07 August 2013

The Accidental Man Overboard Drill

I specialize in two kinds of knots - "Ellen Specials" and "Ellen Super Duper Specials". "Ellen Specials" are knots that are very complicated, can't be replicated and can't be easily untied. I use these in lieu of a bowline knot. Scott just loves them. My other type of knots - "Ellen Super Duper Specials" - are Scott's absolute favorite. They are the type of knot which comes untied without any human intervention whatsoever at the most inopportune time. Like, for example, when you are motoring out into the crowded Waitemata Harbor in Auckland to put the sails up and the fender that was tied on to the lifeline magically unties itself and falls into the water. Apparently, the point of knots is that they are supposed to stay tied until you untie them. Mine either don't untie unless a considerable amount of effort is applied or untie all by themselves.

For those that don't know much about sailing, let me explain how we got ourselves in this situation. Scott is the skipper of our boat and, like all good leaders, he empowers the crew with little tasks and duties so that they feel involved and motivated. One of my duties is the tying and untying of the fenders. Fenders are rubber objects that protect your boat when you are maneuvering up against a wharf, dock or jetty. They are basically car bumpers. They come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colors.

You generally tie fenders on using a clove hitch (something I have yet to master). A clove hitch is a knot that can theoretically be quickly tied and easily untied (ideally with human intervention). We generally tie our fenders to the lifeline. A lifeline is one of those few Nauticalese terms that is easy to understand without a dictionary. It literally is a line that runs around the perimeter of the boat to keep you from falling off. It is designed to save your life and prevent accidental man overboard drills. People who race actually take lifelines off of their boats as they drag in the water when their boats are heeled over. This takes precious seconds off of their time. Crazy people. This is why I don't go racing.

On this particular day, before heading out for a sail, we were going to tie up at X Pier to get some water. We moor out in the "piles" at Westhaven Marina and store our dinghy in the dinghy racks on X Pier. When we want to get out to our boat, Scott rows us (thanks Scott!) out to the "piles". If we need water or have to load a lot of stuff onto the boat, we swing by the X Pier where you can tie up temporarily. So I tied on our fenders, using what I thought were clove hitch knots, and off we went to the X Pier. We got some water and headed on out. Once we headed out, my next task was to untie the fenders and store them in the locker in the cockpit. I successfully removed 3 out of 4 fenders. My mind then wandered (probably thinking about what kind of snacks we were going to have) and I completely forgot about the fourth fender. Scott is much more focused than I am and noticed a fender floating in the water. Being a frugal guy he thought, "Score! Someone dropped their fender. Let's grab it - we can always use an extra one." At this point, I started paying attention again, did some math and realized that it was actually our fender. I confessed. Scott sighed.

On the bright side, although we didn't get a free fender, it was an excellent opportunity to practice our man overboard skills. The man overboard drill is one of those safety procedures you hope you never have to use but you should be prepared to do so should a man, woman or fender fall overboard. Basically, you gybe and let the sheets (aka ropes in ordinary English) go which turns you around and allows you to stop back by the person or fender in the water. (Side note: Scott says you should tack, not gybe. But I'm going with what Penny Whiting says.) As Scott was in charge of turning the boat around my task was to lean over the side of the boat with a boat hook and try to scoop up the fender. Either my arms are too short, our boat hook isn't long enough or I'm hopelessly uncoordinated. Or maybe all three. Needless to say I didn't manage to grab the fender on the first time, or the second time, or the third time and so on and so on. Eventually, Scott "relieved me of my duties" and then managed to helm the boat and grab the fender. He is so coordinated (and he has longer arms). We'll do more practice this coming summer.

One thing that the accidental man overboard drill did make me think about is the importance of redundancy in your boat equipment and systems. I came dangerously close to dropping our one and only boat hook in the water and we need our boat hook to moor. So the next day, I decided that we had to head down to the local marine shop and buy ourselves another boat hook. I don't think we have redundancy for anything else on our boat, but we are the proud owners of two boat hooks.

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  1. Tip: In an emergency (you lost the boat hook), your mop, broom, or telescoping deck scrub brush can be used to pick up a mooring line.

    1. That is a good tip! Let's hope I never have to use it :-)


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