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March 2008

Winter Dangers When Living Aboard a Sailboat in Maine




This week, while getting aboard with two bags of laundry (admittedly not the safest procedure) I fell. It happened quickly -- and the only thing that went through my mind was to "Stay out of the water!"

We have a set of plastic dock stairs, three steps high with a metal railing. Right now I love that metal railing! I climbed the steps and opened the shrink wrap door and one of the bags caught on the door jam, pulling me up short. I tugged to get free and hit my head on the top of the door frame, bounced off and hit the step railing with my back and bounced off that and slid down the steps to the dock. Both bags of laundry and my bruised body all successfully stayed out of the water. The steps are screwed to the dock for safety and while the force of my fall did pull up some screws,  others held and kept me from falling backwards into a very cold ocean.

This is only the second time in 5 years that I've had a close call. During a storm in our first winter aboard, Stew and I were getting off the boat to check lines when I fell between the boat and the dock. That of course can be extremely dangerous during any time of year as you don't want to be a bumper between the dock and (in our case) a 19 ton boat. I didn't fall completely into the water, but ended up with my arms on the dock and my legs in the water. I immediately began to seek a purchase for my legs in order to lever myself onto the dock, and I asked Stew to stand back to see whether I could save myself if necessary. He was not amused, shouted at expletive and hauled me onto the dock. I'm sure I would have felt the same way from his vantage point, but I did discover how the docks were constructed and how I may be able to use the bottom crosspiece to get back aboard if need be.

Falling into the water in winter is probably one of our biggest concerns. We wear cleats on icy days, use a buddy system in storms and generally try to be careful and aware of our situation. When we have landlubber guests who stay late into the evening, we walk them back to safety on shore. This week's fall did serve to remind me that our lifestyle does have risks -- even for those of us who are old hands at living aboard.