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Instinct and Red Caps

Gary E. Brown delivers his wit and wisdom in audio format. Available on iTunes and at garyebrown.net/audiovideo.html

Accidents on superyachts are in the news and the last couple of months have seen two fatalities as crew went about their everyday maintenance work. Unlike the merchant marine, where accidents are carefully logged and statistics are made available to various maritime agencies, many accidents in the yachting industry go unreported. Going to sea always involves risk and certain marine industries, like commercial fishing, have one of the highest accident rates going. This month in his article: Code of Safe Working Practices (p48), Jeff Werner focuses on safety in the superyacht industry and ways to reduce the risks faced by crew. Careful planning, risk assessment, risk management and personal protective equipment are all discussed.

During my seagoing career, both commercial and leisure, I have seen some serious accidents including loss of limbs, concussion, drowning and death by electrocution. All At Sea is dedicated to promoting leisure sailing and the carefree lifestyle that goes with it, and you might think it strange that I brought up the subject of accidents at sea. But it would be remiss of us not to touch on the subject if only as a gentle reminder to take care.

I am not immune to shipboard accidents and have a good few scars to prove it. Sailing is an activity that often calls for snap decisions, reflex actions to prevent a situation from escalating. These snap decisions can go both ways. For instance, we were crossing the Mona Passage at night when we were hit by a massive squall. The wind picked up and continued to increase until I feared for the safety of the boat. The mainsail was already well reefed and the staysail came down at a run, the crisis was at the end of our ten-foot bowsprit, where the ancient furling system jammed and the thrashing jib threatened to bring down the rig. The only way to solve the problem was to drop the whole furling system, stay and all. That meant a trip to the end of the bowsprit to gather everything in and lash it down before it went under the boat and cause even more mayhem. My decision was instant and instinctive. I threw off my harness and lifejacket and climbed out onto the bowsprit. This was not bravado. I threw them off because I knew they might snag at a time when full freedom of movement was vital. This was a serious incident and swift action saved the day (and the mast).

Another example of a reflex action almost led to tragedy. My wife and I were sailing on a boat with friends when the skipper’s beloved Mount Gay cap blew off and he immediately leapt over the side in pursuit. His wife went into a screaming panic, while we sat looking at each other in disbelief. The boat, completely indifferent, sailed on at seven knots, the autopilot caring little for the unfolding drama astern. We got the guy back on board but he almost drowned.

In both these scenarios, reflex actions took over. I certainly don’t condone diving overboard to save a hat, I’m all for careful planning. The trick is making the right choice.



AHOY – Not only can you read All At Sea, now you can listen to it. Drawing on his experience as a broadcaster, the Editor has climbed behind the microphone once more to produce the monthly All At Sea Podcast. Each program/download lasts approximately thirty minutes and will cover a wide range of topics and host some fun interviews. The Podcast is available from iTunes or you can download it to your MP3 player, tablet or computer by following the links on our websites: allatsea.net or garyebrown.net. You can also find news about future Podcasts on our facebook page.

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