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August 2009

July 2009

Lessons Learned Under Crisis

Two weeks ago, on July 3rd Stew (my captain, partner and husband) had a medical emergency. We ended up in the hospital late at night, miles from the boat. Stew was diagnosed with cellulitis -- a particularly nasty bacterial infection of the deepest layer of the skin. It had spread quickly (or as the doctor said, it was "aggressive") beginning with a small mark on his leg Friday morning. By late Friday night he had chills and his lower leg was bright red from ankle to knee and grossly swollen. 

We were out for dinner and a Jonathan Edwards concert in Ogunquit with Stew's sister, a retired nurse, who insisted that we go to the emergency room at the nearest hospital. We did, and though treated with respect and great care, we were there for over 3 hours total. They diagnosed the problem and gave Stew an I/V of antibiotics and a prescription for more. In addition they gave him medication for the pain, which was considerable. 

Lesson Number One -- Major infections can occur anywhere and are not to be taken lightly. If we had not gone to the hospital that night, Stew could have become gravely ill, requiring a 2 week or more hospital stay. His leg looked like those photos I've seen when sailors have encountered nasty tropical bugs. I have a lot of research to do regarding the on-board medical kit for our future travels. 

So there we were in Biddeford which is 30 minutes of our home port in South Portland, and the boat was in Harpswell which is a 45 minute drive north of said home port. It was 2:30 AM and we certainly could have called friends or checked into a hotel to get some rest, but Stew insisted that he could get from the car to the dinghy and out to our boat on a mooring. I didn't think that was possible, but wanted to get near the boat as I would have to tend to both Stew and the boat over the next two days and wanted to be close to both. At 4:00 AM we checked into a hotel in Brunswick, where I got 4 hours sleep until it was time to give Stew his medication. I got him a muffin, filled his prescription, and left him to sleep with the Do Not Disturb sign on the door. 

Then I called the boatyard and asked the weekend receptionist not to give out Stew's mobile number to prospective boat buyers or boat sellers; and I asked the yard's owner to please get our boat off the mooring and into a slip where I could expect to get Stew aboard later that day. 

Lesson Number Two -- Ask for help. When in a "challenging situation" it is not only OK to ask friends for help, it is expected. I had a hard time with it at first until someone reminded me that if any of our friends had a similar challenge, Stew and I would be more than willing to assist in any way. 

 Once I got the hang of it -- I asked for a lot of help. The friend who traveled with us that night, cheerfully waited the three hours at the hospital and helped throughout the weekend. At the hotel, I asked to check in at 4:00 AM, in a first floor unit, stay until 4:PM and pay only for one day. They had space and graciously allowed us to do so. The boatyard had to move someone else to a mooring and move our boat into a slip. They did it without question. Late in the afternoon, I got Stew back to the boat and someone fed me dinner. (He still had no appetite.) Now, I had husband and boat together, but the boat and car were in Harpswell and I needed us all to be in Portland on Sunday evening. So I asked more people to help. 

I suggested to Stew that I call three sailors from our marina in South Port to see whether they would give up a day on their boats and come to Harspwell to help me take our boat home. I figured that Stew would stay below in our cabin and be there to help with advice. I have never captained this boat without Stew on board. I also asked Lynnelle, a dear friend from South Portland to drive those sailors to Harpswell so we didn't end up with still more cars to transport. Then I asked boating friends in Harpswell to drive our car to South Portland on their way home to Massachusetts. I asked for a lot of help. 

Then Lynnelle offered to take Stew back to her house for the day, leaving me to manage the boat with our friends.  I didn't think he'd go, but he said it was a good idea -- clearly he was even sicker than I thought. But it was also clear that he thought I was capable of getting our boat home safely. 

Lynnelle took Stew home, made a sick bed for him on her couch and got "guy movies" for him to watch. The sailors and I had lunch and we left the dock without a hitch. We had a beautiful day. The trip can take 3 to 5 hours depending on the conditions. We made it in 3 hours on a perfect sail. I navigated and ran the ship and the three experienced sailors were an excellent crew. They had even organized a landing party to help us into our very tight slip in South Portland. Our boating neighbors had been told about our situation and twelve people were on hand to help us dock!

Lesson Number Three -- I really am a sailor! I did not sail at all until I met Stew. The number of women only sailing courses available are an indication that it can be difficult to be a confident sailor when you sail almost exclusively with the husband who taught you. Stew did not feel well, but he also knew that I could bring the boat home and he had more confidence in my abilities than I did. Once we got moving, I was able to give concise instructions regarding our furling mainsail and other gear. I was told that I sounded relaxed and that the crew had fun on the water with me. More important -- I had fun on the water with me. I'd go with me again! 

 Stew is recuperating -- it has taken over two weeks and we have kept sailing. While he is still gimping around, he stays at the wheel and runs the boat and I do all the deck work. Once he is recovered, we will swap roles much more often and I will run the boat half the time. After all, I really am a sailor!

