Freedom of the Seas
by Jim Davies, 8/29/2010
Sailing is by far my favorite sport.
I don't too much care for competitive sailing, either against other sailors or against Nature - for Nature has many more resources than I do and is likely to win - but there is something immensely satisfying about connecting with Nature and harnessing the wind, using it for one's pleasure. And certainly, I respect anyone who does risk all and compete with everything Nature can throw at him or her by undertaking a major sailing voyage. That even includes my friend Captain Capsize, who persists in racing other dinghies, standing upright in an open one carrying a massive sail area but no keel, and steered with a rudder designed by Vikings. He may be quite mad, but he has a lot more fun than most of us.
Laura Dekker began a long voyage last week, and good luck to her. She is in charge of 38 feet of magnificent craft, provided perhaps by Daddy, and plans to circumnavigate the world, on her own. That's been done before, though not very often, and never by anyone so young. Laura is fourteen.
Her plans do not call for a non-stop trip, but one with plenty of ports of call, no doubt to enhance her education - but if she makes it, that will be one for the history books. Would that more teens had her spirit. When government has evaporated and we keep all we earn, many more will be able to afford such ships and I predict a lot more youngsters will gain part of their education in such ways.
The hazards of storm, heat, cold and exhaustion are serious enough but from her story I notice another: the Portugese (and nearly, the Dutch) governments prohibited so young a person operating a yacht alone in "their" waters! No matter that she can pass any reasonable proficiency test, her age (which she cannot help) is a bar to adventure. So she had to start from Gibraltar, a British colony, and as it happens that maritime nation has no such laws. Yet. Discrimination against people with attributes they cannot alter, such as skin color, is usually illegal - but as so often, governments make exceptions for their own actions. I say it's arrogant bigotry, and it would be so even if governments could validly establish ownership rights over the ocean or any part of it.
One argument to support bigotry against young sailors is that governments are expected to come to the rescue, should they declare distress. This is a very weak one, because sailors of any age can be overcome by violent storms, see para 2 above, and the long traditions of the sea hold that any nearby ship will come to the aid of someone needing it. Even so, the argument has traction. Cannot the provider of rescues make some rules?
I say, no. An insurer might, someone entering a free contract to provide rescue or compensatory services in the event of mishap; but governments are not insurers. And in this case I wonder whether any true insurer would undertake the risk at any affordable premium. When Laura Dekker set sail, she was on her own. Exactly as she said she was. That's freedom: it comes with responsibility.