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If the boat is happy, the crew is happy

Graphics by Hannah Welch
Graphics by Hannah Welch

Safety is always a concern for those venturing out onto the world’s oceans. On yachts there are mandatory safety requirements, which include fire extinguishers, flares, running lights, sound making devices and PFDs. The adequacy of the list is questionable; a VHF radio should be obligatory as should a comprehensive medicine chest. A conch horn may be considered legal but it wouldn’t do much good trying to capture the attention of the Queen Mary when it’s bearing down on you at 20 knots.

Crew overboard ‘accidents’ have been on the increase too: ‘Five Overboards in 18 Days’ screamed a headline in an on-line news site reporting on cruise ships recently. Now, you may be thinking that rather odd; after all cruise ships don’t heel over and there are sturdy railings everywhere. Cruise ship directors are now busy explaining that the overboards were suicides. This may not help future bookings unless they can make it clear that the reasons had nothing to do with the food, the ‘sheeple’ excursions, overcrowded day trips on cattlemarans or the geriatric fellow passengers.

There’s been an abundance of sailing accidents as well. Sailors being lifted out of the sea by the Coasties from boats unable to handle 30 knots and associated 10ft seas.  It highlights the need for thorough sea trials and crew training when it comes to safety. Spare parts for all operating systems are essential, with the ability to install them and fix problems. There’s a good saying when it comes to safety: If the boat is happy, the crew is happy. In other words if your yacht is wildly gyrating, slamming into waves, rolling or pitching dangerously then you haven’t made the boat comfortable and something will eventually break. Get those reefs tucked in early, everything should be stowed securely; a can of tuna flying across the cabin can be a dangerous weapon, not to mention a boat battery.

Charlie is often asked: “What kind of boat should I buy?” The answer is complicated. What do you want to do with the boat? There are so many variables. Do you want to charter, do day trips with tourists, tootle around the Caribbean islands, smuggle cases of rum, or sail the world in the high latitudes. Usually the answer is the latter and Charlie always recommends a sturdy monohull, cutter rigged around 40ft.

When you have your boat, practice man-overboard drills until you can do them blindfold. On Charlie’s training courses crew overboard practice is a priority. “On your person carry a small compressed air horn if you’re alone in the cockpit,” he explains. And if there are moans and groans Charlie explains it this way. “Just imagine you’re on watch sailing, your mate is below, sleeping. The boat is cruising at about six knots with the wind vane steering automatically. You go to the stern to take a wiz, you slip and into the water you go. The boat sails on oblivious and you watch it sail over the horizon. Two hours later your mate wakes up but by this time a shark has already taken one foot and is preparing for the rest of its lunch. It really could be a depressing moment …”


Julian Putley is the author of ‘The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI’, ‘Sunfun Calypso’, and ‘Sunfun Gospel’.


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