Thursday, August 31, 2006

Thar She Blows

In my 13 years of sailing, I have never been ordered to wear a life vest.

Before you start yelling and screaming about how unsafe that is, let me explain a few things. First, the US Coast Guard requires all vessels to have approved personal flotation devices (pfds) on board. It is not law to have them on, just available. Second, US Coast Guard also requires an approved life ring, so if someone does go over without a pfd, one that is tethered to the boat can be thrown to them (and having an ex-Coastie aboard, aka Dad, we must be in compliance). Third, there are plenty of people around under racing conditions (the crew of your own boat, and that of other boats) that if you were to hit your head and fall off, many people will be in a position to help you (very unlike kayaking, where I never go out without my pfd on and zipped and properly fit. Not so many people are around to help you if you hit your head and can't keep yourself afloat). There are a few more points I could add; possible wind conditions, proximity to land, personal swim ability, stuff like that, but all of this pretty much means that personal risk while on a sailboat is relatively low. Also remember that the boat itself wants to stay upright!

The last one or two races take place in the Atlantic Hurricane Season. This usually means some pretty high winds and swelling seas. At the start of the race, our captain ordered pfds on, where none of us had ever had to do so before. I glanced over at the wind indicator a few times and saw it read as much as 22 knots of apparent wind (apparent, because it's not calculating the speed of the boat over the ground. True wind could be more or less). 22 knots is a lot of wind! I was happy for the pfd, not because any of us went overboard and therefore needed it, but because of this boat. For 11 of my 13 years, I sailed on a boat that had quite a lot of freeboard. This means that the deck is considerably above the waterline. The current boat is not that way, the deck is considerably close to the waterline. When there is so much wind that the low side of the boat is in the water, you want a little assurance!

It was a really fun night to be out! The race was over in about an hour and a half. During the course, a little fish flopped on board, and then was washed away by the next swell. What a way to end a season! WooHoo!

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