The Black Box

John Vigor is an experienced sailor who has written a number of highly readable and informative books about sailing and cruising. We found his "The Seaworthy Offshore Sailboat: A Guide to Essential Features, Handling and Gear" immensely useful when we were shopping for a blue-water cruising sailboat. And we kept his "Boatowner's Handbook: Reference Data for Maintenance, Repair, Navigation and Seamanship" sitting by the Nav Station.

In some of his books, Vigor describes a theory he derived after trying to figure out why some boaters have fewer accidents, and endure fewer storms and disasters than others. Below is a synopsis of his theory as it is described in his Practical Mariner's Book of Knowledge, yet another useful reference by this author.

"There is no such thing as fortuitous luck at sea. The reason why some boaters survive storms or have fewer accidents than others is that they earn their luck by diligent and constant acts of seamanship.

"Aboard every boat there's an invisible black box. Every time a skipper takes the trouble to consult the chart, inspect the filters, go forward on a rainy night to check the running lights, or take any other proper seamanlike precaution, he or she earns a point that goes into the black box. In times of stress, in heavy weather or other threatening circumstances where human skill and effort can accomplish no more, the points are cashed in as protection... Those skippers with no points in the box are the ones later described as unlucky.

"The skipper has no control over the withdrawal of points, and once points have been removed, then the skipper must immediately start to replenish their savings, for the sea offers no credit."

We strongly believed in Vigor's Black Box Theory, and practiced its dictums. A few times we came close to disaster but apparently had enough points in Callipygia's Black Box so that they were only near squeaks. We met many boaters who had no points in their Black Boxes - and who suffered major disasters, in two cases fatal.


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Bill Dillon (KG4QFM)
Pat Watt (KG4QFQ)
This page was last modified on August 9, 2009

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