schedule on which they needed to arrive.  They could be sailed as conservatively as needed without concern for schedule.  The ship showed up when the ship showed, so right there they had one less contributing factor to worry about:  keeping to a schedule.

Pamir - from its memorial page

4 comments:

Craig Cavanaugh said...

"Schedules" are what makes "modern life" a living hell. In my humble opinion anyways. I'm a "get there when we get there" kinda feller meself. The ride of life was meant to be savored...

russell1200 said...

Taleb of the "Black Swan" would whole heartedly agree with you. It is one of his major sub-themes as to how to ideally live your life.

I have to admit. I am a bit of a scheduling sort of guy. LOL

izzit said...

As you probably know also, "schedules" are responsible for most sailboat catastrophes too. (Never plan to be back at work Mon 9 a.m., and learn to sail w/o a motor).
I'm also seeing more 'near-loss' incidents in which a sailors family is given his itinerary (e.g., Port SoandSo on Tues, Port SuchandSuch on Thurs) and they FREAK OUT that their loved one isn't there on Thurs night, call out the CG, they send the helicopter and the cutter out into the deadly storm to look for the "overdue" sailor - and it turns out that he wisely anchored in a protected bay and rode out the storm, just couldn't call.

russell1200 said...

I read a book (think it was put out by Naval Institute Press). It was about the naval actions off of Finland during the Crimean War. It was the first use of steam power. At that point the ships were still fully rigged, and the steam power was used in those embarasing moments when the ships sere going to be driven onto the rocks.

Your boat lesson if learning to sail w/0 a motor reminded me of it.

BTW - it was the almost unknown Finish naval campaign that likely caused the Russians to throw in the towel- not the more famous actions down in the Crimean.