|See that spike? That was it. Courtesy of SoHo Belle.|
|Here's the beginning of the end for Great Republic. Photo Scot Surbeck.|
|Republic, hard over. The forward hatch is kept closed during racing and cruising as per club rules, but with this severe a heel, water's going down the hatch and that "heel" has become a list. Photo Scot Surbeck.|
|The Bowman's already in the water, and it's getting hard to hang on as Republic is getting bashed around. Photo Scot Surbeck.|
|By now, Greyhound, our course boat, is on-scene playing a role that no-one ever wants to play. Photo Scot Surbeck.|
|What are you thinking at this moment? This is every sailor's nightmare, and here the odds are as good as they could ever get. Photo Scot Surbeck.|
|Maybe this is the photo that really tells it all: those sailors couldn't have been more than 15 feet from helping arms, but those must have been the longest 15 feet in the entire world right about then. Photo Scot Surbeck.|
|To safety, now. You can see the spray in the air that would make it hard to see...and breathe. Just one additional hazard of being in the water. Photo Scot Surbeck.|
Whether you are planning a long car trip, an aircraft flight, or a sailing trip, risk assessment and risk mitigation are important parts of the go/no-go decision. Weather is one of those risks that applies to all souls on the road, in the air, and on the mane. Apps abound to watch it from afar, but looking up and around is free, and there's always Hal on WX-1.
When working as a crew, we need and benefit from a chain of command that consciously articulates the risks, and what our mitigation plan is. Further, good Crew Resource Management (or BRM--Bridge Resource Management) dictates that those risk mitigation practices must flow up, not just down, from the executive team. Don't we teach everyone to act as lookout, not just the captain? The captain is supposed to Godlike, and is treated legally as if she is, but even she can make mistakes. Four pairs of eyes beat one pair, hands down.
Let's continue with risk assessment and mitigation. As my old pilot friend Robert Grace says, "It's better to be on the ground wishing you were in the sky, than in the sky wishing you were on the ground." I have paraphrased this for years as "It's better to be on the dock wishing you were out sailing, than out sailing wishing you were on the dock." This takes discipline to enforce on yourself; there's no Houston that can call an abort on you. You are Houston. The hardest decisions I've ever made as captain involved cancelling trips aboard the schooner due to weather. In the speech to the Disappointed Masses I usually said something like, "I want you to see us at our best, and tonight won't be our best." Turn that around on yourself when you're planning a trip with friends: are they going to see your best? If not, why are you going? Getthereitis doesn't just happen to the other guy.
Reports indicate that the USCG small boat team was on the scene immediately, just another reason to love the Coasties, even if they're all from the same cornfield in Iowa. Everybody aboard was wearing a PFD, including some of those hot, sticky, uncomfortable vest-type IIIs. I prefer them to the trig auto-inflatable jobs because I know that foam floats, always. That little immersion auto-trigger? You know it worked when you tested it in the shower, but how about now? Or two months from now? Your mileage can vary, but at any rate, there's no substitute for wearing a PFD.
In many ways it's not practicable to wear one aboard Pioneer, leaving aside the fact that we're not required to. But what about at the dock? Tied up alongside the float, how will Pioneer rescue you if you fall off the headrig? Yes, we've all heard the Hoary Lines: "Wearing a work vest encourages laxity." I suppose we should apply that to seat belts, too, and the safety on guns. At any rate, workers on barges, tugs, oil rigs, supply boats and the like all wear them, so what's so special about us? Besides, the last time I looked, Pioneer is still chained to the dock, a victim of blindsighted stupidity--but I know plenty of you get out on other boats, including small ones like the J we lost. Wear your PFD. Wear your PFD. Remember the NFL player who died on a jetski? True or false: he was wearing a PFD. And to rub it in just a little more: last summer a sailor was killed on the Sound. He had fallen overboard from his boat, possibly after an uncontrolled gybe, and drowned. Again, no PFD.
Navy women are fond of saying that their "rulebooks are written in blood" of the ones who came before them and made mistakes--the terrifying fires aboard the USS Forrestal and USS Oriskany could have killed every soul aboard being two outstanding examples. In the aftermath, sweeping changes from the deck-arming procedures for alert aircraft to the grade of aviation kerosene used were instituted. Sailors, despite their outward appearances, tend to be conservative and changes don't take root quickly until something explodes, sometimes literally. So remember what my Pioneer mentor, Eric Rice, told me: "Routine is the enemy of good seamanship." Sail around lots. Sail with different people. Watch carefully what people do, and ask them why they do it that way. Be a pest. You'll learn lots more that way. There's generally no one right way to do anything, and develop a respectful but critical eye and ear when someone tells you there is.