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2017-02-08

Achieving attainable cruising and obstacles to that goal

Yacht piracy, 2016: Down, but not out.
Is cruising getting easier or harder? That depends on where and how one cruises.

In terms of rescue technology, safety at sea and tangible benefits such as making one's own power,  the sailing is fair, indeed. In terms of the chance that your vessel will be dogged by red tape, corrupt officialdom and crime, kidnapping or piracy, not so much. The high seas may be free, but clearing in and out of countries can still be a bureaucratic nightmare...and may be, in a world growing more hostile, be even harder ranging to impossible.

"Hot spots" for crime against yachts and yacht owners in the Caribbean in 2016 (c) https://www.safetyandsecuritynet.com/
In a recent post on Attainable Adventure Cruising, site owner John Harries penned an opinion piece on clearing customs and immigration, a process mostly orderly in his experience as a cruiser, but one, in light of certain political developments he sees as turning nationalities against foreigners, can cause foreigners to become
"...vulnerable to the bad-apple Immigration officer whose worst instincts are encouraged by arbitrary orders and rhetoric from on high. For in places where people with perfectly valid documents, including visas, are being turned away simply because of where they were born, we can never be sure that we won’t be similarly singled out for some arbitrary reason."
Although Harries received some pushback from what I perceived were politics-weary Americans, he's got serveral trenchant points when it comes to visiting countries with law-dodging, authoritarian regimes. We are daily seeing how xenophobia and bureaucracy are self-reinforcing tendencies, and that even the properly credentialled can be dealt with arbitrarily and seemingly on a whim when confronted by an overly zealous border guard. Or, one presumes, customs official or port authority functionary. Like the Canadian of evidently insufficient paleness stopped at the U.S. border, we are not Christians, nor would I surrender the contents of my phone to some functionary were I sure it was not required of me by law. Word get around about such places. They are better avoided than debated with, even though I would hope their own citizens challenge the erosion of the rule of law, if they are able to do so.

For services rendered? Some places, this is the reality of cruising.

To fail to consider both the politics and societal factors of a country to which one intends to sail one’s home (and, often, one’s dearest possession) seems to me unseamanlike, unwise and willfully naive.
Unless cruisers intend to go non-stop, the quality of the stops will be largely determined by such issues as the rule of law, the rate of crime/social disruption, and the level of tolerated or institutional corruption.
Collect the entire set while the data therein still holds.
We are already planning our circ and hope to leave June, 2018. Firstly in the planning stages, we consult Cornell and the Admiralty pilots to determine favourable times for passage. Sadly, climate change (which is felt often more keenly in the tropics than in, say, Canada) is gradually making pilots less helpful as “unseasonality” picks up.

Don't leave port without it.
After that, we read Noonsite.com and other resources that gauge the parameters discussed in Harries' article, including degree of corruption, xenophobia, and unreliable application of the country in question's laws. Too many “fails” means we won’t be going to a chosen port or country by boat because (mainly) of the perceived lawlessness of the country or related issues with crime. I choose not to be a victim, but rather than the “showdown” approach evinced in some cruisers' minds, we simply won’t stop at some places. Nor will our dollars. That, in some places, is part of the problem: in poorer countries, a yacht, even one of modest proportions and kit, is a bobbing pleasure dome compared to the squalid conditions ashore. Resentment of affluent sailors is nearly guaranteed. How one wishes to deal with that is an individual choice, as the decision to visit an interesting place as a rich (everything being relative) Westerner is going to be tricky in many places.

Realistically, this conclusion increases the need for independence from the shore: energy, food and spares storage and meticulous maintenance gain in importance when one cannot take for granted the civility or safety of every port available. I doubt it will actually shorten our plans for a five-year circ, but it will likely increase the time we spend between longer passages; New Zealand looks good on a number of points in this regard, particularly as a place to haul out for service “mid-circ”. The shortwave radio and occasional internet access will be of great help in speccing out the next area or countries we visit. It’s not all glum news, mind: a sharp reduction in Red Sea piracy has restored the option of “South Africa around the Cape or the Med via the Suez” to our prospects. But we remain watchful. A lot could change by the time we are, say, reading pilots in Galle, Sri Lanka.

We also believe that it is very possible that deteriorating political, economic and climatic conditions will make world cruising in the near future perhaps too difficult for the person of only average affluence to contemplate. Fixing up a boat, selling up and sailing will persist in places like the Caribbean, but we suspect we might be in the last cohort to actually be able to do this at a parsimonious price and as a family. Which means what people like the Smeetons and the Hiscocks pioneered in the 1950s and '60s, when cruising in small yachts was a far less supported pursuit in nearly every respect save for the ease of sourcing tinned butter, may be drawing to a close as a lifestyle, which I find sad, frankly. Bribes we can tolerate to a point, but a country that abandons its own laws will not see out sails on their horizons.