Editorial August 1, 2004 Issue

Safe and Sound

As of this summer, Practical Sailor enters its fourth decade as a journal of fact and opinion pertaining to the gear and equipment we take to sea. But what this magazine is really all about is informing ourselves and our nautical brethren regarding the basics and nuances of properly maneuvering our boats, our friends, and our families from this point to that, and doing it as safely and as efficiently as we possible can.

A sense of safety is inherent in the process, and some sailors are inherently safer than others. Preparation and judgment separate the real players from the dilettantes in a dynamic that's every bit as fluid as the elements that envelope us. Pilots call this "risk management." It means identifying those things that can kill you, or at least ruin your day. We then either avoid those things, or we figure out how to cope with them as needs arise. Risk management is evident in the Bermuda racer who carries that knot in the stomach as he or she ticks off the pre-start checklist. It's a guiding tenet of the day sailor who heads for home at the first sign of a dark thunderhead.

One of the things we regularly do is evaluate and recommend the equipment sailors use to identify those risks—like radar, depth sounders, and plotting software. And we also take a discerning look at the onboard gear that keeps us safe, warm, and lashed down when we're apt to brush up against risks that offer to test our mettle.

But we shouldn't get too preachy here. Who among us hasn't learned from, and profited by, a lapse in judgment that toyed with the gods of risk?

I can recall a Caribbean passage aboard a 34-foot Beneteau sloop in which one nameless crew—slightly inebriated—opted to jump in for a tow behind the boat using a spare 50-foot line. It was hot at the time as we transited the Anegada Passage under mainsail and spinnaker, and the conditions seemed particularly benign. A three-foot sea was running under a mild breeze, maybe 12 knots or so. It was fine day.

Our friend went into the water, and almost immediately the line went taut, jerking the knotted bitter end out of his grip. He waved casually as he slipped away in our wake, and that was the last I saw of him for several anxious minutes.

I vividly remember immediately voicing to another crew that she should keep him in sight at all times and point to him. Then we clawed the kite down and swung around to weather (this incident took place prior to the widespread popularization of the Quick-Stop). As we retraced our steps under mainsail and engine power, our spotter declared she had him directly off the bow, but as we approached, one of us spied his head, intermittently visible between the waves, about 90 degrees to port. We quickly altered course and managed to retrieve him without any further mishap.

Ultimately, experiences like this can help you fine-tune risk management. We like to think that the offerings in these pages work to the same end. Safety—the derivative of proper risk management—is an important element when considering the products made for use in a marine environment, whether it's a compass, an EPIRB, a PFD, or a galley stove. Practical Sailor has long taken a belt-and-braces approach to these matters. It's really the only way. Once you lose the upper hand in this game, your experience on board can quickly sour.

In this issue, you'll find a broad array of products covered, and ample advice about them. From multitools to color chartplotters, knowing what works, and what doesn't is an important step toward ensuring your own safety on the water.

-Dan Dickison

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