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August 2013 Letter from the Editor: Checking Out

My pre-sail checklist is pretty basic. Bilge sump empty? Phew. Mainsail cover off, halyard on? Yep. Battery switched on? Check. Engine intake seacock open? Check. Engine starts? Yippee.

My pre-sail checklist is pretty basic. Bilge sump empty? Phew. Mainsail cover off, halyard on? Yep. Battery switched on? Check. Engine intake seacock open? Check. Engine starts? Yippee. Water comes out of the exhaust? Check. Instruments on? Check. Guests know where to find a lifejacket and how to work the VHF? Check and check. And that’s about it. I’m on the boat several evenings or days a week, so it’s always ready to go, and I don’t see a lot of point in ticking things off a list.

Some people will view this as laziness, no doubt, but the boat’s got enough tools, spares and gear on board to cope with just about any emergency, and I certainly don’t see the point in going over it all every time I leave the mooring.

One thing that’s never featured on any of my sketchy mental hit lists is distress flares. I know I have some; they lurk in an orange container in the lazarette that’s never been opened since—wait, can it really be that long ago?—2009, when I replaced all the flares in accordance with Coast Guard regulations. I cracked the canister open in June this year and found every single flare had expired in December 2012—except for the ones that had expired in November 2008. Ahem.

I’ve always reckoned the last thing I would reach for in a time of need would be a pyrotechnic flare. Then again, I had never fired one, in anger or otherwise, up until the time the SAIL team spent a happy couple of hours playing fireworks and setting off a selection of distress pyrotechnics (see story on page 50). It cured me of a couple of longstanding preconceptions. 

For instance, when sailing overnight I’ve always had a white handheld flare close by in case I needed to alert some ship that was about to run me down. Man, those things are dangerous. You’re more likely to burn a hole in your boat or yourself than alert any errant ship captain, and you’ll also destroy your night vision to the point where you’re unable to get out of the way. I wasn’t prepared for the near-invisibility of red handheld flares in daylight, much less for the molten magma dripping from them. I’d put out a Mayday call on the VHF, set off an EPIRB or a PLB, even make a phone call, before I reached for the flare container.

I’ve always loved the theory of Summer Sailstice, encouraging sailors around the world to get out on their boats on the longest day of the year. Up here in New England that day too often is more memorable for the frequency and duration of thunderstorms than for legions of boats out enjoying a fair breeze. This one just gone was perfect, though; a scorching hot day with a fine sea breeze, and sailors out in the hundreds.

I should know; I watched from my cockpit, up on the hard in a Marblehead, Massachusetts boatyard, where I was engaged in cleaning up fiberglass dust and putting the boat back together after a lengthy and messy repair. It was probably well over 100 degrees down in the saloon.

Maybe next year... 

Peter Nielsen aims to actually be sailing
on the summer Sailstice next year

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