Long time no sea - Part II
22 March 2022
Welcome back. I admire your application and stamina. To continue:
The glaring inconsistency between that sea-going perspective and my lackadaisical attitude to land travel piqued my curiosity. Why were there such pronounced differences in mindset and behaviour exhibited by the same man with the same genes, the same history, the same beliefs, the same prejudices, the same experiences, and the same upbringing, all dependent solely on whether he's in a car or on a boat. I needed to have a big think and to consult Mr Google, along with Messrs Sanger and Wales and their myriad elves on Wikipedia. (1)
As with all matters of human psychology and behaviour, there seems to be an abundance of factors and theories, most of which appeared to be just-so stories made up down the Frog & Gimlet on a Friday night. Many were contradictory and more again were totally unsubstantiated by hard evidence.
According to a highly stringent and scientifically rigorous straw poll that I carried out down the pub last Friday, the most commonly believed explanation is that familiarity with the situation breeds, if not contempt, then at least a sense of blasé, dismissive confidence. This is intuitively appealing, superficially cogent, in keeping with popular wisdom,
It doesn't accord with the evidence. We are talking about a specific example and a specific person here, remember, namely me, me, me. If this theory had so much as a grain of truth in it, then things should have been the other way round. I have spent fifteen years living full time on a boat. That's 131,400 hours. During that time, I have driven a car/van maybe 120 hours. By rights, then, I should set sail in a state of insouciant un-seamanlike, unprepared indifference (Not unknown. See https://www.sailblogs.com/member/birvidik/276264) whilst I should shit every time I drive to our local Lidls to replenish our ever-dwindling stocks of cheap white wine, even cheaper T- shirts and obscure items of what is probably either garden equipment or close-quarters weaponry.
No - tempting though the familiarity theory is, it doesn't pass muster.
"OK, Clever-bollocks," I hear you snort, What does cut the mustard for you? What explanation floats your pedantic, demanding little boat?"
Well, gentle reader, there are two. Or there were at the last count.
The first is related to the above explanation that I so dismissively pooh-pooed. It goes by the catchy sobriquet of risk perception and compensation. To many people, crossing open water in a small boat is seen as inherently far more dangerous than strapping yourself into a couple of tonnes of metal and glass and then belting down a crowded French autoroute at 130 kilometres an hour.
I was going to ask you to do a quick 'back of the envelope' calculation involving rate of change of momentum with respect to time, but I couldn't face the reproachful looks, so I've done it for you. Basically, should a modern car, travelling at around140 km/h, bump into something really solid, such as a flyover pylon, or a sodding great artic, it will come to a standstill in, ooh, I dunno, about two seconds (and that's erring on the mild side). The force thus generated is around 40,000 kgf, or near as dammit 40 tonnes. You, as the driver, are in the middle of this. Safe, it ain't. It's a statistical certainty that the most dangerous part of any adventure holiday is the drive to the airport.
The second, and, I suspect, most important factor, is peer pressure. It's a funny and beguiling thing, peer pressure. It's totally irrational on the surface, but innumerable experiments have demonstrated its prevalence and deep-seatedness in the human psyche. In fact, peer pressure is probably the most extensively researched topic in the psychology lexicon. I suspect that this may well be funding related.
I shall elucidate.
Whether you want me to or not.
Peer pressure is generally looked upon as being mainly exhibited by children, especially adolescents, where it is almost invariably viewed as a bad thing. Adults in general, and those working in education, social work and law enforcement and the like in particular, see adolescent peer pressure as a powerful, underhand, and threatening cultural weapon in the inter-generational war between conflicting beliefs, values and principles. Funding bodies in education, social care, law enforcement and the like, throw money at psychology research bids in a desperate attempt to find the Holy Grail that will turn sullen, surly, loud, threatening, slugabed, fifteen-year-olds into smiling, respectful, compliant, acquiescent, neat-and-tidy Stepford Kids.
Or Kryten. (2)
As a result, there have probably been more psychological research studies into peer pressure than there have been to most of the other areas of study put together. They have repeatedly demonstrated that the phenomenon is not exhibited by children alone. Far from it. Almost everybody succumbs to it, the only differences being of degree, not of kind. It influences, and modifies the behaviour of, all ages, all cultures, all intelligences, all income brackets, all degrees of status, all political persuasions and all sexual proclivities.
