Friday, January 18, 2013
Derelicts, Duty, and Dumb Luck
As you might have noticed if you read our recent post called “Drama (and obligation) on the High Seas,” there was a lot of interest in the subject of abandoning ship and safety. As there should be. Good, safe seamanship is in everyone’s interest, and most agree that it extends beyond the bounds of one’s own hull, to at least not creating hazards for one’s fellow sailors. This applies whether you’re anchoring responsibly in a crowded harbor, or facing the ultimate nightmare of having to abandon your boat.
I’m sorry to report that there have been a couple more abandonment incidents, one west of the Canary Islands on an Atlantic crossing (a 55-foot ketch in otherwise perfect condition was buttoned up, abandoned and left to drift when its steering failed) and another, in the same area, that warrants listing in the Guinness Book of the Infuriatingly Bizarre, if such a thing existed. We have no other details on the first; this post addresses the second.
The "notorious," 16 cubic meter Aqua-Dice. Photo credit: Blouin Artinfo
In the name of art, which, being art lovers we usually support, a colossal sized pair of dice has been dumped into one of the Atlantic Ocean’s most heavily traveled sea lanes, to drift and create what artist Max Mulhern calls “a visually stunning ode to chance and luck, the greatest floating craps game on earth.” He dumped them into trade wind seas off the Canary Islands at noon on 12/12/12, admitting that, “…basically, the dice are illegal because you’re not allowed to put an unattended object in the water or go to sea if there’s not a constant watch on board.” He added that the probability of doing damage to another boat is “just about zero because the dice are designed to collapse on impact.” He said he hopes the dice become “notorious” to the boats plying those waters. According to publicity materials, this artist grew up around boats, is a student of “dumb luck,” and has expressed his deep love of the sea. I will get to the ironic part of that shortly, but did find it interesting that not even Las Vegas casinos would sponsor him.
At about eight feet to a side, painted brightly but unlit, the dice should be visible in a calm sea. But most people know it’s not always calm, and, news flash, nights are dark. According to the New York Times, the artist had them designed by a naval architect and constructed of plywood, pine, PVC and epoxy by a shipbuilder who normally builds fishing boats when he hasn’t lost his mind. Plywood, pine boards, PVC and epoxy are not known as lightweight materials.
Let’s look at how “little” damage these enormous dice could do to a small yacht. First, although the dice have GPS transmitters in them and as of early January had separated to about 60 miles apart, and though there is a web site where you can get the dice locations, it doesn’t do a small boat at sea much good because most, even if they have single sideband radios, don’t have access to the internet at sea.
Second, imagine surfing down a large wave at 10 knots, which was a fairly common occurrence for our Dana 24, and would be even more common on larger boats. Imagine colliding with a 16 cubic meter object made of plywood, pine boards, PVC and epoxy at that speed, at night. It would stop our boat cold. Imagine the difficulties and danger of untangling that mess in the dark. Imagine the dumb luck of not having a crewmember injured by an impact-generating fall, of not losing your mast or tearing a sail, of not damaging the hull or deck fittings from the impact.
Third, imagine having to sail on with a damaged boat, only to have the dumb luck of paying for repairs yourself, because there is no mention of either liability or damage offers in the artist’s publicity materials, which amount to an homage to dumb luck.
It’s kind of hard for me to get behind a so-called “art” project that has been deliberately designed to put mariners at risk in someone’s artificially-concocted “game of chance.” Sailors are not chess pieces for the amusement of others.
The materials in the dice have been declared “recyclable,” but to do that you must actually recycle them, not dump them in the ocean, which has enough plastics and man-made debris in it already.
Plastic results of a trawl in the Pacific's "garbage patch." Photo credit: Algalita Marine Research Foundation. More here.
I looked but have not found any statement of intent by the artist to recover the dice and actually recycle them. He has placed contact info and poems inside the dice. But it’s disingenuous to imply it’s a green project, because it’s not, and when the dice eventually wash ashore they will likely be somebody else’s headache.
There is very little about this boondoggle that does not offend me, not least of all being the likelihood of copycats with money to burn to appease equally colossal egos. It comes too soon after the recent “ocean fertilization” project, also illegal, off Canada’s Queen Charlotte Islands, now known as Haida Gwaii. Someone decided to dump enough iron sulphate to “fertilize” several hundred square miles of ocean so that more fish could be caught in one particular area. The affected water was visible from space. Scientists were alarmed and are still unsure of (and debating) long-term consequences versus short-term benefits. While that had nothing to do with the Aqua-Dice, it is another example of a dawning new era of breathtaking hubris.
Maybe by writing this post I am helping the “notoriety” of this artist, and maybe that’s just what he had in mind: to see indignant ripostes from people who prefer to leave a clean wake to show their respect for the sea, and the mariners who sail it. May the notoriety he wishes for never be tainted with injury to others, or loss of life or property. May he one day try going to sea for real, and have himself a nice big queasy helping of humble pie.