Number 199 / June 2008

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Published by the Open Canoe Sailing Group

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the Bluebird Café, it was a lovely warm day with the magnificent backdrop of the hills. To be in your own boat, all sails set to catch the faint zephyrs, the sun warm on your back - this has to be a little bit of heaven.

Our gay little fleet landed on the beach and the crews crunched over the gravel towards the café, where sandwiches and delicious cakes were consumed, washed down with cups of tea poured from teapots - most civilised, and even better to stroll back into the café for seconds.

A breeze had sprung up so these intrepid sailors, feeling somewhat soporific, strolled off to languidly unfurl sails and paddle away from the beach to pick up the southerly wind. The fleet looked grand tacking into the wind and some good sailing was had. Most of the fleet sailed about halfway to Peel Island before turning back. It was about 15.00 hrs and people had to pack up and go. Those who were not in a hurry stayed sailing between Brantwood and the campsite, enjoying the last of the breeze. All in all this had been a good meeting, if a little short of wind.


Thoughts On Sailing A Mile (RoyB)

The aims of introducing "Levels of Competence" were to encourage members to "measure their capabilities both for personal knowledge/satisfaction" as a guide to the sort of activity they might undertake and to improve general level of skills (Article in GOSSIP, Dec 2006). Interestingly, no mention was made of legal responsibility in this announcement, although it played an important role in the thinking behind it.

In Steve's article last month there is a logic pushing these issues forward which, if taken to their logical conclusion would mean that members would only be allowed to participate in certain activities (e.g. sail more than a mile from the campsite) if they had been assessed as having reached a certain level of competence. It would not be enough for the assessment of skills to be voluntary; they would have to be verified by a third party. Voluntary self-assessment of competence is in general no longer regarded as legally acceptable in many walks of life.

The main motive behind such a development is risk of legal action, not safety per se, as the one sentence in bold print in Steve's article indicates. I do believe that he does seriously care about our safety on the water, but that, strictly speaking, is beside the point. I'm not sure whether all this would be good or bad for the OCSG but in any event the nature of our group would fundamentally change. For example, we'd have to have suitably qualified assessors and regulated assessment sessions and members would have to agree to submit to this regulation.

Turning to the duty of care of meet organisers (which in any case needs now to be clearly defined), we already know that we are in a minefield. But surely they should not be held responsible for every mishap during a meet. However, what if someone (suitably qualified) in a Force 3 fluffs a tack (a level 2 skill), becomes entangled in trees by the shore and breaks a finger? Who would want to organise a meet? And what about beginners - how would we deal with such completely unqualified enthusiasts?

My fears are that a membership of 70-100 could not sustain the necessary degree of regulation; that we would lose a significant number of present members; that meets would become so tightly controlled that, for example, one couldn't sail off for half an hour on one's own to enjoy the quiet of the morning. Steve may well say that he's not arguing for such a scenario, but when Levels of Competence were introduced there was no question of banning less qualified members from sailing a mile from the camp site…..

However, the sight of half-a-dozen members practising capsize and self-rescue at Coniston was good to see. That is progress, which has come about through the campaign for greater safety awareness in which Steve has been instrumental. It's all rather difficult.


Humble Editor's Comment (RodL)

Personally, I feel confident about self rescue and paddling (with a proper paddle of course) and have an RYA dinghy cert. but it's occurred to me that I've not recently proved myself to any OCSG types and would feel quite uneasy if such tests/grades became compulsory for "ordinary" meet activities. I'll always join in safety/skills exercises and have even organised a few myself but I've always thought that the main philosophy of the group is that we go out at our own risk (assuming adults) and that safety considerations are of advisory or recommendation status only. Could it be that in failing to meet stated skill levels or failing to sail where, when and with whom we promised, we are signing away our rights? I smiled at the accounts of the Coniston excursions. Do weather conditions come into our gradings? A lot of incidents are also from poor boat equipment, design or condition.

We all thank the committee and recognise their continuing safety initiatives but a sense of balance must be used and meet organisers seen as lay volunteers rather than imagining them as qualified, accountable authorities.

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