All these studies have convincingly shown that a large proportion of people will go to preposterous lengths and undergo tortuous mental and logical gymnastics in order to fit in to whatever group they find themselves in at any particular time. In one classic experiment, subjects were given sheets of paper with pairs of lines of different lengths drawn on them and asked to judge which were the longer. Left on their own they got them all right. The task wasn't very intellectually taxing - even sociology undergraduates could do it. Other experimental subjects were given the same tasks, but asked to deliver their verdicts verbally, with the subjects reporting last. Unbeknownst to them, all the others in the group were experimental stooges who gave deliberately wrong answers. Over three-quarters of the subjects adjusted their answers to fit in with others in the group, even if the true answer would have been apparent to Mr Magoo at a range of 200 metres in thick fog.
At first glance, this seems absurd. Look at it from an evolutionary perspective, however, and it starts to make sense. It is a deeply ingrained psychological trait, which has evolved in response to the demands of living in groups, a lifestyle choice which evolved in turn to counter the fact that humans are such pathetic, slow, poorly-armed,(3) 98 pound weaklings that the only way they stood the slightest chance of survival, let alone reproducing, was to come at life mob-handed. Stay in the group and you're in with a chance. Venture out on your own and you're dead meat.
This apparent no-brainer, though, comes at a price.
Membership requires demonstrations of absolute loyalty to the group and unquestioning respect for its abovementioned beliefs, values and principles, even if, in your quietist moments, you secretly think them unbelievable, valueless, and unprincipled. Hence the popularity of initiation rituals from college and military hazing to circumcision and FGM via freemasonry investiture rituals. Hence also the practice of setting loyalty tests such as feeding your grandmother through a meat grinder; or shooting someone you've never met before, but to whom your prospective capo di tutti capi has taken an unreasoning dislike; or hacking off your little finger with a rusty penknife and presenting it (the finger, not the penknife) to some uninterested ingrate of a yakuza boss.
You wanna stay wid our gang/tribe/group/lodge/chapter/church/union/ multinational corporation/Chinese Politburo/Lower Walden Womens' Institute? OK wise guy (or gal) - you can stay. But first, you gotta show loyalty and you gotta show respect. You wanna stay wid us, you gotta play wid us.
HEY You! Lady wid de twinset & pearls an de burwood brogue shoes! You like it here in Lower Walden? Yous wanna stay? I thought I told yous to jump dat queue. Wadya mean, you can't bring yourself to do it? It's either dat, or it's back to da Batley Bingo Club for yous.
This realisation engendered a glimmer of explanation in me. I suspect that I make a mental shift when I move from boat to car and vice versa. I switch mindsets between the group filed under Western European>landlubber>motorist to that filed under Western European>boat owner>yottie>liveaboard. These groups have different beliefs, values, and principles. Expectations and attitudes differ, and the enforcement and the severity of sanctions vary from mild tuts of disapproval through public humiliation a la Dreyfus, all broken swords and severed epaulets, to ending up as ballast in a newly constructed flyover. Apostasy in any form usually poses the greatest threat to the integrity of the group, and therefore usually attracts the most draconian penalties.
Exploring this perspective requires that we address the beliefs, values and principles of the Yottie clan, and the effect these have on the behaviour of its members. At its heart lies the following assertion:
In general, and with a few notable exceptions, yotties are an easy-going, amiable enough, helpful, live-and-let-live bunch, except for one, glaring, peculiarity; namely their almost pathological obsession with the virtues of self-reliance. They will put themselves, and their boat, at considerable risk to help a fellow seafarer in difficulties. God help him, though, should there be even the slightest suspicion that the difficulties might have been even partially due to some error, omission, lack of proper preparation or malpractice on his part. This will be sufficient to provoke a similar reaction in the assembled yotties as does feeding a mogwai a double Big Mac at two in the morning and then setting a water cannon on him.
