There are two types of Sailors

Posted by Grant Headifen on November 16, 2010 under Bareboat Charter, Coastal Navigation, Crew, Skipper | Read the First Comment

They say that there are two types of sailors – those that have hit the bottom and liars. Well, with this blog, I can firmly place myself in type I.

I believe the reason “they” (I never really know who “they” are) make this statement is to promote caution, that you’re never too immune from the bottom of the ocean no matter how much experience you have.

Certainly – I’m one of those who demonstrated to myself that the bottom is to be kept at a distance. Here’s a story that happened to me that will hopefully stick with you and help reduce (probably not eliminate) the number of times you’ll be introduced intimately to the bottom of the ocean.

The setting is the beautiful Bay of Islands, New Zealand. We were motoring amongst the picturesque islands photo documenting the anchorages for a website that we were building for Sailing New Zealand (http://www.sailingnewzealand.co.nz).

When rocks like these are present it's a good sign others are lurking under the water

When rocks like these are present it's a good sign others are lurking under the water

In one particular instance, there were two ways to get around to the next bay. Cut through a 30 meter wide channel between a set of rocks and the island or around the outside of the rocks. We consulted the GPS map and the paper map, both indicated deep water between the rocks and the island. And on top of that, it was high tide (2.5 meters above datum). Clear Right?

BONK! Said the rock and the boat simultaneously.

So what happened? Was I off on my positioning? Nope – I infinity checked that after we’d given the keel the headache of it’s life.

What happened was pure thoughtlessness. What was I thinking? I had put pure trust into data. Assuming that each and every rock in the entire world has been accurately positioned and that data exists on all electronic and paper maps.

Very simply, that is just not the case and I should have known better. Would Captain Cook made such a rudimentary mistake as he performed his amazing exploration of the unchartered world? I doubt it! In those days they constantly lead lined off the bow and sent dinghies in to doubtful waters. Lives were at stake.

While I do believe that it’s pretty safe now-a-days to assume that in deep waters almost every rock has been marked – at least in the first world countries, the mistake I had made was in shallow water close to an island.

Fortunately the story ends ok with out any injuries except to my wallet and to my two year old who bonked her head in the berth below decks while sleeping. That’s a really sucky way to wake up by the way. We reported the issue to the charter company. They hauled the boat and we paid for the damages. Even though we were going slow, the abrupt stop caused a separation gap between the keel and the hull introducing a leak.

Moral of the story. The ocean’s beauty allures us to it but it can be treacherous. Keep your head screwed on and play it safe – every time. Your experience does not give you a get out of jail free card. In fact your experience can lead you into a false sense of security. Time for me to push the reset button on what I think I know and go back to the basics. Lesson well learned. I hope this story helps you “go around the outside”.

To learn more about coastal navigation, take the NauticEd Coastal Navigation Sailing Course.

One final note – it’s really important to report incidences like this to the yacht charter company. First – it’s a matter of integrity and secondly it is a safety concern for the next charterer. There are a lot of awful what if scenarios you could probably think of and for the price of the insurance deductible the peace of mind is worth it. And after it was all said and done and amortizing it out over my sailing career the cost was about 50 cents per sail. No big deal but the re-learned knowledge is worth so much more.