Thursday, January 30, 2014


Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

Please excuse the fuzzy picture above.  It was taken at 100x zoom from the deck of a moving boat.   What you see appears to be a plastic shopping bag that blew in the wind and managed to snag on the top of the mast of a sailboat.  Imagine how improbable that was.

The bag would interfere with instruments up there, and conceivably could break the radio antenna.   The owner of this boat is old and heavy and unable to climb his mast.  He had to ask for help on the net.  (Help which he got within 10 minutes, more cruisers helping cruisers.)   My point today though is that this skipper was unprepared for this contingency.

Some bad things happen so often, and some equipment breaks so often, that most of us are well prepared to deal with it.   Other things happen less often.  Given enough time, even wildly improbable things might happen to you.  The best seamen are prepared for even unlikely things.

I just bought new navigation lights for the dinghy.  But then I realized that they could provide backups in case Tarwathie's navigation lights fail at sea.  That contingency has happened at least twice that I can think of.  I was able to accomplish repairs in both cases, but now I have another trick in my bag for that remote contingency.

I just put on a new tiller and blogged about that.  But while the tiller was dismounted for work, it made me think how difficult it would be to make a backup tiller if the first one broke.   I discovered that two 2x4 pieces of wood, 6 feet long will do the job.  I carry those 2x4s on deck, I have no other place for them.  

I also bought a new product at Home Depot, called Flexseal.  It is a high-tech fabric wrap using carbon fibers and epoxy.  It claims to be super strong and useful for repairs.  It might splice a broken tiller, or a bowsprit, or a spinnaker pole, or even a mast.  I'm not really sure how strong it is.  But I will carry it on board as part of my kit of tricks for meeting unforeseen contingencies.

What happens if you can't cope with a contingency?  Perhaps only inconvenience, but also perhaps you could lose your boat or lose your life.   I'm reminded of two stories that I've heard in the past two years of cruisers who got their rudder stuck full to port or starboard while in the middle of the ocean.  If you are unable to deal with that, perhaps by diving, then you are really screwed.  There are numerous tricks for emergency steering but none of them work with a stuck rudder.  Fortunately, nobody died in either of those cases, but one yacht was abandoned at sea.

Are experienced cruisers better at contingencies than newbies?  Presumably yes, but not necessarily yes.  Imagination and courage are the main ingredients.  Experience allows you to use your imagination over a longer period of time to build up your kit of tricks.  Experience also teaches you the real meaning of the word seaworthy. But most imagination and courage are qualities that come at birth.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know where your mast comes into the coach. But, I keep my emergency rudder handle (2x4 trimmed to size) wire tied to my mast. The good news being, my mast enters into the head right next to a bulkhead. So, the rudder handle rests on the head pan, tied to the mast. out of the weather! :D


Type your comments here.