Sailing in Maine: Two Wrongs - Two Rights It All Evens Out

Those who follow me on Twitter (@BarbAtSea)know that we left the dock for the first sail of 2009 on July 2nd. This is almost two months later than normal and due entirely to the horrendous weather we've had this year. The photo at left was captioned: "Barb At Sea, Truly, Really at Sea. I love my boat.' 

I do love my boat; I love sailing with Stew; and for the most part I enjoyed the sail regardless of the weather. What very few people knew was that we left South Portland at 5:30 AM with the intent to arrive in Harpswell at Great Island Boatyard by 9:00 AM, showered and ready for busy work days for both of us. We didn't make it to GIBY until 11:30 because the engine sputtered and died just outside of Jewell Island. 

Wrong: EW had checked the fuel the evening prior, and knew that we  had fuel in the reserve tank, but thought that one or both fill tanks were empty. We were tired, we wanted an early start and he thought there was enough to get to our destination, where we could fuel up prior to heading back to our home port. We don't actually know how to measure the amount of fuel in the reserve tank or how long that will take us. That isn't a safe boating practice and we know it. 

Second Wrong: When the engine died, he and I both immediately assumed we were out of fuel. We didn't even think of other possibilities. Clearly we both had wondered if there was enough for the trip, so that the first and only cause that we considered. The next day, when EW brought 5 gallons of diesel out to the boat -- he discovered that we actually had fuel in the tank. In fact, the level on the stick was nearly as high as it was when we started out on Thursday. Ah-ha! Then we looked for other issues and sure enough, we found a clogged fuel filter. Changed it out, bled the engine and the issue is solved. We could have done that Thursday morning and arrived nearly on time. I would have been on time to my appointment and completed more phone calls, but we would have missed a very fine sail, which brings me to ... 

First Right: While the wind wasn't coming from the optimum direction for a direct and timely sail to GIBY, we did have wind. We worked together to quickly unfurl the mainsail, move us away from the rocks, unfurl the jib and correct the course to allow for multiple tacks to our chosen entrance to Quahog Bay. We had good visibility, good wind, light rain, and a really nice sail. I plotted the best course given the conditions and we were able to sail right up to the mooring. I love the teamwork in sailing. I love being able to work with my life's partner to make the boat move, overcome challenges, and fix problems. 

Second Right: I told only 3 very close friends that EW had allowed us to run out of diesel. We joke, we tease, and we "tell on" each other -- but not about things that would be deeply embarrassing or are unprofessional. EW is a yacht broker and licensed captain. He is phenomenally knowledgeable about sail and power boats, can fix just about anything, and I trust him with my life. He was right that we had more than enough fuel to reach our destination. And I have recanted my story and reported the correct version to those 3 close friends. 

Lessons learned: 

  1. We need to determine how to know the actual amount of fuel we have in the tanks. We use the diesel to run our furnace in the winter, and we heat water through that system when we are away from shore power in the summer. We cannot rely on engine hour records to give us accurate information about the amount of fuel left on board.
  2. We need to take the time to do things right and to make sure we are completely ready for a safe passage, whether it is a matter of 30 miles or 3000 miles. We were anxious to finally move the boat away from the dock and impatient to take off. Certainly many a world sailor has found themselves in rough weather and dangerous situations due to being insistent on getting to a certain port regardless of the circumstances. 
  3. Trust your partner and your boat. We didn't panic, blame, condemn or yell. We just got to work to move the boat. Because of that, it was indeed a great sail. I do love our boat .. and EW.

A Fog Mull

July 1, 2009 -- still dank and damp and dark and wet and not like July in Maine. Towels aren't drying, we plan grilled meals at our own peril, and we really, really, really want to go sailing. Today is a day of dense, heavy fog and no wind. According to John Gould's Maine Lingo this type of fog is known as a "fog mull". If you sail in Maine, you can expect to sail in fog. The phrase "fog bound Coast of Maine" is incredibly descriptive. When we have had a breeze, we have sailed in the fog both with and without instruments. We use our senses more fully as we look and listen for danger and buoys. We work together as a team to reach our destination safely. We celebrate at the end of a successful passage. 

We have also stayed on the hook or mooring or dock and waited it out. Using the time to explore a new harbor, read, play games, cook, and plot future courses. Both are good strategies for boaters. Since we can't change the weather, it makes sense to give in to the inevitable. I am doing that this week by using this time to reflect, plan, and sort. Stew and I are clearing the boat of clutter, using storage space more effectively, and making plans for our future. One could say that this "pre-boom" economy has put Maine and the country in a dense fog. As the owner of Hire Well, I am using part of the each work day to clear the clutter, create better systems, market more effectively and make plans for growth and prosperity. It's a fog mull day. Whether you choose to sail forward, or sit and reflect. Embrace the day and use it wisely.

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