Skiff Safety from Willie
Attended a safety chat with Willie…don’t actually know his name (what’s with only posting the helm’s name in the entry list!?!) in San Diego a few weeks ago, and he definitely had some words of wisdom not just for skiff sailors, but any doublehanded sailor. Here are some of Willie’s top safety tips:
Cover it Up
There are two main reasons to cover up. First, UV rays and sun burns. Sun burns are extremely draining, and a burn on your pasty winterized skin will definitely leave you feeling fatigued and drained for the next few days. As tempting as it is to let your vitamin D starved skin get a bit sun kissed, especially early in the season, cover up to ensure that you’re feeling as energized as possible throughout the entire event. The second reason for covering up is to avoid and mitigate as much bruising, scraping, chaffing, and rope burn as possible. We’ve all arrived at the last day of an event battered and bruised and taking a few seconds longer to cross the boat because of some injury. Cover up and let the fabric take the beating rather than your body.
Keep it Tight
Aside from the fact that sailors are fit, good looking, and look fantastic in tight spandex, there is an actual safety reason for shrink wrapping ourselves in Lycra every day. Hardware and lines dangling in the boat can easily catch on loose clothing. PFD’s are some of the worst culprits for catching on things in the boat- especially during capsizes. Buy a PFD with as few straps on it as possible. The same goes for your trapeze harness. Got straps and dangly bits? Put a rashguard or pinny over top (I hear the Louis Riel pinny’s are especially popular with the west coast 29er fleet).
Trapeze Bale Safety
Whatever cheapskate thought that sticking those stock two part trapeze bales on the 29er was a good idea deserves kick in the knee caps. Por favor… those things are downright dangerous, not to mention unnecessarily difficult to ball up or ball down while sailing. To reduce danger when clipping in or coming off of the wire, tape up the top loop of the bale, so that you can only clip into the bottom. Better yet, spend the fourty dollars and go buy Ronstan trapeze bales with the block and make your life easier when adjusting your trapeze height.
A natural evolution from reducing the loops on your trapeze bales is reducing the number and size of loops in your boat. Make the elastic trapeze bale tie loops as small as you can so that you don’t clip into them. Take the loops out of your controls lines and replace them with stopper knots. Take those bobbles off of the end of your control lines as well, because they tend to simply wrap themselves around your shrouds and trapeze system anyway. Plus they hurt when you sit or step on them.
Don’t waste your energy
We’ve all seen the “denial is a river in Egypt” capsize. The helm and crew are sitting on the windward gunwale with the main eased as the boat ever so slowly capsizes to leeward. This is usually followed by a solid 2-3 minutes of farting around while the team tries to stay dry; meanwhile, the rest of the fleet is whipping past toward the finish line.
Once you realize that a capsize is imminent, unclip from the wire crew, and dead arm off of the trapeze puck. Do everything humanly possible not to capsize so that you can save your energy for what’s important: racing. Once you stop capsizing so much, you’d be amazed at how much energy you have at the end of the day.
Keep calm and carry on
If you do end up capsizing, just get on with it and get your boat up. Being in cold water is also tiring, and you need to focus on getting back upright as quickly as possible. Get the boat into a capsize position, and ease your jib, vang, and Cunningham (so you don’t snap your mast).
If you ever feel like you’re trapped in some lines or under a sail, or heaven forbid that your trapeze hook is trapped, it’s imperative that you keep calm. Any of those tangles can be fixed by staying focused, relaxed, and working to clear yourself so that you can get free and remain at the surface. Just stay calm and you WILL sort yourself out. Now get the boat back upright and go sailing.
Thanks so much Willie for your excellent chat. I promise to one day learn your last name so that I can properly credit you. Here’s to safe sailing in fun conditions!