If you find this difficult to believe, take a gander at some of the boating internet fora. The opprobrium heaped upon some poor unfortunate who has lost his home, belongings, livelihood, marriage, self-respect and several body-parts has to be seen to be believed, and all because he committed the cardinal sin of omitting to compare his chartplotter data with a paper chart drawn up from soundings taken in 1795 by some knackered, bleary-eyed 14-year-old midshipman perched precariously in a small open boat, while trying to juggle a sextant and a lead line. It's little wonder that we yotties are so meticulous when it comes to planning, maintenance and seamanship. Miss one little trick, check or repair and you're in for a lifetime of reputational annihilation and social ostracism. Luckily, they tend to stop short of rude graffiti on your topsides and turds through your letter box. Hence the obsessive maintenance, preparation and planning. Who wants the ignominy and public humiliation of being demoted to punka-wallah 3rd Class at The Brazen Head (4)?
And the motorists? They are a simple and undemanding lot. They have only one rule, augmented by one codicil:
Fast is good.
Faster is better.
Master that MENSA-busting manifesto and you're in, ensconced on the top table between Jeremy Clarkson and my brother-in-law, Geoff. Well, they can't make the entry criteria too stringent, motoring's a big club. Virtually everybody's in it, even me, and I'm a bloody awful driver. It's all horribly reminiscent of Tony Blair's ill-conceived wheeze to force-feed every twenty-year-old in the country through what purport to be universities, while assuring sceptics that there would be no dilution of degree standards. What is wrong with these people? Haven't they heard of Normal Distribution Curves?
So, diversions, digressions, and detours notwithstanding, what was the outcome of our foray back into Boatyland?
A heart-warming glow of enthusiasm to renew our aquatic lifestyle, that's what, but an enthusiasm tempered with a cold bucket of realism which took the form of an inchoate grudging recognition that Brexit has effectively put the block on our chances of returning to our carefree, pre-covid, halcyon existence as full-time liveaboards, bumming our way around Europe. Between them, the 90/180 day Schengen rule and the 180/360 day Portuguese residency rule are consigning us to the lowly yottie category of 'Dilettante summer yotties', poncing about on the boat for 12 weeks in the summer and then skulking off to the lotus-eating land life for forty weeks of book clubs, bridge evenings and breakfast television.
It is difficult to justify buying, running and maintaining a boat like Birvidik II if it is only going to be occupied for 23% of the time. Unpleasant thoughts began to manifest themselves.
If truth be told, this came as no real surprise to either of us. We knew this was on the cards from June 24th 2016. We had just refused to acknowledge it. Until now, that is, when reality butted rudely into our cosy little dream world: "C'mon you bunch of Reality-deniers. Time's up! Party's over! On yer bikes!" In the face of this brutal, unsolicited reality check, we had little choice but to grasp the nettle, bite the bullet, face the music, pay the piper and brave-face the Long, Dark, Tea-time of the soul.
Yup, sorry but it's looking increasingly like (Hush, Hush, whisper who dares) the only sensible option is going to be to sell her, downsize to a more modest vessel and use the released equity to try to keep Liz in the manner to which she'd like to be accustomed.
It's not going to be the same, though.
(1) Wikipedia is poo-poohed in some circles as being too prole-ridden and insufficiently verified, but I find it very good. It's self-correcting, much like the scientific method. A good way of checking on the reliability of reference media such as this is to look up things that you actually know about. Research has been done on this, comparing Wikipedia with Encyclopaedia Britannica and they came out evens within experimental error. If anything, Wikipedia came out on top.
(2) If this is completely bewildering to you, then you really should binge watch all 61 episodes of 'Red Dwarf'. Geek paradise
(3) And don't start shouting "Poorly armed? What about AK47s and hyperbaric bombs? How poorly armed is a species that's bristling with Leopard 2A7 battle tanks and helicopter gunships?" at me. I've told you before, evolution is a ball-achingly slow process. Physically and psychologically, we're still scampering fearfully around the savanna, thinking ourselves lucky if we've got so much as a pointed stick and a bit of broken obsidian.
(4) 1-3 Cathcart Rd, Glasgow G42 7BE. Try sauntering in there wearing an orange t-shirt and whistling 'Marching Through Georgia' or 'Simply the Best'.
On reflection, probably best not.