When Boats Hurt
The Ed ruminates...
When I’m on the boat, safety is seldom at the forefront of my mind but always at the back of it. It manifests itself in the small things, like always watching where I put my feet, constantly clearing and coiling cockpit spaghetti, knowing which handholds to reach for when the boat’s heeled over and bashing to windward, never trusting a lifeline and never wearing open-toed footwear or a baseball cap. I’m sure it‘s the same for everyone who’s spent any time sailing.
I’ve come by this suspicious nature the hard way. Years ago, stepping off a boat with a propane tank in each hand, I caught a flip-flop on the top lifeline and faceplanted on the dock. No more flip-flops on board for me. I broke this rule stepping aboard a raceboat the other week and, of course, tripped over the top lifeline again. As for the baseball cap, every time I wear one on a boat I bang my head on the boom, the top of a doorway or on a hatch lip. On my own boat it’s the catches on the inward-opening portlights that get me, and I am often sporting a scraped scalp from one of these. Somehow these things never happen when I wear my ancient, mildew- and oil-stained floppy Gill hat rather than a snazzy new baseball cap.
Bare feet should be another no-no, though I frequently break this rule on my own boat, having come into painful toe-tometal contact with every piece of deck gear often enough to be able to avoid them even at night. It was a tough learning process, though, punctuated by agonized cries and spilled cocktails.
It’s often said that the best way to treat lifelines is as though they don’t exist, and train yourself never to grab them unless you really, really have to. That’s why I walk along my side deck Quasimodo-style, with my torso bent inward and one hand poised for a handhold, drawing sympathetic glances from passing dinghy-loads of powerboaters who no doubt wonder how I can sail with such an obvious handicap. They have no idea that I’ve twice seen people fall overboard upon putting their weight on rusted-out lifelines that looked a lot like mine—which, I confess, are overdue for replacement.
Keeping an orderly cockpit should be second nature for a sailor. I’ve never understood people who can happily sail with a cockpit sole ankle-deep in assorted lines tangled like a snake’s orgy. I speak as someone who can manage to accidentally knot a line so securely around his ankle that Houdini would be hard pressed to undo it. Coil and hang them, or shove them down the companionway. Just make sure all is clear down there. I once banged open the main halyard clutch without checking, only to find the halyard had taken a turn around the handle on the heads door. That was an expensive fix, but at least the handle missed me on its way out. s