Rhumb Lines April 2012 Issue

Of Safety Tethers and Comfy Cockpits

There are so many things wrong with this photo, I am not sure where to begin. Theresa, my wife, was steering our weathered 61-year-old ketch toward a tricky pass in the Solomon Islands. The photo is now more than 16 years old, well past the statute of limitation on the offenses described below, so I’m hoping I can fess up without too much shame. (The biggest wrong, I suppose, was that everything seemed just fine to me.)

As I recall our conversation went something like this:

D: “How’s she steering T?”

T: Hah. Lovely.

D: Squall seems to have gone through.

T: Yeah. Funny, how you missed that down below. Did you save me any chocolate-chip cookies?

D: (Long pause.) Want to put the mizzen back up?

T: I knew you’d eat that last cookie. You drink all the coffee, too?

D: Sorry ‘bout that. (Long pause.) You sure are lookin’ lovely in that harness and tether.

T: Cheapest tether you could find at Sailorman, as I recall. Pulled it out of one of the “miscellaneous” bins.

D: Well . . . you don’t want to get a false sense of security.

T: Absolutely. Don’t want that.

D: And that foul-weather gear. Very fashionable.

T: This? You traded five cans of corned beef for it back in Raiatea, as I recall.

D: What’s underneath?

T: Where’s my cookie?

D: Why don’t you hook up the windvane, give yourself a break?

T: Oh, you mean that thing on the stern that keeps getting whacked by the mizzen boom? (She waves her hand toward the duck-tape splint on windvane self-steering gear.)

D: I’ll dig up another box of cookies.

T: And some coffee, please.

D: (Returns after a few minutes, with coffee and cookie.) Here you go, skipper. Feelin’ better now?

T: Hah hah. Livin’ the dream.

I dredged up this shot for a couple of reasons. This month, we take on some pretty serious topics. Technical Editor Ralph Naranjo casts a critical eye on contemporary cockpit designs. And  we revisit the capsize involving the light-displacement boat WingNuts in last year’s Chicago-Mackinac Race.

My concern with these reports, especially the report on the Chicago-Mac race, is that the discussion easily lifts off into a realm of unrealistic expectations, a day when everything will be perfect. The race boat, the weather, the safety gear . . . the cookies. A sunny horizon expands in every direction!

Sailing is all about compromises, learning to live with the less-than-perfect. With tethers, we give up some mobility for security. With cockpits, we sacrifice comfort for function. The perfect boat? Hah. The perfect husband? Hah hah.

But yet, there is progress. In small, incremental steps, today’s well-engineered PFD/harnesses evolved from Theresa’s primitive combination. But that doesn’t mean the process is over. The first step is always the hardest: recognizing that something is wrong.

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