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Sailing with Charlie – Keep Clear with the SAFDAF Rule

Charlie has been a sailing instructor in the BVI for many years. He puts a lot of emphasis on “rules of the road” and making sure that each and every student is fully aware of his obligations.

“If you are the ‘stand on’ boat you must maintain course and speed,” he explains tirelessly. “Only at the very last moment can you deviate from this rule if a collision is imminent.”

Now look at this scenario: A catamaran is approaching you on starboard tack. All his fenders are down and the swim ladder is trailing in the water. The mains’l is all the way up on the luff but the second reef is tied in on the clew: the boom is diagonal and pointing at the sky, the sail is a bagged out mess. The Genoa is all the way out but not trimmed and the top is luffing wildly, as a line trails in the water. While the yacht is making about two knots, the crew is swilling beer—and loud rock music can be heard. No doubt they’re having fun and no doubt they haven’t a clue about sailing.

Charlie is on starboard tack too, sailing toward the party boat on a collision course. He’s to leeward and the stand on vessel. Someone on the party boat screams across the water, “STARBOARD,” unaware that Charlie is the privileged vessel. Charlie immediately bears away to avoid a situation and in so doing he contradicts the rule: “maintain course and speed.”

In revisiting the situation with his students that night, Charlie explained that “God protects fools and drunks.” For the rest of the week Charlie was referred to as God.

Some charter clients, it seems, regard a good credit card as a suitable sailing qualification in order to rent a half million dollar yacht, since more and more incompetence on the water is witnessed every year. In fairness to charter companies, it’s hard to verify everyone’s sailing resume, and a few inadequate sailors sometimes slip through the cracks, endangering themselves and others.

Now Charlie has a new rule: “Scrutinize the boat you are approaching well in advance. Regardless of who is ‘stand on’ or ‘give way,’ if the situation merits it, keep clear. It’s called the SAFDAF (Stay away from drunks and fools) rule and is likely to be included in the revised edition of the BVI’s “Maritime Charter Yacht Rules and Regulations.”

Julian Putley is the author of “The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI,” “Sunfun Calypso,” and a new sequel, “Sunfun Gospel.”

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