Readers Write on the Essence of Seamanship
In our July 2013 issue, regular contributor Tom Cunliffe reflected on the essence of seamanship (see story here). We asked about your views on seamanship, and you answered. Here are a few reader-submitted takes on the essence of seamanship. Congratulations to Linda Jensen, Alex Blackwell and Daria Blackwell, who won SAIL swag!
Tom Cunliffe’s exploration of the essence of seamanship is hard to argue with, and he is right that the true essence is that of focus and presence. By “presence,” I mean fully understanding and reacting to situation you are in, whether it is enjoying a lovely, spanking breeze on a sunny spring day, or trying to make safe harbor while beating into the teeth of a Nor’easter. You can identify a true seaman by the calm, confident air with which he or she accomplishes tasks, no matter how great the danger.
Several years ago, my sailing partner, my landlubbing spouse and I were out on the Chesapeake for a day sail when we were suddenly beset by a violent squall. We were sailing on a run, heading home and watching the building of what is a normal weather pattern for the Bay in August—a chance of late afternoon thundershowers. The first indication of trouble was the mainsail slapping against the spreaders. Then, all hell broke loose. A sudden gust caused us to gybe as lightning struck down nearby. In the torrential downpour, we all quickly donned our PFDs, and my partner, Nan, and I trimmed the sails to keep our compass course. I asked my husband to close the companionway hatch and we all hunkered in the cockpit. I cautioned my husband not to touch any of the standing rigging, and we ruled out shortening sail, as the danger from lightning was worse than the likelihood that we would blow out a sail or get knocked down by the wind. The storm was violent, but Nan and I sailed the boat with confidence gained from sailing experience and our familiarity of the Bay. The squall soon blew past us and we were able to finish our cruise undamaged. My husband later said that he was never too worried, as Nan and I reacted with such calm competence that it never occurred to him that we were in any real danger.
In order to have seamanship, you must know both the big picture of sailing, such as weather patterns, your location and destination, as well as the specifics. Know where your gear and distress kit are, think about and practice emergency drills, pay attention to your surroundings, and mitigate potential dangers before they arise.
Tips on Seamanship
Although the governing bodies of sailing as a sport prepare detailed instructions for safety at sea, the rules are sometimes inadequate and unfeasible for cruisers and sailors who view sailing as a hobby, a pastime or a lifestyle rather than a racing sport.
Here are our top ten resolutions for practicing good seamanship and ensuring safety and happiness at sea.
- Conduct routine checks of engine, oil, through-hulls, rigging, power, radio and steering before every start and daily while underway.
- Learn and observe the COLREGs, keep a close watch, keep a detailed log, and practice navigation without GPS while underway to keep my skills honed.
- Know how to use a VHF radio appropriately and teach crewmembers to make a distress call should it ever be needed. Posting instructions and safety plans on board in case of an emergency is never a bad idea.
- Create a diagram of all through-hull fittings and install emergency bungs so if something starts to leak, you can fix the leak quickly.
- Practice heaving to and emergency anchoring under sail to learn how the boat handles.
- Ensure that the crew knows how to handle the boat should the captain not be on board. Have crewmembers practice boat handling and learn basic navigation skills.
- Practice emergency crew overboard procedures with the crew.
- Remember not to panic should something go wrong. Stay calm and work through the situation, giving the crew clear instructions instead of yelling at anyone.
- Clip the PLB to your PFD and wear it at all times at sea, so that if someone falls overboard, they can be easily found.
- Stay on the boat. Use one hand for the boat and one for you at all times. Offshore, clip the tether to a secure point before entering the cockpit. Do not jump overboard or clean fish aft while underway, and rig preventers to prevent being swept overboard in an accidental gybe.
Captains Alex and Daria Blackwell,