The law of the sea
- Subtitle: Letter from Law Law Land
From personal experience, I think it’s important to challenge yourself “non-legally” during your legal career. Whether its running marathons, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, or sailing more than 5,550 kilometres in the open ocean, challenging yourself “outside the office” indicates you have a life outside of the law, which is a good thing. Otherwise, if all you have to talk about at parties is the law, you risk being considered dull. I can say this sail was the most challenging thing I have ever done; mentally, physically, and dare I say, digestively.
The Vic-Maui Race covers 2,308 nautical miles (4,275 km) “as the albatross flies”, from just outside Victoria’s Inner Harbor to Lahaina. For those of you who did poorly on the LSAT (like me), it’s the same distance back home, but the wind isn’t coming from the most ideal place (i.e. behind you) and we’ve had to veer north-east (towards Japan) for a few hundred extra miles to be able to get the wind that will take us to Victoria. It’s not a straight line.
As my editor wants this column to say something about the law, I must say there isn’t much “law” out in the open Pacific Ocean. During the day, there are law-abiding sea birds, dolphins, and flying fish going about their lawful business, as well as non-negligent freighters complying with their shipping contracts and deep-sea fish boats lawfully fishing. We have fished as well, and have caught Mahi Mahi and Tuna. There is no quota 2,600 km from shore, so we are “legal.”
At night, during the “zombie watches” between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., (and 3 a.m. to 7 a.m.), there are also lawfully operating freighters and deep sea fish boats, but many of the fish boats don’t carry a transponder that provides information on the vessel, its course, and its speed (its called an AIS). So you have to keep a very sharp eye out for them, which isn’t easy in heavy seas where the waves are as big as houses. At night. In 25-knot winds.
Someone asked me before I left whether we anchor at night. I could say “Yes, we anchor in 5,800 metres of water, 2,600 km from shore and order a pizza over the satellite phone” but that would be nasty. We sail in pitch-black darkness by compass alone. When there is a moon or stars out, we use these celestial aids in addition to the compass. But imagine Space Mountain at Disney World, only on a rougher roller coaster lasting all night, and with buckets of water being thrown at you every so often.
For those environmental lawyers who religiously believe that there is an island of garbage the size of Texas called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” I’ve sailed through at least five Texas sized areas so far right where the “patch” is supposed to be and seen no evidence of this island. Maybe it’s like the island in Lost, or maybe it just isn’t quite what the pundits represent.
The real worry has been Tsunami debris from Japan. I photographed abandoned boats and rimmed car tires during the day (not the things that fall off freighters or fishing boats). God knows what we’ve missed hitting at night. One sailboat a day ahead of us hit a 4x5 piece of Styrofoam with a 4x4 piece of concrete dock attached to it: obviously from Japan. They made repairs at sea with underwater epoxy and we were prepared to rendezvous with them to give them more if they needed it.
News from home has been sporadic. Although there is email via SSB, it’s text-based without Internet. I do however have a shortwave radio, but have only been able to receive garbled news transmissions from North Korea’s Radio Pyongyang, Radio Beijing, Radio Canada International, and a host of American Christian fundamentalist/end of the world/armageddon/end of days broadcasters, who have Sarah Palin’s face carved into their cornfields, transmit from ham radios in their barns, and own many guns.
So piecing together what I hear from all these radio services from the middle of the Pacific, this is what I’m learning about the world. Again, the transmissions were garbled, so hopefully I have my facts straight:
1. The Olympics have started and ended in London, but American Republican candidate Mitt Romney criticized the entire British people for being unprepared for the Games, to the wrath of Boris Yeltsin, the London mayor, and former Soviet mole. And did I hear Romney picked Ron Paul as his VP or was it Paul Ryan? Or was it Paul McCartney?
2. You can actually cheat at badminton — who knew?
3. Radio Pyongyang announced the marriage of North Korean strong-boy Kim Jong-un, to U.S. Representative and Tea Party media darling Michelle Bachman. (Hard to believe, but maybe the signal was distorted).
4. I heard B.C. Premier Christie Clark won’t approve an oil pipeline to the coast unless B.C. gets a share of the royalties from the Oil Sands. That sounds rather un-Canadian to me. After all, by this logic, Alberta should be able to levy a royalty on lumber, minerals, or freight cars crossing the border from B.C. (Will Clark please stop dropping her “g’s” just to sound folksier. Good grief.)
In any event, it has been an experience although I look forward to arriving on dry land and returning to my 1,500 or so e-mails, my desk, and my life, happy in the knowledge that I can tick “blue water sailing across the open Pacific Ocean from Hawaii to Canada” off my bucket list.
And be less dull.
Tony Wilson is a franchise, licensing, and intellectual property lawyer at Boughton in Vancouver and an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University. He is a regular business law columnist with The Globe and Mail and other publications. He is also the author of Manage Your Online Reputation, a book written to guide individuals and businesses on how to monitor and protect their personal and corporate reputations on social media. The views expressed are strictly those of Tony Wilson and do not reflect the opinions of the Law Society of British Columbia, CBABC, or their respective members.
Column: Letter from Law Law Land