- Boating Safety Tips
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A few years ago, I volunteered to crew aboard a ketch, bound for the British Virgin Islands from New York. There were three of us aboard, including the owner/skipper. We had just sailed across the eastern edge of the Gulf Stream, about 350 miles south of New York.
The skipper was on watch and tried to start the engine–and it wouldn’t start. The crew was able to get it to start by tapping on the outer solenoid cylinder. This can often knock corrosion off of the internal wiring to allow you to start the engine. But it’s a temporary fix at best.
Now the skipper had to make a decision…
If he stopped the engine to conserve fuel, it might not start again. If he left the engine running, we might run out of fuel. And that could become a safety issue with shipping lanes to cross and batteries to charge.
At the time, we were in a position about halfway between Bermuda (350 miles ahead) and New York (350 miles astern). Think of this kind of like a “point of no return”. Do we continue on to Bermuda or turn around and head home?
If we pulled into Bermuda, parts might take up to a week to arrive. Repair facilities might or might not provide adequate repairs. And, we would lose one person from our crew because he had obligations back home.
So, the skipper made a “U-turn” and headed back to New York. He would keep his full crew for the entire trip, parts were plentiful back in New York, and repair facilities were reliable and competent. It turned out to be a good call.
Deliveries are a crap shoot. The sea can be harsh on electronics and sailing gear. It’s the wise skipper who can make the tough call when the chips fall different than expected. Just another reason to add lots of extra time to any cruise schedule.
We arrived safe and sound back at the dock. But our troubles were not over. Now, the engine would not shut down! We had to shut her off at the fuel injection pump (you can pull and hold the spring-loaded lever or rod on the pump).
in his book How to Sail Around the World, famous multi-time circumnavigator Hal Roth says this: “If you get into trouble, turn around. Smart sailors are never too proud to head back.” Makes good sea-sense to me. Sail safe; sail well.