Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Secrets Of Sailing Safety From Over 2000 Years Ago

Captain John shares his secrets to boost your sailing safety...

Guest blog by Captain John
Captain John Jamieson, a regular contributor to the Daily Boater, is author of Seamanship Secrets and publisher of the popular boating education website

How can you continue to boost your sailboat cruising skills every time you cast off your lines? You might be surprised that an answer given by a young sailor long ago will handle most seamanship problems - before they get out of control!

In 335 B.C., the Greek historian and philosopher Xenophon came upon a Phoenician ship tied up alongside the wharf. He saw a young seaman with gear spread about the deck and he asked him what he was doing.

To which the young sailor replied:

"I am looking to see whether anything is out of order. There will be no time to look for what is missing or out of place when a storm comes up at sea."

Before you turn away and say it will never happen to you, consider this…

A storm needn't be one of weather. It could be a fuel leak, an engine that fails as you enter the marina, an anchor that drags in a perfect - but crowded - anchorage, a sail that rips across its foot as you're sailing down the channel, or a nautical GPS or chart plotter that goes on the blink.

Many of you know of my disastrous trip late last summer. I was volunteer delivery crew on a 27 foot sailboat. We dragged anchor in a horrendous gale, crashed into a stone seawall, and sank to the bottom in 20 minutes. Things happen when you least expect them - and they often happen fast!

So how can we best prepare to meet these challenges "...when a storm comes up at sea?"

Adopt a "what if?" mindset
Start with a mindset that always looks at things as temporary. Sure, the anchor might be down right now, but what if the wind or current shift.

That shiny latest-kid-on-the-block-with-all-the-bells-and-whistles nautical GPS works like a champ, but would you trust it to pass a coral infested reef? (I hope not!)

Have two backup plans
The best sailors have more than one backup plan. They will use the first one to verify their "what-if" concern and the second if failure occurs. If you come into a marina under power, you also need to have your marine anchor ready to get over the side in less than ten seconds (first plan). If that fails, you need to have a second plan worked out. For example...

How many times have you seen sailboats enter a marina with their mainsail covered and the main halyard tied off? Bad plan! Keep your mainsail ready to hoist within seconds every moment that you are underway. It will get you to windward in a pinch - not that furling headsail.

Make 90% of your preps ashore
How many times have you gotten underway without spending the time to go through a personal checklist? Or check your oil, transmission fluid, stuffing box, intake seacock, coolant level, hoses, and belts? Or run your tack and clew sail reefing lines through the first set of reef points in your mainsail? Or checked every cotter pin on every piece of standing and sailing rigging on deck?

Remember that Phoenician seaman of long ago. Plant what he said in your mind. Preparations are everything. The best sailing skippers, powerboat skippers, and professional mariners in the world use this same secret to become the best or the best. So can you!

Use a "what if" mindset to boost your skipper skills above and beyond the ordinary. You will build the confidence and skills to be prepared to handle any unexpected situation "...when a storm comes up at sea".

More from Captain John...

Captain John Jamieson shows you the no-nonsense cruising skills you need beyond sailing school.  Sign up for his highly popular “Captain John’s Sailing Tips” - a FREE newsletter - at

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Photo © Nautical Sites Media/Andrew Canepari


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