MAN OVER BOARD! I screamed loud enough to get the attention of all hands. 30 minutes searching in vain and I knew all was lost, I announced that Carina was dead and we resumed course. I only have two hard and fast rules on my boat, don’t fall overboard and don’t hit anything.
It’s easy to sit at the edge of the ocean staring out over that great expanse and assume that the world is flat. Safety at sea is one of my big pet peeves, you cant buy safety. If over twenty five years at sea has taught me anything its that you can never be fully prepared for what is going to happen next.
What makes your boat safer? Properly tuned and maintained standing and running rigging or an EPIRB? Radar or a well maintained steering system? Skill and experience or a life-raft? GPS and chart plotter with AIS or a well rested crew? In a perfect world we would have all listed above and more but rare is it that we can have everything we need and want before setting off in a reasonable and timely manor.
Back when I taught sailing school I had several rituals that I performed long before we ever left the dock.
The fist one was a written test, if you didn’t pass you were bumped from the class and lost your deposit. I have learned the hard way that there will always be that one person who shows up completely unprepared and dominates the class time with a complete disregardful for the time and effort the other students have actually put into preparing for the class.
The second was I would pull the boat out half way of the slip and make everybody jump overboard and try to climb back aboard. Rarely did anyone make it aboard and I would leave them in the water till the point was made. If you fall overboard you are going to die.
The last and most fun was I would give everybody a coconut and have them write their names on it. One by one over the course of the next week I would huck a coconut overboard at the most inopportune moments and start a real life man overboard drill. Anyone can do rounds in the bay chasing a day glow cushion in flat water and that’s how we would start. When the drill is offshore and there is a real person, i.e., a coconut with a name it becomes much more serious and much more real. On more than one occasion I have had students break into tears after loosing their spouses coconut head to the sea.
I’m not a great sailor and doubt I would even consider myself a good sailor but I am a sailor. The only way to be truly safe at sea is to go there and let her teach you the same lessons she has taught all sailors since the beginning of time.
If you want to be a sailor you have to go to sea.