Here you will find tales of voyages past and present on our trusty Pacific Seacraft Dana 24, "Sockdolager," and more recently, our Bigfoot29 powerboat, "Raven," from Port Townsend, Washington, USA. In 2009 we sailed north from Puget Sound up the west coast of Vancouver Island to the Queen Charlotte Islands (now called Haida Gwaii.) In 2010 we went back to the west coast of Vancouver Island. In July 2011 we left the Northwest, sailed to Mexico, and in March 2012 we crossed the Pacific to French Polynesia, then on to the Cooks, Niue and Tonga. We spent several months in New Zealand, and in May 2013 loaded the boat (and ourselves) on a container ship for San Francisco. In June and July 2013 we sailed north along the California, Oregon and Washington coasts, and in August we arrived home. In October 2016 Sockdolager found new owners, and we are now enjoying Raven, a unique wooden 29' powerboat. In 2018 we cruised up to Glacier Bay, Alaska, and back. We hope you enjoy reading about our adventures as much as we enjoy having them. (And there will be more.)

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.


  1. I can't believe someone would do that. Since they can be tracked, he should get a hefty invoice for someone to go out and fetch them back immediately and throw them on his car to celebrate "dumb luck" so he can recycle them at his leisure.

  2. Unbelievable!! What an idiot! It's hard enough being on watch and looking out for ships and natural floating objects... now some 'artist' (and I say that tongue firmly planted in cheek) throws garbage in the ocean for us to have to avoid. Nice. Can't wait til we have to cross the Atlantic in two years - that junk may well be right in our path by then. Great!

    Thanks for sharing

  3. One would think that a love of the sea would be a little less passive-aggressive than this. Whether the dice are in violation of MARPOL is uncertain, since the dice are considered art and were actually funded by a grant from the French government. (Google MARPOL or go here:

  4. Your post resonated with me before, but in light of hearing about a boat that recently struck an unidentified object near Tonga (Sailor rescued, boat sinking) - makes it all the more crazy that someone would justify leaving large floating obstacles (because that's what they are) like that ON PURPOSE in the name of "art" ... without thought for the potential consequences. As an artist and a sailor, it's insulting.