Set­ting Sail

When Boats Hurt

SAIL - - Contents -

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

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