016 Aboard the Sea Marie: On Avoiding Catastrophic Disasters and Other Mishaps.
Great Loop Prologue. August, 2016
This will be my next to the last installment of the Great Loop Prologue. Soon, I will have warmed up the outboard motor, untied the dock lines, and shove off from shore. But until then there is a very crucial and important topic to discuss. I have wrestled with this from the very onset of the concept; can I do this journey without serious injury or the worst-case scenario; getting killed?
The older we get the more we hear of and even personally experience tragedies in our lives. Shit happens. People do get injured and some, unfortunately, die. No one wants it to happen but it does. That is when you ask yourself why and more importantly how it happens and what can I do to prevent it from happening to me.
The author John Mellor in his book Handling Trouble Afloat (1996) wrote, “Good seamanship consists very much of spotting a problem in its early stages and dealing with it before it gets troublesome. Stranded rigging wire, a worn shackle pin, looming lee shore, impending gale, weary crew, or whatever - they can all be resolved before they can become a danger to the safety of the vessel. First-rate seamen rarely experience genuine, newsworthy trouble; they are the ones who never have stories to recount in the yacht club bar because nothing ever seems to happen to them.” If I were a first-rate seaman I would have nothing to write about, would I?
John goes on to write, “Things do happen though, and the best of us get it a bit wrong at times, even these quiet characters. It must therefore be equally valid to claim that a good seaman is one who can calmly get himself out of trouble when it does arise. In truth, the quiet old sailor in the corner of the bar has fixed things with so little fuss that the tales do not strike him as worthy of telling. There must be a moral here somewhere.”
There is an old saying among airplane pilots you may have heard before: A 'good' landing is one from which you can walk away. “A 'great' landing is one after which they can use the plane again. Learn from the mistakes of others.” Perhaps we sailors need a similar saying for ourselves.
There are two concepts I want to bring into sharp focus. The power of observation and the Nursing Process. Simple yet powerful ideas that for one, give nurses their traditional superpowers. I have learned to apply these concepts to my seamanship and believe me, it has saved my arse on many occasions.
Power of Observation
Can you guess who was one of the most profound and prophetic philosophers of our time and once proudly proclaimed,
“You can observe a lot by just watching?”
Give up? Well, none other than that sports legend, Yogi Berra.
The common definition describes observation as “an act or the power of seeing or taking notice of something.” An obvious answer but somewhat incomplete. An astute observer will observe not only with your eyes but also using all your senses; sight, smell, hearing, touch, and if necessary taste to get a full picture.
A keen eye, nose, or ear is wonderful to have however it still takes the central processor, the brain to make sense of what you are observing. You need to connect the dots to find and fix the problem.
On the Detroit River going upbound, all was going well when I glanced over the transom at the outboard motor to see the water outlet for the cooling system was coming out at a trickle. Should have been a strong steady flow. My eyes followed the outboard motor shaft to just below the water, and there, wrapped around the lower shaft, a large amount of eelgrass was covering up the water inlet on both sides. Turning the throttle to low and shifting to neutral I attempted to reach down and remove the obstruction. Unable to reach the bulk of the grass I grabbed for the boathook and was able to dislodge the eelgrass and the water began to flow out the port normally when I revved up the engine. Had I not noticed, this small problem could have been catastrophic. Had the motor overheated it would have damaged the water pump or worse the entire motor could have been damaged.
How do you think the dock line got wrapped around the propeller?
What would you do in this situation?
At age 36 I looked for and found a career that would challenge me for the rest of my working life. Nurses were in severe demand then and nursing schools began to offer evening classes. I was accepted at a local nursing school. This worked out perfectly with my schedule. I worked full-time at my warehouse job and attended college and nursing classes in the evening. My family was totally behind me and with their support, I would get through all the physically grueling and mentally challenging classes and soon would pass my state boards. What I learned in class and working at bedside nursing was easily adapted to my future endeavor of sailing along the Great Loop.
Time to put on my nursing scrubs again and hit the books. The nursing process functions as a systematic guide to client-centered care with 5 sequential steps. This is where the dots get connected and these are:
Diagnosis (identify the problem),
Can this be applied to everyday problems and other assorted dilemmas?
You bet your sweet bippy you can. Many of us follow this format quite often, mostly unknowingly.
Observing a potential or existing trouble spot. (Assessment)
Give it a name. (Identify the Problem)
Look up the problem on Google or YouTube and figure out the best solution. (Planning)
Just Do It! (Implementation)
Did it solve the problem? If not, go back to Google or YouTube. (Evaluation)
Can it be any simpler?
Just be careful you don’t end up saying: “We made too many wrong mistakes.”
Thank you again, Yogi Berra.
“Now bring me that horizon.”
– The last line from Pirates of the Caribbean.
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Henry--Good one. I sent it to my kids as a good "life lessons learned." Your writing of your experiences puts it in perspective--something we can all learn form. Many thanks.
Fellow Good Looper