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Launching Sideways and the Skipper's Nerve Medicine

I spent yesterday literally clearing the decks on Alchemy in preparation for our boat club's Saturday launch. We (meaning myself, my wife and the boat...ever notice that solo sailors say "we" when referring to themselves...and their boat?) are not launching this year as there is no engine aboard and extensive welding and tank replacements and prop pulling, etc. are to be done...definitely not water-work.

We will, however, be moving about 10 metres south and west in order to facilitate cradle storage. Owners have to be present during crane moves, and I have an "away" job on Launch Day, so my wife will be present to "supervise". Having had some unfortunate experiences during boat moves (see May 8, 2007 entry), there's always a little bit of nervous tension about seeing the boat out of its natural element (water) flying through one unnatural element (air) and flying over another (earth).

The deck clearing was prompted by the move. All tenders were attached to the perimeter fence to leave a clear field for the "sling guys" to position the crane slings at marked points on the hull.

I have attended Launch and Haulout some 20 times at this point, and I still am not entirely comfortable with seeing the boats most of us devote a lot of time, money and sweat to maintaining rotating at the end of a husky hoist some 30 feet in the air, to be "splashed" into sometimes rough waters. But it's a simple fact of life in Canadian waters (with the exception of mild British Columbia) that boats tend to spend half the year in cradles, and that means transfers via cranes or TraveLifts are a fact of the boating life here.

Most of the time, it's quick, safe and expertly done by practised volunteers and hired crane/yard operators. Most of the time.

Perhaps it's timely to list a couple of the skipper's tipple recipes. Owning a boat has actually restricted my recreational boozing significantly, because, unlike many local sailors, I rarely imbibe at any point in the day during which I can be expected to operate my vessel. I don't have a car, but I wouldn't drink operating one then, either, and not just because of the laws, but because it's easier to be stone-cold sober (rather than scraping "just under the legal limit") than to court the disaster of impairment. Boats are slow-moving, sure, but carry vast amounts of inertia once in motion, and the water can be a weird combination of monotonous sameness and infinitely distracting. Mowing down a kayaker or hitting a log would be easy, and even easier with one's drink on.

Nonetheless, when one and one's crew are tied to the dock, and the boat's "put away" and the dinner is served and the lanterns are guttering in the cool breeze, there are few finer moments than relaxing with a sociable beverage on deck. Wine aboard (a topic I will deal with in the future) with meals is customary, but beer or cider taste better if the sun's still up. After dark, however, I like gin or rum-based drinks, and these two have proven popular at home and aboard. One's a classic, and the other I think I may have invented.

The Bark and Stormy

Not quite Bermuda's national drink, but a reasonable facsimile we enjoy.

4 oz. Gosling's Black Seal Rum (Havana Club 7 year old may be substituted, but not amber or "spiced" rums)

12 oz. Canada Dry or Vernor's ginger ale (ginger beer is not always available).

Healthy dash of Angoustura Bitters.

Pour into a pint tankard over ice. Grate fresh nutmeg and/or cinnamon bark into drink to taste. Briefly stir and garnish with lime wedge. Serves one.

The more abstemious among you will note that this is essentially a "double", or rather two cocktails at once. This is because a) it is good enough that you'll want two, b) one wants to minimize the transfer of beverages from the galley to the deck, and c) England expects every man to do his duty, and this is far less damaging than the old grog ration that won Trafalgar.

The Corolla

Named so because it's an accelerator subject to recall.

2 oz. London Dry Gin (I like Tanqueray and Gordon's here, but you can use Bombay Sapphire to good effect if you prefer)

1/2 oz. Limoncello

Assertive dash of bitters

4 oz. of ginger ale or fizzy lemonade, or lemon juice and soda.

Mix in tall glass over ice and garnish with lime wedge.

This is more a "sundowner" and is very nice during hot weather. One can also pretend it discourages scurvy. I like the "gin and ginger" mix personally, but frankly it's the Limoncello that makes this drink work. Just remember that Limoncello is quite sweet and a little goes a long way.

Fleeting marine instrument industry note: Garmin, the well-regarded U.S. makers of plotters, GPSes and, more recently, radars, have announced a bid to acquire Raymarine, the venerable, if not always well-managed, British instrument makers. While I am aware of Raymarine and Garmin's respective reputations and market share in North America, I don't know how Garmin does in Europe, where I saw and continue to hear of a lot of Raymarine products on recreational yachts. I would say that Raymarine and Furuno were about evenly split in Europe, to judge from dock-walking and peering into various well-equipped cockpits, with the relatively unknown in N.A. Navman brand in third. I also saw a few NASA logos. NASA ( is the unfortunately named British firm that makes affordable AIS units and other instruments. I think they are aligned or owned by Si-Tex.

