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Shipshape and Bristol Fashion

Fenders at the ready but how long would it take to hoist sail if the engine quit?
Fenders at the ready but how long would it take to hoist sail if the engine quit?

I think it’s fair to say that God smiles on fools and sailors. When my wife and I first went cruising we made some terrible mistakes and one of them almost cost us the boat and our lives. We were entering the port of Newhaven on the south coast of England, bound down channel for sunnier climes. A rising westerly gale and a seven meter boat do not mix, so nipping into the shelter of Newhaven seemed like the sensible thing to do. In those days, I was paranoid about arriving in port without the boat looking smart; everything squared away shipshape and Bristol fashion. I blame it on a repressed childhood because really I’m a bit of a slob.

When we arrived off the harbor the wind was already strong but like a fool I dropped all the sails and secured them in a harbor stow. To enter Newhaven’s inner harbor you first travel the length of a towering 320m long open concrete frame pier. Our boat was powered by a six horsepower outboard motor in a well in the cockpit and halfway down the length of the pier the darn thing quit. The angry beam seas saw their moment and, driven by the wind, hurled us toward the barnacle-encrusted legs of the pier. It happened so quickly that I had no chance of setting a sail and, even if I had, the pier was now so close that I would never gain enough speed to bring the boat through the eye of the wind and tack away from danger. We were going under the pier and my wife and I knew it.

By now the yacht was rolling on her beam-ends and each dip to starboard brought the masthead closer to the boardwalk atop the pier. Years of planning, scrimping and saving and it was about to end in shipwreck because I wanted a tidy boat. Now, don’t go thinking that while this was going on, I had given up, no, I was pulling on the outboard’s starter cord like a man demented, shouting and screaming for something to happen. And something did! As the rigging brushed the concrete, the motor started. The tiny outboard roared like a lion and pushed us, one painful inch at a time, out from under that terrible structure. I was sobbing with relief.

So, what has this story got to do with the Caribbean? Well, I’m a great observer and I love to watch boats maneuvering. Some people have an amazing amount of skill; they read the situation and are prepared for most eventualities, others, however, are like me entering Newhaven: Wind and seas on the beam, a reef to leeward, engine running and the sail covers on.
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War is a terrible thing and with so much of it going on, we are seeing more and more disabled servicemen and women returning to their home countries shattered in body and mind. As a peace loving sailing magazine, with an old hippy as editor, I was rather wary when writer Carol Bareuther came to me with the story of SUDS (Disabled Vets Get New Lease on Life Through SUDS SCUBA). Then I read her article.

Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba or SUDS, are helping rebuild shattered lives and they are using the ocean to do it. This is remarkable work. We all know that life in the Caribbean—sailing, swimming, just being here—is powerful medicine and SUDS are tapping into this resource with astounding results. Whether you believe the current slew of armed conflicts are right or wrong, one thing is for certain, there are some incredibly brave people in the world. Rebuilding your life after battlefield trauma calls for strength and courage and some people don’t make it. Read about the brave men and women who are rebuilding their lives with the help of volunteer doctors and the Caribbean Sea.

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