Perceptions of Safety
In this week's episode, we get smacked solidly with a pretty impressive storm, the winds 30-40 knots sustained and the waves reaching 12-15', for an exhausting stretch of about two hours. These were conditions that would've been pretty scary on our previous 35' sailboat, not to mention potentially dangerous. Not that she couldn't have handled it...we'd sailed her in some rough stuff as well. But with a smaller boat with a lighter build and less stability, both to right itself and to ride smartly through chop without pitching all over, it takes a whole lot more focus to keep the boat doing what you want it to. And if it does go wrong - a wave hits you broadside or a gust knocks you down - it's much faster and more dramatic on a smaller boat.
Nerves come with any bad weather on any size of boat, but we were very happy to discover that Cecilia handled the conditions with indifference. Even when the wind overpowered her enough to turn us around from downwind to upwind, it was a pretty leisurely affair for the big girl - sorta like she just lazily turned around, shrugged, and said, "yeah, sure, we can go that way too". All of that said, a fair helping of nerves with a splash of fear is a good thing even on the most confidence-inspiring boat. Freak waves do happen and off-the-charts gusts do take down rigs.
For those reasons and specifically because we sail short-handed and with Rivers, our most precious crew, we have had many discussions about how to approach general sailing safety while at sea and have a very specific set of rules. For us, some of those rules are; when only one of us is on deck, night or day, we always clip in with a tether; never leave the cockpit without calling the other up first; at night, never go forward of the cockpit without clipping in to the jacklines that run the length of our boat on both sides; Rivers is never to go forward at night in any way and only with his life vest on in daytime. In the cockpit in anything but totally flat seas, we tether him in, even though our cockpit is very protected...he's kinda sneaky.
All of that said, we're not nearly as strict about some safety precautions as some may be. For instance, in very benign conditions, we have been known to have Rivers on deck with us but in our grasp, we both sometimes go on deck together without clipping in in daylight, or one may do so while the other is present. Loren or I rarely wear life vests, preferring the philosophy of clipping in and having full mobility for most situations (but not all). But that's not saying that our choices are "right"...they're just right for us. After literally decades of sailing for both of us, and in the last few years doing much of it on the ocean, we've had a lot of time to think through what various precautions we believe in. It may be much different for any other pair of sailors.
To us, the important thing is that it's always on our minds, something we're constantly considering, making decisions about and acting on accordingly, never just an afterthought. We feel that as long as other sailors are doing the same and reaching their own decisions, it's the best they can do and it's no one else's place to tell them they're wrong. You have to feel what's right for your own situation...then go have fun.