Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Marriage Saver

Marathon Public Library

We bought a pair of radio headsets from the local water taxi, Smorgasboat. It's a novel product. It has a pair of headsets, each with two ear-covering phones and a built in microphone. The sets contact each other by radio. No tuning or channel selection is necessary.

The idea is to use the headsets to communicate between the person at the bow and the person at the helm during critical maneuves such as docking, anchoring, and picking up a mooring.

Communcations are very difficult in such situations. First, there is a considerable distance between mouth and ear. Second, there is engine noise and often wind and water noise interference. Third, there is an instinct of the person in the bow to face forward, looking at the thing they are trying to describe. Their speech is then carried away by the wind and inaudible to those behind them.

Miscommunications and unheard commands in these situations are famous for causing friction, anxiety, hard feelings, and in extreme cases, divorces. Hence, the nickname for the product, marriage saver.

The funniest story I heard along these lines was about a couple trying to dock a big power boat. The husband was at the helm (the usual arrangement) and the wife was on the forward deck with a boat hook. At one point, she hooked a lifeline on another boat to pull them in. At that moment, the husband decided to back out. He turned his head away and put the boat into reverse. The poor wife tried to hang on to the boat hook but she was eventually overpowered and let go. The boat hook was launched by the lifeline like an arrow from a bowstring. It flew through the air and broke the windshield of a third boat nearby.

Libby and I use hand signals as much as possible but that only works some times. So far, we've avoided complete disasters or angry fights , nevertheless we think that we'll much appreciate our marriage saver.

By the way, picking up a mooring in a stiff wind is about the most difficult boating maneuver we know. We still haven't mastered it. The problem is that one approaches the mooring slowly, trying to make the boat speed reach zero at the same time that the bow reaches the mooring. Of course, when the boat speed does approach zero, one looses steerage control and the bow starts to fall away. The difficulty is compounded by the lack of standard ways to make moorings and pennants. One never knows what to expect: a long-light pennant, a short heavy one, none at all, and who knows.

Meanwhile, the person up forward, has caught the mooring pennant with the boat hook and is trying to lift it up and fasten it to a cleat. But if the bow falls away due to wind, the pennant drifts away with the boat hook hooked on. The crew person is unable to unhook the hook because of the tension and is eventually overpowered, or else the handle pops off the end of the boat hook. Either way, the boat hook is launched in to the water. We lost two boat hooks this way in our first year. Since then we buy only floating boat hooks, and we haven't lost them but on three occasions we had to go chasing a wayward hook with the dinghy.

I think that the solution is to pick up the mooring pennant, not from the bow but from a position 10 feet or so back from the bow, and to have your own pennant ready in case it is needed. That's easier said than done. If we ever really master this maneuver, I'll write a blog about it.

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