SURVEYOR'S NOTEBOOK

The Big Maritime Things in 2020

By Rik van Hemmen

I ended my 2019 annual review with an admonition not to work like a robot or you will be replaced by one quickly. The comment was intended to warn engineers to be innovative or they will be replaced by robots.

Now, at the end of 2020, I have a whole new vision of the effect of robots, since we have had to rely on true human labor to such a large extent with regard to caretakers, and essential workers.
By any standard 2020 has been a rotten year, but even with all the misery, there have been some pinpoints of light. Still, I just want to be able to swim away from this mess in 2021.

Let’s try a list to wrap this thing up, starting with the truly bad and ending with some pinpoints of light.

1. Non Maritime Government Mismanagement

Let’s face it, in maritime we have to deal with reality. That has pushed superstition, irrational thinking and petty partisanship deep into the bilges of our industry. In maritime we are always in the same boat (either literally or symbolically) and will therefore all take an oar and pull. As maritime people to see the thorough dismissal of science, complete lack of rational risk management and stupid political cowardice of government leaders has been particularly harrowing in 2020. Is there hope? We will see.

2. The Total Collapse of the Cruise Industry

This hospitality industry collapse has occurred ashore and at sea, but the workout of the collapse may take on a different form in the maritime sector. A hotel can run at much reduced capacity and still make a little money, but cruise ships cannot run at reduced capacity and therefore need to be laid up. Closing a hotel is not pleasant, but can be economically performed. Over the years we have dealt with many cruise ship reactivations and they are at best expensive and at worst a nightmare. Will the cruise industry return in force, and how long will it take?

3. Bureaucratic Mismanagement of Crew Repatriations

Occasionally there were flashes of brilliance in government COVID response (New Zeeland, etc.), but with regard to crew repatriations the government response has generally been horrible. This poor response is fully related to the inherent self sufficiency of the maritime industry. We do our thing and except for an occasional major disaster, we do it invisibly. So when in this strange year the maritime industry was asking for special treatment of ship’s crews there simply was no government response. In other industries this would result in a strike, in maritime the crews simply keep on trucking.

That is the maritime real bad. Now we have the good news/bad news items.

4. The Collapse of the Ferry Industry

I called it the collapse of the ferry industry, because particularly commuter ferry operations were devastated. However, in shipping when the chips (ships?) are down the shipping people will look for new opportunities. While these newer ventures, like longer haul runs (thanks to low fuel costs), or whale watching cruises, or properly socially distanced boating trips to nowhere, are not bringing ferry operators into the black, they are training a new type of customer. Due to the general acceptance of remote work, the major commuter runs may never come back in certain locations, but the promise of happy customers on the water has not disappeared.

5. The Explosion in the Recreational Boating Industry

This is truly good news/bad news. It only took a few weeks into the pandemic for the wealthier to realize that there were few restrictions on the water and there was a stampede to the boat dealers. Good for boat dealers. Bad for traditional boaters. The yahoos were out this year and were a problem even without the Trump boat parades. What really bothered me is that most of these sales (and Trump parade participants) were ridiculously overpowered go fast boats. If you want to be on the water to enjoy your freedom why rush around doing it?

6. Low Fuel Prices

Normally, low fuel prices are bad (bad for marine investment by oil companies, bad for alternative energy investment, and, as far as I am concerned, too many high speed powerboats), but this year, we appear to have crossed into a new paradigm. Alternative energies are so inexpensive and overall energy demand dropped so much that oil companies have hit the writing on the wall, while alternative energy player keep on trucking. Once the pandemic is over, fuel prices will rise again, but I am starting to doubt that there will be much reinvestment by oil companies at that stage and many oil players are probably already thinking in terms of exit strategies.

7. The Birth of Remote Surveying

I feel sorry for the airline workers, but the abuse that this industry has heaped on me over the decades leaves me with boat loads of schadenfreude for the airline industry. COVID has forced the marine industry to regard the possibilities of remote surveying and I must admit I like it. No airline travel, and I get to perform a very dirty main engine survey while comfortable cruising on my boat in Long Island Sound. What I mean is that the dirty engine was in Cleveland and one of my dear brother surveyors was in the crankcase and getting dirty. Payback is a bitch. I know at some time in the future he will be ensconced behind a cocktail while I take my turn in the crankcase, but if it takes out the airlines I must say I am not unhappy.

8. ZOOM Meetings

We are inherently a widely dispersed industry and, as far as I am concerned, the rise of ZOOM etc., simply allows us to get to know more people all around the world. Despite hating airline travel (see item 7 above) I do enjoy meeting people in far flung places, but if I can’t meet in person, meeting face to face it not all bad. However, I do think that we need to develop a little more ritual or protocol with Zoom meetings. Somehow we become too efficient with Zoom meetings. We jump into the business at hand right away without getting to know each other a little. In person to person meetings we do make an effort to chat a little, have a drink or a meal together, or give the guest a little guided tour of her new surroundings. I think for Zoom meetings we should take a step back and budget some time for some chatting and random social interaction before we jump into the business at hand. Business is 90% understanding and that takes social time.

9. The Pace of Sustainable Existence

I first saw a solar panel at the Europort Trade Show in 1974. I immediately saw its potential. Free energy from the sun! I never lost that bug. However, I never made much progress (beyond being a committed sail boater and ice boater) until the last few years. Today I think my carbon footprint has been reduced by at least 50% from 10 years ago. I have roof top solar, buy only wind generated additional electric energy (cheaper than my utility standard rate!), drive a plug in hybrid Pacifica and a Bolt EV, stopped running two stroke engines (battery only), have massively reduced my air travel (thank you COVID) and am building a hyper efficient hybrid solar battery electric cruising boat. I am not bragging; I am making a point. If it took me almost 50 years to get this far, can I blame anybody for being slow on the uptake? But the most interesting consideration is this: Who feels better? Me or the Coal Rollers? It is not the tree hugging part of sustainability; the real joy is the self reliance, the lack of noise, the lack of dirt and the reduction in maintenance. Coal Rollers are unhappy people. They do what they do because they are unhappy; they feel powerless and react irrationally. So how can a Coal Roller become happier? Have an open mind, try an EV truck, and be honest with yourself. You will love it, and be happier.

10. I See Sail Propulsion on the Horizon

Instead of watching continuous COVID news, Brexit news, or election news I have tried to divert myself with the design of my Hybrid boat, the America’s Cup and sail propulsion in general. Progress is slow, but the signs are good.

 

Let 2021 be a year of Happy Progress and Smooth Sailing!

And don’t forget to support Wikipedia. In a world of bad data, it is a shining light of true knowledge. During 2020’s assault on true knowledge it was the toehold to truth.