Rule of the Desk

Think about this picture. What is it telling you? What do you see?

Cross Walk in Stuart, FL

Cross Walk in Stuart, FL

Interesting questions, so why am I asking?

On Trawler Forum, http://www.trawlerforum.com/forums/recently, there was a thread asking why some boaters were so discourteous, as to cause a large wake (wave caused by a moving boat. Dauntless produces about a half foot wake (wave), most speed boats or faster boats produce wakes 2 to 5 feet in height), which can actually damage boats, property and people (if you’ve ever been in a boat that suddenly rolls 40 degrees on to it side, you know what I’m talking about). It’s not dangerous, but certainly uncomfortable.

There was also a different thread about Coast Guard stops, when they stop a boat and check for safety things, etc. These stops typically last 15 to 30 minutes, which in boater time, doesn’t not seem like a lot (we routinely wait 30 or 45 minutes for a bridge to open), but in the real world, this would certainly be viewed as intrusive. (How would you like to be stopped on the highway every few months for 15 to 30 minutes just to check your paperwork!)

So, the other day, as I was motoring at Dauntless’ normal speed of 8 mph, I noticed a smaller, newer semi-displacement trawler (American Ranger) coming up quickly to pass me on the right. No problem, as I looked out my pilot house door, I happily waved to the older couple driving the boat.
At this point he was probably going twice my speed and would be past me in mere seconds. All of a sudden, he slows his boat. Maybe because he saw me and thought, I better slow down and not wake him.

So he does, but now I had already turned my boat towards his stern, to come up right behind him. That would minimize the wake I had to deal with.
But with his abrupt slow down, everything changed. A potentially uncomfortable situation, instantly became a dangerous one. I had to cut power and make sure I didn’t hit him. But with me trying to stop suddenly, it unsettles the boat and I rolled back and forth, much more than I would have had I been able to continue at my normal speed. At this point, he sees what happened and pours on the power again. Within moments, he was well ahead of me, moving more than 20 mph.

As I reflected on what happened, I thought about the above TF threads and peoples posts.

I thought about what was this boater thinking? I realized that he was oblivious, but my wave sort of woke him, so he decided to “be nice” by slowing, but not really understanding the dynamics of the situation. He didn’t think about the fact that with his semi-planing boat (which means that when he is going fast, his boat’s power actually pushes part of his boat out of the water. Dauntless is full displacement, which means that the amount of water the boat displaces is always the same, no matter my speed or power. If I had a thousand horsepower engine, I could still only go 9 mph!). So when stops or slows abruptly, his boat must settle back into the water, increasing the wake he was already producing. Think of slapping your hand on top of a pan of water.

And he is typical of the thousands of boaters I have seen in Florida these last months. Most of the time, they don’t do stupid stuff on purpose, they do stupid stuff because they are stupid.

They may have made their fortune being the smartest wizard of wall street, but when it comes to boating, what they had was the million dollars it takes to buy one of those 40 foot sport fishers.

No license, no training, no nothing. This is America after all.
Simply put, they boat the way they drive.

Connecting the dots yet?

Flash back. 30 years ago, I am in Germany, in the passenger seat of my friend Siggi’s 20 year old daughter, Suzanne. She just got her license, so I’m expecting the worst of a typical new driver.

Instead, she drives well, competently.  In her car, I am witness to the results of a comprehensive driving training program that not only costs months’ of salary, but takes a minimum of a year, and many times two years, to complete. But when complete, the new driver can drive. Not too fast, not too slow, certainly not over- cautiously, but they drive very well.

Drivers trained in Germany understand the physics of the situation: how a car slows in cornering, and how to compensate. How to brake gently and at the right rate. I see the time and effort of the training in the results of their driving. I’m impressed with a program that I was initially disdainful of as both a waste of time and money for all concerned.

I also understood that she could drive so well because she had good teaching and because she had the opportunity to practice a multitude of times over a year; she was able to learn what she needed to learn.

My 10 years in Europe were a driver’s delight. Speed enforcement was limited to the city limits and your your speed down the miles of twisty roads was limited only by your skill. But that was a real limit; virtually every road was bordered by a drainage ditch. Going off the road at any speed at best meant a totaled car, at worst, you needed better driving lessons in your next life.

So I saw an infrastructure that was about training first and enforcement second.

See any dots yet?

In the meantime, what have we done in this country, the Desks keep on creating rules and structures to enforce those rules.

If the US Coast Guard did not stop boats, how would they justify the infrastructure they have? Do we need better training and licensing for those driving million dollar boats with 10 times the horsepower of the average street car? Let’s ask the Desk.

So Desk, shall we increase the training and license requirements for boaters? Desk thinks:, sure, but then how do I justify the 10 desks working for me and the 100 working for them and the 1000 desks working in my organization?  No one gets promoted for managing smaller number of desks, we get promoted for managing more desks. So Desk responds, Sure, but if we do that, the results will not be apparent for years, yet the carnage will continue, so why don’t we increase our enforcement efforts, make more signs, even add some nifty lights, powered by those solar panels and just go after the people who are causing the problems. I’ll only need another 10 desks.

Now, Politician thinks, if he needs 10 more desks, he’ll need equipment for those desks, and I have a company in my district that makes that kind of equipment, plus all that new signage, lights, everyone will get a bigger rice bowl.

Now think of law enforcement in this country, they have millions of desks and they never get smaller.

So back to the top, remember that picture of the cross walk. Think of all the work, money and effort went in to just one cross walk.

Let’s look, the two vertical signs saying “stop,” we see those all over, then there is the orange sign on the pole with arrow pointing out the crosswalk, then there is the large yellow sign with person walking, with flashing yellow light, powered by a solar panel, lastly we have the pavement, which not only gets special bricks, but is also painted outline.

Wow, that’s one crosswalk, I wonder how many desks were involved and how many promotions?

I wonder what the data shows as to how effective each of these features are? My guess is that we passed the point of diminishing returns a long time ago. Drivers see so many warning signs, they ignore them all.
I remember once seeing a pedestrian almost killed because a driver A saw him waiting on the curb, stopped , signed for him to cross, totally oblivious to the car in the far lane, which could see none of this, and was traveling about 25 to 30 mph. When this person appeared in front of their car, Driver B jams on the brakes, and pedestrian jumps up like his life depended upon it (it did) his butt came down near the top of the windshield and he sort of slip along as the car passed below him.

Getting up with just some scrapes, he walks away. Driver B is still palpitating, and Driver A, the “good Samaritan” is thinking about speed demons, since he is clueless that it was he who actually almost got that guy killed.

Living in Seattle, known for its draconian jay walking enforcement, I was struck, not literally mind you, by how many people were killed in crosswalks because they are trained not to look for cars, but to look for crosswalks. I bet more pedestrians are killed in Seattle than in NYC.

Oh, don’t worry about the Desk, he got a promotion and is enjoying his new boat this weekend.

Richard Bost
9 April 2014
Stuart, Florida

One thought on “Rule of the Desk

  1. Thank you for your keen European observations, and good “lessons learned” stories while driving the Kadey Krogen 42.
    A better hull for a cruiser MV has jet to be drawn.

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