Posted by: First Mate | April 20, 2010

Practice, practice, practice and Reassess

April is an amazing month, spring showers (or flash floods) come and cold north winds are pushed into our islands.  It can be the coolest month of the year where we live in the Pacific.

This past Sunday Air Bender held a little party for our friend Ernie’s 83rd birthday.  I convinced Ernie’s son, Jim, to hire a girl who is working to become a “yacht chef” to handle the food.  Jim also invited a good friend and Skipper from his sailing days on a well-known trimaran to join us. Eleven of us and our parrot left the dock between gusts and headed into to the calm beautiful Pacific.

In the days prior to Sunday, winds had been gusty, news reports mentioned up to 35 knots, so we thought we may just motor-sail to a beautiful protected place to anchor called “the bite.”   We would swim, have a late lunch and celebrate in style.  The water seemed fairly flat and the winds at around 19 knots with gusts to 25 so we decided to do a short sail.

The Captain and I always welcome help and advice from experienced sailors as we are relatively new to this boat.  This policy can also be problematic. As we set out and the winds picked up, the experienced trimaran captain began “helping” by occasionally adjusting lines to increase speed.  Guests began consuming alcohol – it is a boat and a beer or a glass of wine on a beautiful Sunday seemed like a great idea.  For various reasons, Captain and I do NOT consume alcohol on the boat unless we are in our slip or at anchor.  The safety of everyone on board is OUR responsibility, we have a six-year-old to keep track of and we are still establishing our expertise on this boat.  And lastly, I like to joke, we don’t want to damage our daughter’s college fund.

Typical in open ocean, especially in the Pacific and around Hawaii, the winds changed instantly and we were faced with a situation.  In our manual it recommends reefing at 25 knots to ensure stability.  This is probably a conservative recommendation but who wants to experiment with so many guests aboard?  Gusts were increasing and the boat was becoming a challenge to handle for a relaxing afternoon sail. I brought up the idea of reefing but am considered to be the conservative sailor (dare, I say nervous?) of the two captains and other crew.

Everyone on the foredeck was seated comfortably on cushions.  They started getting soaked by waves and a wee bit thrown around.  (Yes, happens even on a cat.)  Nobody wanted to get so soaked, spill or lose their drinks – guests wanted beverages put in a safe spot and free hands while they made their way back to the cockpit.  I ensured the security of our daughter and juggled beverages through a forward hatch.  At this point, I failed to remember our custom cushions on the foredeck.  People stood up and cushions started to literally blow off.  What ensued was a sad excuse for a man overboard (MOB) drill.

People were screaming, we had one multitasking spotter, one electric winch flipped a breaker-repeatedly due to the galley being in full prep mode, a hand-held winch was not handy and we had two experienced boaters politely attempting to handle the job of Captain.  In the interim, another cushion flew away.  As first mate, I was grabbing winch handles, gaff hooks, flipping breakers, running around getting ready to bring the mainsail down and attempting to put away the remainder of the cushions with an amazing guest (from Wyoming!) who, like me, was without a life vest laying on the cushions trying to hold on and retain them as waves washed over the front of the boat repeatedly.

Last week before leaving home, we got our copy of Practical Sailor,  my new favorite magazine.  Captain and I think this is the one magazine every sailor should regularly read.   In the mailport section of this issue were several letters on tethering and the importance of MOB drills.  Tether Safety and MOB Drills a must

Well Air Bender had two failed attempts at MOB drills on Sunday.  We were all unharmed and the party and day turned out to be a great success.  Now we reassess and apply what we learned to our regular outings.

  1. Practice at least one MOB a month (We have written check list cards for leaving and entering dock, setting and lifting the anchor and leaving the boat – next one is for MOB.  We normally review all of these orally with guests and crew but have found people rarely listen/process and always want to “help” so the written card establishes they have read the instructions.)
  2. We need established guidelines/tasks for Captain, crew and guests if conditions change (perhaps another card?)
  3. When conditions change, anyone (probably me)  on the foredeck or either of the upper rigging decks needs to be wearing a personal flotation device (PFD)/life vest.
  4. We establish a basic policy on alcohol

Overconfidence is generally not one of my issues with regard to the boat, (note control issues with laminated instruction cards).  But overconfidence is often an issue with many sailors, trekkers, adventurers, divers, etc.  Overconfidence and an inability to remain calm can be directly linked to dangerous mistakes and stupidity.  Hindsight is 20/20 – Oh, I should have considered that?!!!  We faced this when we had a recent tsunami warning.  We did fill our water, fuel, fresh food, etc but as you may note from previous posts, I was not regularly checking our food storage to establish what provisions we needed for potentially two to three weeks including medicines and food.

Calm before the Tsunami

In our reassessment discussions this past Sunday night and after the tsunami drill, Captain and I looked at our lovely sleeping princess and reviewed how lucky we are that a disaster didn’t happen.  We praised each other for remaining calm and handling the situation as much as possible and most important, what areas we need to practice and improve upon for next weekend.

If you find two large white back rest cushions with snaps floating off Kauai or Oahu’s North Shore let us know!



  1. Oh my gosh you cushions!! I know how you loved them!!

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