The Worry Nets

SSB radios are wonderful things. Example: should you be far offshore and surrounded by utter bliss… you can still turn-on and tune-in your radio to find something to worry about. Worrying seems a basic human need. If you are currently happy, you can fix that by worrying about the future. If you tire of that, fret about the past. See how easy it is to drive away happiness?

It is especially important for the ‘newbie’ sailors to tune into the local worry nets… after all, we don’t want them to fall into the habit of enjoying themselves!

Seasoned sailors KNOW you can be run down by a freighter, catch fire, explode or… worse case… lose your DVD movie player… at any moment while on passage. Greenhorns, however, need to be reminded.

WHETHER NETS: these are the SSB nets you tune into when deciding ‘whether’ or not to leave on passage. "I’d like a 12 to 14 knot quartering breeze, sunny skies, low humidity and flat sea… for the first 70 miles… then, once beyond Sint Maarten, I’d like the wind to clock 12 degrees to the north."

Yes, it isn’t like the old days when we just wanted to survive… when any passage which didn’t drown us was considered a good one. I recently heard one grumpy guy complain, "Yeah, the Trades were fine and we beam-reached the whole way… but with the sun that high… it really isn’t that good for photography, is it?" Gee, cry-me-a-river pal!

The coolest new development is the professional weather routers which guide you daily through your passage. They really earn their money. "There’s a 140 knot hurricane to your south, a savage winter gale to your north, three tsunamis to your east and a couple of ‘bergs to the west, but I’m routing you right through the middle of ‘em all. Tricky, but… hey, we’ve got the technology if you’re got the money."

I was on the same passage at the same time and would have said, "Trades." I mean, I know people who consult a weather router to go from their slip to the fuel dock! "Leave at 1252 Zulu. You’ll have downwind slide to the fuel dock with a slight positive current. No problems foreseen. Assuming it takes about half an hour to refuel, the tide will have then reversed and the current should again be a positive factor in the 12 minute motor-sail back to your slip. That will be $100, please."

Oh, yes, money is a factor. Nobody listens to me. What does an amateur know? But an albino dwarf in the middle of an Arizona desert who has never even SEEN the sea… why, he’s a PROFESSIONAL EXPERT… as long as his credit card machine and customer’s gullibility still function.

Some of the SSB exchanges you hear are a tad crazy. "Lookit, pal," one sailor hissed to another via his SSB radio, "I paid $150 bucks for this 14 day forecast… it BETTER be right!"

Last month I made the passage from windy New Zealand to squally Fiji. If, as I hoisted up my anchor, Jesus, Mary and Joseph had rowed out to tell me what the weather would be in five days hence, I’d have blurt, "…are you kidding? Do I look like an idiot?"

Of course, the weather isn’t the only thing to worry about. Lord, no! There are tons of other things.

Safety and Security, for example. Let’s face it, a hell of a lot of people cruise to the Caribbean so they can worry about their dinghies. I listened in for a month while cruising the Grenadines in 2004. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I shut off the SSB radio, unclamped my outboard, deep-sixed it, slit my inflatable dinghies tubes… and when the whole mess was finally resting/waving on the sandy seabed below me, laughed gleefully and cried, "…now THAT will fix those little bastards!"

Of course, it is true that a SSB can save you money. We were once anchored in Gustavia, St. Barts, when we heard limes were 2 cents a piece cheaper in Paupau New Guinea. "…hoist up the anchor," I immediately told my wife Carolyn, "we’re going!"

My all-time favorite is TREASURES OF THE BILGE. If you ever want to be depressed about human nature in general and capitalism in specific, just tune in. You’ll hear stuff like, "I’ve got a used impeller with two fairly good blades remaining… for a pre-Soviet Russian shower stall pump… manufactured in the 1920s… which I’ll let go for 3% off list current price… say $100US… as is, where is?"

"I’ve got some galley scraps," chimed in another hopeful sailor, "suitable for bait or chumming… or, perhaps, starting a small compost pile on your foredeck, say, $3 a bucket… if you get here before it REALLY starts to stink!"

I succumbed in Chagaramus, Trinidad, by announcing on the morning VHF net, "Ahoy all you pitifully cheap sailors, frugal sea gypsies and tight-fisted Antilles cruisers! I’ve recently placed various valuable boat bits——used sails, burst fenders, disassembled bilge pumps, opened-up electronic devices, slightly soiled boat cushions and barely chafed yacht cordage——in the dumpsters and garbage bins of Peakes, Powerboats, Crews Inn and Coral Cove shipyards… each is for sale of $25… strictly honor system… and you can drop off payment marked ‘Cap’n Fatty, Wild Card‘ at MMS (Marauders Maildrop Service)…

Most Caribbean cruisers get sucked into the SSB nightmare via the ‘position report’ nets. I’ve acted as net control for a few… writing down the incoming positions on a small chalkboard so they could be easily erased immediately after.

Yes, some net controllers DO keep the position reports for the few days: a comfort to surviving family members who love to sagely/sadly point to a chart and say, "They drowned right around here!"

I mean, who cares? I once called-in twice-a-day positions reports for a week and then stopped in mid-ocean. Nothing. Then, about a week later, two people inquired. I owed both money.

Occasionally, of course, I do hear something over the SSB which makes me smile. My all-time favorite is, in a fuzzy, frequency-starting-to-modulate voice, "…low on batteries!"

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