November 4, 2010

Sailors’ worst nightmares

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.

Today’s Thought
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.”


Ken said...

As helping crew on a delivery from Anapolis to Tortola BVI, of a lightly built race boat in late winter, I got so sick I really, really did pray to the sea to deliver a half floating containor so we could hit it and sink quickly.

Doc Häagen-Dazs said...

I never cruise anymore because engines have always hated me and want to do me in. And I am already too old to sail, so that is no longer my greatest fear!

Mike said...

The worst thing is finding out a day or two into an Atlantic crossing that the skipper is a complete arsehole.

ben said...

As a single-hander, it's definitely falling off the boat.

Ken said...

ben: Yeah, I remember standing on the aft deck of my little sailboat just a half a step away of being overboard while sailing wing and wing, crossing a calm Gulf Stream thinking of how easy it would be to just ....slip....and see my boat sail away from me.

The Unlikely Boatbuilder said...

That's why I tie myself to the boat :-)

Annie R said...

Knowing someone who lost crew members when it happened, I believe that losing the keel is the sailors' worst nightmare. Your world is instantly turned upsidedown. If you're down below it's very hard to find the companionway and escape into the cockpit where there are tangled lines to avoid before popping up beside the hull.

You've got a struggle on to launch your liferaft - in my friend's situation, although in survey, it failed.

That's when you want to know that your EPIRB is working.

J World Sailing said...

Sinking... although I would probably agree that the loss of a keel could be close, given the aforementioned complications of launching a liferaft... would depend if the boat is staying afloat inverted.

For an in depth account of a sinking incident that happened when whales struck one of our boats off the coast of Mexico, check out our blog (direct link to the story below). The skipper/instructor aboard wrote a detailed account which can serve as a valuable lesson to all sailors. Bottom line: liferaft and EPIRB. The will save lives.

Many thanks for the great blog! Keep it coming!