Slow And Steady

No one knows quite how long ago man first balanced on a log, discovered he could float ... and then realized he was really far away from shore ... and found out he couldn't swim. But the evidence suggests it was a very, very long time ago. The oldest boat ever recovered was a "logboat" that is believed to have been carved around 10,000 years ago somewhere in what is now the Netherlands. Long before that, our ancestors colonized places that scientists assure us could only have been reached by floating there on something — Australia 40,000 years ago, Crete 130,000 years ago, and the Indonesian Island of Flores where ancient artifacts have been found that date back 800,000 to 900,000 years.

We can be pretty sure that once ancient humans figured out how to craft vessels that could be more or less depended upon to stay afloat, we wanted to do more than drift with wind and current. Dugout canoes gave way to more sophisticated boats with rudders, oars, and sails. By 2500 BC, the Egyptian pharaoh Khufu (better known as Cheops to the Western world) was buried with a ceremonial "barge" 20 feet wide and 143 feet long.

But oars and sails could take us only so far. The great European voyages of exploration were done aboard ships that averaged about 4 knots, the pace of a very brisk walk or very slow jog. No surprise that when steam technology came to ships in the late 1800s, sail all but disappeared in a few short decades. Today we have boats breaking speed records over 200 mph, and recreational power boats with three or four engines regularly buzz around at highway speed.

No question: Fast is fun. But when it comes to safety, returning to our seagoing roots and slowing it down to walking pace is definitely better. Our brains are better able to keep up with the pace they've been used to for most of our evolutionary development. Our reflexes don't react soon enough after driving cars on roads where things like friction work differently than on the water. With no brake pedal to stomp on and inertia working against us, boats tend to be objects in motion that stay in motion — until they encounter an object not in motion. That's when photos like this show up in our claim files.

So, please, take it slow this upcoming 4th of July weekend. Give your lizard brain every possible chance to do the right thing. Sure, open up the throttle when you've got miles of water around you. But when you're maneuvering after the fireworks, a walking pace is best. And when you're heading in to the dock in a crowded marina, you're going too fast if you're not bored. Far better to get there slowly than not to get there at all. 

— Published: July 2015

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