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Scariest Moments

We have made our way safely across 27,000 nautical miles of rivers, lakes, seas and ocean. In marinas anchorages and trips back home, fellow-cruisers, acquaintances, family and friends often ask us what have been our “scariest” moments. They expect to hear stories like those depicted in disaster movies. Certainly, we have had our share of such moments: We lost our steerage 200 miles into a 1400 mile passage off the US coast in the middle of the Gulf Stream; we hit a 2 foot diameter log in the middle of the night off the Gaspe Peninsula, we also sailed into a 12 hour storm bringing up to 50 knots of wind and 4 -5 metre seas just west of Nova Scotia; and Hurricane Sandy passed 20 miles north of us in Chesapeake Bay.

Although any one of these event could have developed into a catastrophic outcome, none of them did.

While voyaging a long passage from Cabo Verde to St Lucia, it was a “not-so-spectacular event” that lead to more critical threats to the safety of our crew and vessel. A small length of frayed stitching in the mainsail went unnoticed. On day 7 of a minimum 18 day passage, a strong gust of wind lasting less than 2 minutes split the sail in two. Without that sail, our speed was reduced less than 5 knots. We had 5 crew members aboard and a finite supply of water, provisions and diesel. At that point, our passage could easily extend beyond the limits of our resources.

As sailors, we may fear events over which we have no control; like hitting a container that falls off a ship, lightening storms, hurricane-force winds, and towering seas. We expect that we have control of the rest by implementing diligent preventative maintenance schedules. Despite all our efforts and good judgement, we are not infallible. Any number of insignificant failures can result in a “worst case scenario”.

Once faced with problem, it is what you do or fail to do that counts.Recalling the loss of steerage in the Gulf Stream, we implemented a “then unnamed” 3 step strategy. Ken and I have since referred to it with the acronym; SAD: Survey the situation, Assess the situation, Devise a plan of attack. Since then, if we say, “We are in a SAD situation”, we acknowledge we are in a potentially dangerous situation, we take a deep breath, smile and courageously persevere. After Surveying and Assessing the scope of the “damage,” Ken and I communicate each of our opinions on what to do to assure our safety while remedying the situation. This communication often occurs during conditions non-conducive to logical thought....We might be stressed, fearful or anxious and it could be windy, wavy and noisy. Even so, it is essential we both understand a realistic chain of events that could result from the problem and the way we plan on handling it. The mind can conjure up the most vivid “what if “scenarios if you let it; so it is imperative to be realistic. Finally, knowing each other’s rationale for our suggestions is instrumental in devising the plan. Once in agreement, we are both committed and tenacious to see it through!

So far, our SAD situations have always become HAPPY ones!

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