We have all heard about Murphy’s Law, “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong,” however, the truth is that Murphy was an optimist, and that was his downfall. There was a lack of preparation and planning on Murphy’s part that caused a test he was responsible for to go totally wrong. Sadly, it’s like that on boats quite often.
Listening to channel 16 on the VHF on a “busy day on the bay” Saturday can be quite an educational experience. Yesterday was a great example. There were a lot of boats out on the bay, too little experience on the part of some of the captains, and a good amount of wind. Added together you have a recipe for disaster. The Coast Guard got called with “emergencies” several times. The one that caught my attention was a 54’ sailboat that had lost all steering. The Coast Guard ran through the normal questions. What is your location? Just South of Angel Island (with the wind blowing from the South). How many persons on board? Seven. Does everyone have a life jacket on? Yes. Are you in immediate danger? The captain responded, rather tentatively, “Not for about 15 minutes.” Vessel Assist came on the radio about this time advising they were in the area and would respond. A few minutes later, the boat safely in tow, the danger was past.
What does all this have to do with Murphy? Preparation, planning, and practice. There are things that can be done to steer a vessel without rudder control. The sails for example can be used to steer a boat. In this case, the sails were down. Get them up and use them. Trim the main and ease the jib … the boat turns to windward (you can actually do a tack this way). Ease the main and trim the jib … the boat turns to leeward (don’t try to jib this way). Is there something that can be rigged as an emergency “tiller?” Check out books like Chapman’s and the Annapolis Book of Seamanship. Both have some great ideas, and we have copies in the office for your use.
Now to the point of this tip. There are generally things that can be done, however, the middle of an emergency on a 43’ boat is not the time to miraculously come up with a solution. Plan for and practice what you would do. To learn using the sails to steer, take a Capri out and practice it in Marina Bay. Then take a 30’ to 32’ boat out and practice in a safe area. Keep building on the skill … bigger boat … more challenging wind and sea conditions. I have on a couple of occasions sailed back from the San Francisco city front never touching the wheel. Preparation, planning, and practice are what get you through when Murphy’s Law rears its ugly head … and it will.