You Can Sail Safely
By “Awake!” correspondent in Japan
OFF the Galápagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean, a man and his wife were sailing their 31-foot (9.5-m) sloop when suddenly it was rammed and sunk by a whale. Thereafter, they spent 117 days afloat in a life raft until they were rescued by a Korean fishing vessel.
Why was it possible for this couple to survive such an ordeal? There is no doubt that endurance was an important factor. However, they also had planned ahead. They were prepared for the journey, even for such an unpredictable event as having their boat sunk by a whale.
You, too, can sail safely, provided that you make good preparation.
Basic Sailing Types
Sailing boats can be classified into three basic groups: the day sailer, the cruiser and the racing type. A day sailer is usually an open boat with no cabin, and it sails in enclosed waters, such as harbors, lakes or close to shore. The cruising type generally has accommodations for sleeping, food storage and cooking so that it can go far offshore for several days or more and even sail at night. A racer is a lightweight boat designed and built especially for racing and has only the necessary accommodations, in order to reduce weight and increase speed.
The boat you select is a major factor in determining the extent of preparations needed to sail safely. Sailing is only as safe as you make it.
Most small day-sailers are filled with flotation material so that, even if the boat should turn over, it will not sink. It is even possible to turn some of these boats upright again, pump the water out and continue sailing. Cruising yachts usually have heavy lead or iron ballast in the keel area to keep the boat stable when the sails are up. The majority of these yachts are designed so that even if the boat should heel 90 degrees or more it will right itself. Knowing these things can give you confidence.
Yachts are designed with safety in mind, so that, if safety precautions are observed, there is little danger that the boat will capsize. But there are other factors that you ought to consider.
Knowing something about the weather and, to a certain extent, being able to predict it are aids to sailing safely. Some experienced yachtsmen have expensive electronic equipment to provide advance knowledge of weather conditions. However, the beginner usually cannot afford these items, so he must rely on his own observations.
A method of weather forecasting that has been used for centuries is observing the sky at sunrise and at sunset. For example, a clear, red evening sky means a relatively dry atmosphere and is a good indication of fair weather for the following day. However, a sunset in a hazy or overcast sky means that the air is humid and is being condensed into clouds aloft, a condition favorable to storms. The reverse is true in the morning. A gray sunrise usually means a good day, and a red sunrise indicates a bad day. (Matt. 16:2, 3) An easy way to remember this is to keep in mind this saying: “Evening red, morning gray, two sure signs for a fine day. Evening gray and morning red will send the sailor wet to his bed.”
A brilliant white moon indicates good weather and a pale misty moon forebodes moisture and possibly a storm. Also, if the stars appear to be far away and set in blackness and the moon has a corona, or halo, bad weather generally is ahead.
Clouds are reliable weather signs too. Cumulus clouds seen floating against the blue sky are usually a sign of fair weather. But when the weather is muggy and damp, these cumulus clouds may be the beginning of high thunderclouds, meaning that a storm is close. Cirrus clouds are thin, swift clouds composed of ice crystals. Generally they are a 10- to 30-hour advance warning of a storm, from the time that the first streaky clouds are seen.
Smoke gives a good indication as to the amount of moisture in the air. If smoke rises straight upward, there is very little moisture in the air. If the smoke rises only a short distance and then is forced downward, the air is heavily laden with moisture and it may rain.
Since, in most cases, wind comes with rain, a yachtsman does well to observe these signs so that he can make preparations for the storm or make his way back to a quiet harbor before it strikes.
Usually, safety equipment is determined by the type of boat you are sailing and also by the kind of trip you are planning. In a day sailer, you will be close to shore in a lake or bay. Under those circumstances, you should carry on board a minimum of one life jacket per person. Also, it would be good to have an oar so that you can paddle back to shore in case a mast should break. Or, a strong wind may come up, making it difficult to return to shore. To prevent your being blown far offshore, an anchor and a long rope are valuable.
Most cruising yachts are used for one day, or for weekend boating, farther offshore. For such boats, a life raft, compass, emergency tiller, oars, flashlight, medicine chest, radio receiver and flares are standard equipment, along with supplies of canned food and drinking water. If you have an auxiliary engine, also carry a toolbox. And if the boat is equipped with an engine or if there is a stove aboard, a fire extinguisher is essential.
For more extensive cruising, a radio transceiver, depth finder, radio direction finder and additional rope and wire will be very useful in emergencies. Since you may be sailing at night, it is imperative to have a good safety harness with a rope that can be attached to a secure portion of the boat. Carefully calculate food and water supplies to be sure that you have enough for the journey plus several extra days. For extended cruising, your departure date and expected return date should be registered with the Coast Guard as a safety precaution.
When small unballasted boats capsize, they do not usually sink. Therefore, if your boat should capsize some distance from shore, it is best to stay with the vessel until help comes. It has happened that the one who has swum toward shore to get help has never been heard from again, while persons that stayed with the boat were rescued by a passing vessel.
Other helpful hints: (1) Make a practice of putting your life jacket on when you go sailing. Most people do not. But when the sea gets rough, wearing the life jacket is a must.
(2) If the weather gets heavy or you are sailing at night, it is best for anyone on deck to wear a safety harness. The safety line from the harness should be attached to a sturdy portion of the boat so that, if he falls overboard, it will drag him with the boat. Especially at night it is difficult to locate a person overboard.
(3) Drink plenty of water and take salt if necessary.
(4) When sailing on a hot summer day, wear lightweight, light-colored clothing and a head covering of some kind. Every year people die as a direct result of excessive heat and solar radiation.
(5) Take someone along with you when you go sailing, and, until you learn the dos and don’ts, make sure that it is an experienced person.
Heeding this advice will do much to help you to sail safely.