Sipping Snake Oil through a Straw

This post may be an eruption of a mind suffering from the flu and peak G’Town boat volumes at the same time, so if I drift too far into Bozo-esque negativity, I apologize. But at least in my present state of mind, I can’t help but poke fun at the soapbox that is the Volleyball Beach cruiser-conducted seminar.

If you’re mercifully unaware of this phenomenon, let me update you. The cruisers are in possession of a Regatta-purchased, free-for-anyone’s-use speaker system. The siren call of the microphone, combined with a large audience that will turn out for any event, breeds lunacy and misinformation faster than the blogosphere. So Amy tip of the day: Listener beware!

Take this example: an annual battery and charging seminar routinely gives advice that, if you follow it, may blow up your battery and charging system. Don’t take my word—I fear electricity and couldn't spot problems in a lecture on the topic. Trust the certified boat surveyor and electrical engineer playing volleyball within earshot of one these fact-massacres. Or consult the master electrician who was present this year and asked Thomas to confirm that there is no reason to invoke quantum theory in explaining the operation of MPPT solar charger controllers. (Um, no. Unless it helps the single-hander presenting pick up chicks.)

We also had the Cuba seminar that dismissed the changes in U.S. policy that have elsewhere been cited as the “the most significant…in more than fifty years.” As widely reported, for example here, “The new rules let U.S. citizens that fall into 12 categories, such as educational travelers, visit Cuba without applying for a specific license. And they can spend what they want (per diem spending limits are lifted), use U.S. credit and debit cards, and bring back $400 in goods, including $100 in alcohol and tobacco products.” Yep, no real impact on American cruisers considering a visit!

Then there was the class given by a very nice lady who swears she suffered a "complete immune shutdown" due to chemicals in things like drinking water. Now, let me preface my comments by saying that I agree with her message about reducing our exposures to artificial chemicals. I say this as the daughter of an MS sufferer who became largely asymptomatic by eliminating her triggers. But I also believe in speaking in medically correct terms when dispensing medical advice. (Said MS sufferer was an RN and my father is a soon-to-retire surgeon.)

My understanding (and I checked with Dad) is that even a relatively major immune shutdown resigns you to a bubble in a hospital. Seen those awful complications from late-stage AIDS? That's an immune system so weak it can’t, for example, counter overgrowth of common bacteria on the skin and makes contact with a friend with sniffles potentially life-threatening. So no, if your cure was to drink from glass instead of plastic (but through a plastic straw, mind you) and to buy an older fiberglass boat because the off-gassing is over, those are great moves if you feel better but you did not in fact have a complete immune shutdown.

Yeesh, I intended this post to do more than vent so I will get to my point: take all the information and advice that we cruisers share with a full shaker of salt. I hope we repeat it enough on this blog: whatever we say is based on our experience and cruising style. And we're probably flat-out wrong a lot! Mostly Bozo—I tell him that all the time!

It actually took me a while to adopt this skeptical mindset. During our first year out, I was only 29 and probably overwhelmed by what we had undertaken (seems silly in's not like we're globe trotting). Anyone who had "been there done that" was to be worshiped. I must have given off a vibe (Thomas says it emanated from my boobs), because every guy with a Hemingway ponytail and/or bushy Santa beard pulled us aside to give us the benefit of his wisdom. The more run-down looking the guy or boat, the more "authentic" and "salty" I believed them to be.

Bozo always listened and asked lots of questions, but he had a better nose for reliable information (sometimes literally: one of the first signs of single-hander syndrome is inconsistent personal hygiene). Whereas I wanted to do everything per the instructions of the latest Hemingway, Thomas insisted on, you know, filtering the opinions and deciding what worked for us. Go figure.

Turns out he was right (but don’t tell him). We certainly made our mistakes and still do, but here we are, while I have yet to see any of those decrepit ferro-cement schooner captains outside the U.S. They're probably still in Florida impressing the next young female cruiser with their wisdom. If that describes you, you've been warned.

All this, however, leaves the problem of finding reliable help from knowledgeable people when something’s broken, when you’d like some local knowledge of a destination, etc. How do you distinguish the experts from the ubiquitous snake oil seminar salespeople?

In my experience (salt, salt), most of the people in the know aren't promoting themselves. As my dad says, bragging that you are a doctor at a cocktail party guarantees a night of "I’ve got this strange pain..." Thus you will notice the physicians in the harbor, while always quick to volunteer assistance in case of emergency or acute need (as two specialists did after hearing through the grapevine Thomas was in rough shape joint-wise last year. THANK YOU!), aren’t the ones giving unsolicited medical advice at potlucks.

The same goes for those with boat-related skills. A few years back, a talented mechanical engineer CAD-designed and fabricated a prop puller for a disabled 60-foot powerboat that had hit a reef and a second generation boat repair yard owner led the successful in-water intervention. Neither of them gave a talk afterward.

There’s a diesel mechanic who swears to strangers that he was in sales. The aforementioned surveyor doesn't jump on every inquiry on the Net. And our favorite circumnavigators, who probably have more wisdom than the rest of us combined, don't mention their sailing achievements and opinions unless you pry.

Now despite my diatribe, please don’t assume that every cruiser seminar is junk. Some great people conduct them as a way to pay forward. One of the most productive cruiser-fishermen ever gave a talk every year until he sold his boat. An excellent small engine mechanic did a strip-and-rebuild of an outboard for an audience. You can learn about and find others interested in art techniques, raw vegan diets, cruising the Caribbean, whatever.

Absolutely attend these and other information sessions at will. But when it counts, always, always trust but verify (a rare Reagan reference from me!). You and your boat will be safer for it.

Comments (4) -

mondoBthe beud 3/3/2015 2:08:44 PM

Dude thats way to many words and not enough half naked chicks on the sand. I am so high I could hunt ducks with a rake. Wanna get high?


Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear......Marvin Gaye!!!

seeker of new experiences 3/4/2015 10:33:32 AM

OK,  . . . . MondoBud . . . . – upon your recommendation, I went to my local dealer seeking some Bobo Cush.  She gave me this funny look . . . .and said, “You mean BC Cush or Bobo Bush?”

I says, “which one sells better?”

She says, “for an old bald person like you, try the Bobo Bush.”

I says, “why’s that?”

She says, “this s**t is so f****g bad it makes your hair fall out. In your case it won’t matter.”

So, I says, “OK, I’ll buy a pound of that stuff.”

Wide eyed, she spits, “A pound?”

I says, “Well, how much does a person buy?”

She says, “here idiot, there’s enough for one joint. If you live through this, come back for more.”

So, MondoBud, I have my stash. But now can you tell me what a ‘number 2 this veil wrapper’ is?

Hey Tom what the hell is a flux capacitor? Thanks. Art.

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