WHAT’S THE WORST THING that can happen to a sailor? That’s what Old Wotsisname and a couple of his pals were trying to figure out the other day as they stood around on the docks dodging rain showers.
OW said the worst thing that ever happened to him was being banned from the yacht club bar for calling the commodore an idiot to his face. But he got his own back. He resigned from the club and moved his boat to another city — yeah, OW really showed them!
However, his pals had other ideas about the worst calamities that can happen to a small-boat sailor, among them:
► Mast failure. Nothing makes your heart beat faster than the sight of your mast going overboard. The seriousness of the situation depends on many things, of course, especially how far away you are from land and rescue services.
► Anchor dragging onto a lee shore. Naturally, this only happens in the worst weather when it will cause maximum harm. Depending on the forecast, and how fast the anchor is moving, and how far offshore you are, it can be white-knuckle time. The answer is to retrieve your anchor and put out to sea as soon as the wind starts blowing hard onshore.
► Engine failure while entering a strange marina. It happens with puzzling frequency. It’s as if engines know when best to punish you. One answer is to have a stern anchor set up and ready to hurl overboard within seconds.
► A leak in the water tank at sea. It really gets your attention when you wake up to find your floorboards awash in fresh water. Whether you die of thirst or not depends on your knowledge of extracting lymphatic fluid from fish, as Dr. Alain Bombard did, and how much moisture there is in those cans of baked beans in the galley.
► Seasickness. For those afflicted, nothing is worse, even death itself. In fact, some in the deepest throes of this maritime misery have been known to beg to be allowed to die. Don’t let them. Force-feed them with dry crackers, keep them hydrated, and give them a steady supply of brown paper bags. And don’t expect any thanks.
► Some other suggestions from OW’s consultation group included:
— Going hard aground at high spring tide in front of the yacht club.
— Turning turtle at sea.
— Complete compass failure at sea.
— Getting too old to sail.
And, rather poignantly, one old salt opined that the worst thing that can happen to a sailor is to lose his or her long-time sailing partner. I thought it better not to ask him how he knew.
The true test of seamanship is how a sailor reacts when things go wrong, as they surely will.
— John Vigor
Boaters’ Rules of Thumb, #116
Winged keels. Wings at the bottom of a keel are an advantage only if you have a draft restriction. They get ballast low and help cut down on induced drag, but most boats could be made equally efficient by using deeper ordinary keels.
“You quite sure you shot this gator yourself?”
“Howcome it’s all dirty along one side?”
“Hit the mud when it fell out of the tree.”