Anyway, we live in interesting times. I've seen too many balky or unintuitive Raymarine units to mourn much (I even own a Raymarine 420 plotter that came with the boat), but I'm not sure that Garmin, a newer firm lacking (perhaps undeservedly) a reputation for "oceanic grade" components, can capture Raymarine's loyal following. There are pluses and minuses for boat owners as the instrument industry consolidates down to three or so major players, but it remains to be seen whether more reliable gear at a less onerous price point will be the result.


Best practices for worst cases

-->Photos: Guy Perrin.
Where we live on Lake Ontario, what inclement weather that exists in the six-moth saling season is typically brief, although it can be as intense, particularly during summer squalls, as all but the most brutal offshore weather. This can come as a surprise to saltwater sailors, but I think it’s generally acknowledged as true that sailing a well-found vessel on the Great Lakes in the heavy airs of spring or fall, or in the 50- to 60-knot storm fronts that can fall onto the Lakes like meteorological sledgehammers is good practice for oceanic passage making.

Having now spent time in salt and fresh squalls, I can see this point, even if I need ski goggles. Exercising safety tactics in bad weather is an easy one, but given that one can sink in a calm sea, preparedness should always be on the yachtie’s mind…that and a really good rum drink recipe.
By way of cultivating the sailorly version of what the police, rescue and military folk call “situational awareness”, I and about 300 other attendees spent a crisp Saturday recently in an auditorium near to Royal Canadian Yacht Club’s shore-side clubhouse.
RCYC was sponsoring a full-day “Safety at Sea” seminar in conjunction with US Sailing. Attending it would provide a Safety Certificate necessary to enter selected offshore races, and certainly wouldn’t hurt for the Lake Ontario 300 and other long Great Lakes races, but for myself and others, it would consolidate and fill in the gaps in gradually acquired sailing safety knowledge. Eventually, my goal is to take the RYA Yachtmaster Offshore ( certification course in the UK, and I'm about three-quarters of the way in terms of "sea miles crewed" for that. This one-day seminar is like crib notes for the more demanding RYA qualification.

A show of hands testified that the crowd was about 50/50 racers and cruisers, and although the presentations were probably more oriented to large race crews, the knowledge of gear, techniques, equipment and “best practices” was very applicable to single-handers and cruising couples alike. The co-hosts and keynote speakers were John Rousmaniere, famous for his books on seamanship and on the lessons of the deadly 1979 Fastnet race, and Capt. John Bonds, an avuncular and retired U.S Navy skipper with an engaging style, and a seemingly endless well of illustrative anecdotes to support his deep knowledge of safety skills.
While Rousmaniere and Bonds did the majority of the presenting, attendees also heard from speakers such as Herb Hilgenberg (who was of great help to S/V Ainia when I was crewing on her during a delivery last November, as told below) on weather patterns for the Great Lakes sailor, a speaker from the Canadian Coast Guard on the organization of search and rescue facilities and operations, a shipping company executive on why it’s not a great idea to “buzz” lake freighters, and Toronto surgeon and J-Boat racer Michael Chapman outlined the best ways to render first aid at sea. Certainly Chapman’s fairly graphic slides impressed the audience that it’s better to clip on than to injure oneself at sea. It was also made clear that there are real limits to the medical aid one can give aboard a small sailboat, and that evacuation may be necessary (if even possible), so the “how to bring aboard a harness from a helicopter” video came in handy, too.
Both Bonds and Rousmaniere were practised and humorous you wouldn’t mind having in a lift raft, if it came to that, but the emphasis was definitely on avoiding things coming to that. Speaking of lift rafts, one model was inflated on stage, and the various attributes were pointed out. This was the first time I had seen this, and it was much louder than the diagram, and made a deeper impression.
Another deep impression was made by the comparison of USCG-approved flares, PFDs and signalling gear (which more or less applies for Canadian safety gear) versus SOLAS-grade equipment. No, it’s not cheap and yes, I am convinced it’s the way to go when going offshore. Given the utility of the EPIRB and GMDSS systems, I find it bordering on foolhardy that sailors make passages without them. No matter what gear one chooses to carry aboard, the seas (even little Lake Ontario) are still very large, and the boats (even the newest one at our docks) are still very small: it makes sense to make use of every advantage one can to attract help should things go badly out there.
Did I learn a lot of new things? Not as much as direct experience has taught me, no, but attending a pretty comprehensive and multi-pronged seminar such as this was did consolidate a lot of safety knowledge I'd picked up in a fairly haphazard fashion, and it certainly reinforced a few opinions (like the worth of SOLAS-approved gear, the essential nature of EPIRBs, PLBs and similar devices at sea, and the need to take a higher grade of first aid course) I already had. Mostly, though, it helped to better sort my mental sock-drawer, so to speak, of partial and random safety factoids into a better and, I hope, never tested base of knowledge. Forehanded, as the seminar speakers might say, is forearmed.