May 2013 – Salty John : The Blog

Just imagine it: A collection of cruising boats, barnacle encrusted and moored to the bottom by weed, lie against floating pontoons. A crusty old mariner is being helped down the dock by a white-coated warden. The dock has safety railings and kick plates. A couple of inmates are taking advantage of the stair lift to carry them up to the hard-standing where their mobility scooters are parked.

In the clubhouse a nautical quiz is underway. They hold it every week, same questions, same answers, but no one seems to notice. Over in the corner a furious row is in progress – it involves anchoring and Colregs and ensign etiquette. 

Where is it? It’s the new National Health Service Warden Assisted Marina for elderly cruisers, of course!

I think I’ll book a berth before they’re full.

I like to issue a clever, philosophical or funny thought for the day on Twitter, usually with a sailing or adventure context and, where possible, confined to one line. Here are some of my favourites:

The man who can’t steer a steady course thinks the sail trimmer can’t trim.
Have a care, therefore, where there is more sail than ballast. (William Penn)
Footprints in the sand of time are not made by sitting down.
Only dead fish swim with the stream. (A clever riposte to “Gentlemen don’t sail to weather”)
It has always been and always will be the same in the world: The crew does the work and the owner gets the trophy. 
Sailing doesn’t build character, it reveals it.
A ship in harbour is safe – but that’s not what ships are for. (John A Shedd).
He that sails by himself never misses a tack.
Fear of the storm is to be feared more than the storm itself.
Learning sailing by reading is like making love by email.
When you’re young the greatest danger is not to take risks.
The test of a crew mate’s character is how he behaves in a storm.
Better a misspent youth than an unspent one.
We judge ourselves by how far we are going to sail, others judge us by how far we have sailed.
Better to wear out your shoes than your pyjamas.
To be a good crewmember you must be prepared to be taught many things you already know.
Never haul on a line if you don’t know what it’s attached to.
Fortune brings in some boats that are not steer’d. (Shakespeare).

And my favourite: Sail in the wind you have, not the wind you wish you had.

On a small boat in really heavy weather the only thing most of us want to do is lie in our bunk wishing it would all go away. If you’re seasick it must be a hundred times worse.

Going on deck to take action to secure the survival of the boat is a frightening proposition. It’s easy at this point to convince yourself that you should wait until it’s a bit calmer before putting in that reef, or dropping the main, or securing the dinghy which is beginning to come loose in its chocks. Of course you can’t succumb to that inner voice; you have to put on the harness and lifejacket, get yourself out into the maelstrom and get the job done. 

If you’ve never been there you can’t imagine just how hard it is to operate under the conditions you’re likely to find on deck: The banshee wail in the rigging, the constant deluge of spray and solid water, the violent motion threatening to hurl you overboard. 

One hand for the boat and one for yourself is the rule, although for much of the time it’s two hands for you and that leaves none for the boat which is why it’s so terribly hard to perform tasks that seemed so simple when it was calm.

This is why my mantra is simplicity in all things. That huge sea anchor with a complex bridle of rope and chain which you bought for just this occasion is going to defeat your attempts to deploy it, unless you have a large, strong and un-seasick crew. Even putting in the third or fourth reef with your single line reefing system with miles and miles of line is going to be a challenge if you’ve left it a bit late. Securing the boom or tying down those spare fuel and water jugs is infinitely easier to accomplish before the heavy stuff arrives.

So, analyse your systems again and ask yourself how easy it’s going to be to get the boat snugged down and safe when the shit hits the fan. Can you get the sail plan sorted quickly and efficiently? Can you heave-to? Can you secure the helm? Is there any chance of items lashed on deck coming loose? 

If you plan ahead and prepare the boat for bad weather before it arrives you probably can lay snuggly, and smugly, in your bunk until the storm passes. Assuming your lee cloths are properly designed and tested, of course, and your lockers have good catches and the floorboards are screwed down.

I’m a bit distracted at the moment because my office is being decorated and I’m wandering around like a nomad trying to find somewhere to work.

I refitted the Venetian blinds and it gave me this idea for an infinitely variable reefing mainsail. A more sophisticated system than the junk rig, I’m sure you’ll agree!

By the way, did I tell you my eBook is now available at Amazon (clicky up there on the right), WH Smith, Apple, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble and Kobo? Well it is.

Full time cruising is a wonderful pastime and it’s made particularly appealing by the people you meet. 

You might think there’d be a single demographic binding cruising folk but you’d be wrong. The motivation to go cruising might be common – freedom, adventure, nude deck-dancing – but the people that actually set off are a widely disparate group. 

Take age, for example – we met couples who didn’t seem old enough to be legally married and we met world girdling octogenarians. 

How about background? – we met musicians, a famous medical researcher, we anchored alongside the world’s most trusted news anchor and we communed with a veritable flotilla of ordinary, somewhat adventurous, people of every nationality, colour and creed.

The point is – you can’t pigeon-hole cruising folk. Get out there, you’ll fit right in!

At last the perfect weather for cleaning up the boat and the inclination to do so coincided – off we went to the marina and got Minnie ready for another summer on the Lancaster Canal. 

Some of you will wonder why a sailboat is on the Lancaster Canal. Well, she used to be on Lake Windermere with full rig and flappy bits and good fun it was too. But, in my endless quest for different boating experiences, the Lancaster Canal, which passes a short way from the house, was too tempting a proposition to resist. When I realised that her basic dimensions were just about OK for the narrow and shallow inland waterway system, Minnie underwent the transformation to canal cruiser.

I had originally intended to fit her with an electric propulsion system but I was defeated by the need for a reliable charging source and so she ended up with an 8HP Honda four-stroke outboard.

When time permits we’ll take Minnie much further afield on England’s 3000 miles of canals but for now a little jaunt to the pub or the ice cream shop will suffice

The spring may have finally arrived which means it’s time to remind you all of the dangers of drowning. 

Drowning is not a noisy, dramatic event. Our body’s response to suffocation by water is quite different to the commonly held view that it involves waving arms and shouting for help. That comes before you are drowning. At that point you are in a state known as “aquatic distress” and can still assist in your own rescue by grabbing at floatation devices. If you aren’t saved at this point you quickly pass to drowning. Then, instinct takes over.

In an article in the US Coastguards ‘On Scene’ magazine Dr Francesco Pia, Phd, describes what he terms ‘the instinctive drowning response’ as follows:

1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.
2. Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
4. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
5. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. 

Drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water for from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.

So, if someone dives, jumps or falls overboard and appears to be calm, don’t assume they are not in trouble. Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning. Talk to them. Ask them: Are you OK? If they reply immediately, they’re probably fine. If they just look blank there’s a chance that they are drowning and you must act quickly to assist them.

Keep a watch on people playing in the water and look for these other signs of drowning:

Head tilted back with mouth open.
Head low in the water, mouth at water level
Eyes closed or glassy and unfocused
Vertical in the water, not using legs
Hyperventilating or gasping
Attempting to swim but not making headway
Attempting to roll over on the back

So, if the kids are screaming and splashing, be thankful – they’re not drowning. If they go unnaturally quite, that’s the time to worry. One day this knowledge may save someone’s life.