Develop a habit for safety
Don’t let minor problems become big problems
I had a minor rig failure while running northeast from Yorktown on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay. The sailboat was stern to a gusty 20-knot wind under reefed main and working jib. While taking a tricky shortcut through narrow Swash Channel, I had no choice but to do an intentional jibe from starboard to port tack and hold my heading when a gust swung more westerly. A lot was going on at once, navigationally, but the jibe seemed OK.
I continued across the mouth of Mobjack Bay and deep into Horn Harbor. While battening down for an approaching thunderstorm, I saw the frayed end of the port lower forward stay on the foredeck. It had parted right at the turnbuckle swage, ending the sailing part of the cruise until repairs could be made.
So what safety lessons did I learn?
- Don’t ignore minor problems. When I bought the boat in 1995, the port lower forward stay was bent sharply but only about 5 degrees at the swage. It had lasted through many cruises, so I figured it had to be a minor problem.
- A wire cable with a minor bend at the swage will eventually turn into a major problem.
- Don’t ignore minor changes in minor malfunctions. One strand of cable had broken a couple of years ago, but I still had 18 good strands. I could wait for another one or two to go before things got bad, couldn’t I? Wrong.
- Trailer boaters, be especially careful of your standing rigging’s position when raising your mast. I'm sure the initial bend at the swage happened when the stay hooked under the forward port light’s frame during one or more mast raisings. Raise the mast slowly, and check frequently for fouling. I intend to trim the port light frame to avoid this problem with the new stays.
The first three lessons also apply to paddlers and power boaters, only the examples change. Seemingly minor problems that could bite power boaters include coolant leaks, missing anchors and stiff steering cables. Paddlers might have a loose oarlock or missing hatch gasket.
Whether piloting a powerboat or sailboat, we need an attitude for safety that drives us to fix minor problems, even if it’s inconvenient or more costly than we’d like.
This article first appeared in Boulder Beacon, newsletter of Boulder Valley Sail & Power Squadron/30.