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Sail Well, Sail Safely Page 2

From the moment my father first put me in a sailboat he told me that safety and seamanship come first, above all else. He served in the Coast Guard in the North Atlantic during World War II and knew why these things are important. Later, when I went sailing with his wartime crew, every one of them put the same emphasis on seamanship and safety. They focused not on loading the boat down with fancy

MOB retrieval

You also need a way to get the person in the water back aboard. We permanently rig a line that droops down along the back of the transom from one stern cleat to the other about a foot off the water. This makes an easy handhold for the person in the water to grab hold of.

We also have a harness tether secured around the backstay chainplate and coiled up, ready to lower down to a person in the water, who can then clip it on to his harness and secure himself to the boat. It may not be very comfortable, but it guarantees that the man overboard stays next to the boat.

To get the person back aboard, our routine is to clip a short sheet—an old genoa sheet cut short with a snap shackle on one end—to the harness of the person in the water. We then run the line up over the stern to the biggest cockpit winch that’s available and start cranking. It’s not pretty, but it works.

Rig safety

Whether caused by a helmsman who loses concentration or an autopilot that can’t handle a wave, an accidental gybe can seriously injure crew and may damage the rig. That’s why I always rig double preventers on the boom. On our 37-footer, I use a piece of 1/2in diameter three-strand nylon anchor line about two and a half times the boat’s overall length. I put a clove hitch in the middle of the line around the boom and locate it just aft of the rigid vang because that is where the boom is reinforced. Then I lead the two ends of the line forward through snatch blocks mounted on port and starboard padeyes on the deck just forward and outboard of the shrouds, but inboard of the lifelines. This location is important.


After the lines have been run through the snatch blocks, they are led aft either to a cockpit or cabintop winch. This allows the leeward preventer to be pulled tight to hold the boom out. And if the mainsail gybes accidentally, the nylon will stretch and allow the boom to swing slowly toward the centerline of the boat—without any shock loading or crew injury. Because the snatch blocks are inside the lifeline, the preventer will not bend the stanchions when the boom swings in.

When the boat is gybed intentionally, the preventer is released on the leeward side and the other one is trimmed in as the boom comes across. This preventer rig can also hold the boom in place in light air or a sloppy sea and, if it’s a racing sprit boat, when the crew heels the boat to windward.

Certainly one of the riskiest operations at sea is going up the mast either to inspect or repair the rig or to unwrap a spinnaker. Underway I always inspect the rig with binoculars at least once a day and usually more often. Binoculars let you make a fairly detailed inspection with no risk. If you properly prepare the rig before the trip, there should be no need to go aloft. But if for some reason you must go up the mast, send the most experienced and fit crew, hopefully one who is not too heavy. It is easy to get hurt, particularly if there is any kind of seaway, which is why I make it mandatory to wear a helmet—hockey, football or anything that will protect your skull and the perimeter of your face. And always fasten the chinstrap! Wearing a dinghy vest will help protect your body when you are aloft. Low-cut dinghy boots will help protect your feet. Secure the bosun’s chair, or even better, a mountain climbing web harness that circles each leg and your waist, to the halyard. Always secure the harness with a bowline and use the halyard shackle as the backup connection. Attach a downhaul line to the halyard to keep the person from swinging excessively in a breeze.

Going to sea is an adventure I always look forward to. For me, half the fun is the preparation and practice that I do before setting out. The other half is making the passage with good friends on board. If you plan everything so you always sail safely, you will have a great time no matter what kind of weather you might experience.

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