Monday, August 20, 2012

Honest Officer ...

... I am trying to take you seriously.

This was my week for "ramp checks." We pulled into Kansas City's Downtown airport on Monday to be met on the ramp by an FAA inspector. Pilot's licences and medicals checked, Aircraft Operating Handbook on board along with properly approved check lists, weight and balance information, minimum equipment list (MEL) and Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum (RVSM) paperwork checked, Registration, Airworthiness and FCC station licence accounted for, and a walk around inspection of the aircraft. "All I can tell you Sir, is that all the big parts were attached when we left Bonneville. If you notice anything missing please let us know."

I've been ramped countless times before and Mr. FAA man was easy to get along with, but the sad fact is he accomplished exactly zero. The skies are no safer, I don't know anything I didn't know before, the airplane was just the same leaving as it was arriving ... a completely pointless exercise in administrative / enforcement B.S. It looks good on a piece of paper somewhere to somebody, but ...

Saturday night Friend Joel invited us out for an evening sail. There were 5 pretty capable lake sailors sitting around the deck with one guest. The winds were light, the corps bugs were out in full force, and though there were a couple of other boats out on the lake they were either anchored up for the night or, all being other sailboats, not making any more speed than we were, a la less than two knots. They were also all over on the other side of the lake, more than 3 miles away. With the sun just below the horizon we turned toward home, which also put us on a better point of sail so we could make our 2 knots. Over by party beach a power boat fired up and headed our direction. Though the sun was down there was still plenty of light to see him coming. (For those living in more southern latitudes evening twilight lasts a long time in these parts at this time of the year. More than an hour after sunset there is still light in the sky.)

We are cautious sailors who don't really trust power boaters all that much, particularly late on a Saturday evening when sailors of all types are likely spending time with Captain Morgan. Emily went below to turn on the nav lights.

As it turned out the power boat belonged to the Corps of Engineers; manned by a young Dudley Do-Right and his assistant, Barney Fife. We were dutifully informed that it was 36 minutes after official sunset and we had been running without our lights on. Indeed, according to these uniformed custodians of all sailing wisdom, we were deep into "ticket time" and they had every right to cite Friend Joel for hazardous operations. Ticket time? Could this be Bert and Ernie of Sesame Street fame masquerading as Dudley and Barney? It was hard to keep from laughing though I promise that these two were serious. It seemed counterproductive to point out that there was plenty of light for them to spot us over a mile away without our lights on.

Life vests were displayed upon request. (Deb's and my inflatables not included in the total as we were not actually wearing them - which may be, in 40 some years of dealing with bureaucracies - the absolute dumbest rule interpretation I have ever run across.) Paperwork was handed over as the Corps boat pulled against our hull sans fenders or any words from the Corps Boat driver that he was going to do any such thing, found to be in order, then handed back. We were also informed that we were heading toward a sandbar and had best change our heading, advise that was mostly a puzzle. Said sandbar was south of our north heading boats, the next thing we were going to run into was the railroad causeway more than a mile away. Friend Kacey (who, like the rest of us was clearly working at holding his tongue) allowed that, as our depth gage showed 5 feet under the keel, we would be okay for a while yet. Besides, with their boat hard against our starboard side we weren't turning anywhere until they backed away.

Which they eventually did without, fortunately, writing any tickets. Unfortunately, since we all had our lights on now, they also left us in the midst of the worst cloud of corps bugs any of us had ever seen. The rest of the sail was rather unpleasant.

As in the FAA's ramp check absolutely nothing was accomplished. Sailing the lake is no safer and the boat is the same. I did learn something though. Apparently the Corps of Engineers knows less about the topography of the lake they manage than do 5 pretty capable lake sailors ... and one guest.

I really do try to take these encounters seriously. After all the official types have the weight of government authority behind them, almost always come spring loaded to the pissed off position, and very often come packing. I was taught never to give lip to anyone who was either smaller than I ... or better armed. But really guys, lake Carlyle on a Saturday evening when we were literally the only moving thing within miles?

The only hazard we faced came from the Corps boat. The corps bugs were just annoying.


Latitude 43 said...

I've probably just jinxed it, but we've never been boarded on the sailboat. Got pulled over in the dinghy once. We were supposedly going too fast in a no wake zone. My old college buddy weighed in at about 275, and there was no way the 8hp was going to get us anywhere fast. My pal looked like a well fed John Lennon at the time, so the sheriff probably thought we were out for a puff behind the island. I had all the safety gear, no drinking, and he cited me for not having an anchor. The other officer rolled his eyes and let us go. Amazing what happens to a person when they put on a badge.

S/V Veranda said...

This is all good training for transiting Floriduh.

TJ said...

"Floriduh." That got the smile of the day.