Before leaving Norfolk, we tried to determine what caused anxiety in offshore sailing. Our hope was to identify and then deal with these issues up front, before they had a chance to affect us on our journey.
I looked at accounts of high seas rescue situations involving boats caught in offshore storms. In most cases, the rescued sailors agreed that it was crew failure that ultimately caused the emergency and subsequent evacuation. Present in most rescue operations were three primary issues: fatigue, seasickness, and boat-handling ability.
Although Sue and I do not expect to be caught in an offshore storm and have to abandon ship, we do want to be prepared for any conditions we may encounter. We also recognized that these same factors would directly influence not just our safety, but also our comfort and subsequent anxiety level--even if the seas never top three feet.
First, we addressed fatigue. We saw fatigue as being composed of two basic elements: sleep and nutrition. As for sleep, we established a four-hour watch schedule aboard Safari. We both considered this schedule to be serious, and we stuck to it throughout the day and night. To compensate for lost sleep at night, we forced ourselves to sleep some during the day. This was not always easy. On a prior overnight sail, I stayed awake most of the night. This left me exhausted and unable to function the next day. Another time, Sue and I tried two-hour watches but found the time too short for adequate rest.
Before leaving, we prepared all our food in advance. This we stored in ready-to-serve portions that could be eaten cold, or would require only simple heating. Anyone who has spent time in rough seas knows how tough it can be to work down below in a galley. In fact, I sometimes find it challenging in a gourmet kitchen on land!
Do we get seasick? Unfortunately, yes. Sue and I are both prone to seasickness in certain conditions. We are, however, learning how to control it. We have found that the active ingredient in Bonine and Dramamine II, meclizine hydrochloride 25 mgs, works great without causing drowsiness. If you want to fall asleep fast, take the regular Dramamine. They should market this product as a sleep pill. Sue took this once two years ago on a trip and slept for six hours. Other sailors have reported similar side effects. This could be dangerous if you needed your crew to help you offshore in deteriorating conditions. We also have in our medical bag the prescription product Transderm Scop. This is a patch product that you place behind your ear that lasts up to three days. We have not found ourselves in conditions to warrant using these yet.
When you stop and think bout it, sailing overnight with only two people aboard is a lot like single-handing. One person sails the boat alone, while the other person rests. This, of course, requires boat-handling skills from both crew members. Since the off-watch person must genuinely rest, the on-watch crew member must be competent and comfortable operating the vessel alone.
Aboard Safari, Sue and I try to share responsibilities equally. Each of us now has the confidence and ability to single-hand under most conditions. Im fortunate that Sue was already an experienced sailor before we met. Actually, she has more sailing experience than I do. The down side to Sues experience is that I cant boss her around like a lot of guys do their wives. There are also times when two captains aboard make for some interesting discussions. Oh well, you cant have everything.
Weve talked with other cruising couples who told us of their anxiety and concerns regarding offshore sailing, particularly at night. In most cases, one of the two is not comfortable handling the boat. One woman told us that she never takes her eyes off the radar screen while on watch, ready to awaken her sleeping husband if a blip occurs. As a result, her journey is stressful and unpleasant. Not surprisingly, she does not want to go offshore at night again.
Well, enough of this serious stuff. I guess Ive found that when you are prepared for the worst, the good times are even that much better. My watch just finished and I really must get some sleep. I lay in my bunk, confident that Safari, now 50 miles offshore, is under command with Sue at the helm and heading safely toward Buzzards Bay. I have four hours before my next watch. I drift quickly into a deep comfortable sleep ...
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