Alone Like a Rolling Stone

The Q Flag

If you live on a boat for a longer time, a very own cosmos develops on it. Especially on smaller boats, such as the ones we long distance skippers use and with which we sail the seas, mostly with a small crew or one hand, a life of its own develops.

One does not only share joys and sorrows, tears or happiness, ups or downs, one also shares health. Now some of you may wonder how and with whom a one-handed sailor shares. Usually these people have a dog or a cat on board. A Frenchman has chosen a chicken as a friend and sails around the world with it. An animal feels more and earlier than a human if something is wrong with you. Even in long partnerships, an animal is superior to us humans in this respect. In today's social media time, even those who are really all alone on board have found a way to share their cosmos and in some video messages you can sense whether the person is doing well or badly.

There are almost no limits to the communication channels today. Radio, satellite telephone, internet, today all registers are pulled to make themselves heard at sea, in the harbour or on the coast. This was not always the case. When the tools for modern communication did not exist, one had to use other things to communicate with each other. In 1817, Frederick Marryat introduced a system of flag signals to the British. In 1855 a flag alphabet was designed by the Board of Trade and published in 1857. In 1901 it became internationally valid. Initially used as a military application in war battles, the flag alphabet then took over the merchant fleet and is still valid today for every seagoing ship. With meanwhile 26 letter flags, 10 number flags, one signal pennant and four substitute pennants, more than 475000 different statements can be formulated. Thus, in our small cosmos, with the flag signal, one can communicate oneself to the outside world in countless ways. 

Among other things, the yellow signal flag Q (Quebec) indicates that everything on board is healthy and asks for free circulation. When set together with the first substitute, the signal means "I need health clearance". In the past, people used to say "My ship is suspected to be infected", which basically means the same. So it is recognizable for every external observer whether the ship is dangerous or whether everything is in order. 

Just as the skipper has the responsibility to keep his crew healthy, he also has the responsibility to inform his environment of any potential hazards that may emanate from the vessel. Failure to do so may result in civil and criminal prosecution. In this context, I find it absolutely incomprehensible how the Portuguese coast guard recently refused to allow an American yacht to enter a port, thereby accepting the risk of endangering the ship and its crew, without clarifying whether the yacht itself poses a danger. The same thing happened in Greece, where a skipper was driven out of a bay and now has to play hide and seek between the Greek islands in front of the coast guard. Certainly, most of us have managed to get to a safe harbour in time and wait for the Corona crisis to pass. Of course it is also part of good seamanship to be able to foresee things, only just as some governments have been surprised by the persistence of the virus, so have some skippers been surprised by the situation. The potential danger posed by such yachts is, in my view, very small and can be minimised even further by proper signalling and international maritime law. Regulated by the law on ports of refuge, entry into a port of refuge is to be tolerated by the coastal state, so a state that generally prohibits the entry of a yacht is in breach of international law. With all due respect, even if the fear of infection prevails at the moment, there are other ways of protecting oneself from it, even if the ship from which the danger emanates is already in port. There are other ways of minimising the risk also for the ship and its crew. This is something that decision makers should take into account, despite the tense situation.

I just wanted to get rid of that. I am always surprised at the decisions made by people in whom most of us have great trust. Those who are supposed to manage the crisis now, but perhaps long before, have set the course in such a way that these effects could occur. Doubts about the people who have been elected are quite justified, especially as they create the populist breeding ground for people who have nothing else to do but exploit people's fears to sow disfavour. In any case, I wish that there will be no further conflicts between the nations and therefore I would like to close the blog today with a story that I recently found on the internet.
An old Cherokee Indian sits with his little granddaughter at a campfire. He wants to tell her something about life. He says: "In life there are two wolves fighting with each other: The first is fear, distrust, enmity, fight and hate. The second is love, trust, friendship, hope and peace." The little girl looks into the fire for a while, then she asks her grandfather: "What wolf wins...?" The old Indian is silent. After a while, he answers, "The one you feed."
In this sense, always fair winds and keep your ears stiff. Stays healthy.