"They’ve upgraded their warning. The storm's going to be a lot worse." And so starts the drama of staying alive in “The Martian,” which is one of our favourite movies because not only are the effects impressive and the acting convincing, but also because crossing an ocean aboard a small boat is something akin to being isolated on a faraway planet. Help can be a long time coming so self-sufficiency is paramount to our safety. Jack and Jude have crossed a lot of oceans and have survived some horror situations, and so following on from last week’s great article on storm tactics by Jessica, I thought I’d record what I think is equally important. That is fatigue.
Shorthanded crews thinking of sailing the world as well as coastal sailors will find tips here on how to mitigate fatigue and survive. So here goes.
Preparing for an extended voyage is daunting. It’s a tiring task ensuring everything is in good working order, then gathering long lists of provisions and getting them aboard. Doing so takes heaps of mental concentration that’s sometimes not evident until the lines are cast off, when relief floods the mind as we slump to gaze at the land slipping astern.
Take all the rest you can get
In our earlier days of sailing when we took other people across oceans, we’d often have to tend to their mal d’mer or keep them company with their amazement or anxiety. Or they’d slump below and fall asleep because the sudden never ending motion simply knocked the last bit of energy right out of them. So the rule is. Take all the rest you can get.
From firsthand experience, fatigue deepens over time and that can cause bad judgment and the inability to focus on a problem. In the extreme, I’ve even hallucinated, when one night I imagined that a passing vessel had turned about and thought they were pirates, only to find it was another craft.
Sea berths and hammocks
So, rest all you can, even if it’s just a lie down. Falling asleep is a bonus. A good sea berth helps. One that is low, fore and aft, and a tight fit so you don’t roll back and forth. Stuffing cushions in around your body and head helps. I sometimes use our hammock. They take a bit of getting used to, but once you’re asleep, it’s like being on solid ground, so much so, getting out can be tricky. There’s a reason the navies of the world had their crews in hammocks besides saving space.
As the days go on and on, our set routine for off time is invaluable. I generally always lie down. Even if I do not sleep, just lying horizontally polarized gets me ready for my night watch. In rough conditions I might go two or three nights without sleep and I find lying down, mind as blank as I can, refreshing.
Prepare as much as you can before departure
Another point is to prepare as much as you can before all the rocky-rolling action begins. Jude prepares meals in port and stores them in the fridge, which is so handy the first few days out when we’re at our lowest. Tasty prepared food is also available off the shelf, very handy for a single late night meal.
On board Banyandah, unless the wind is expected to lessen, we’ll put a reef in the main during the midnight changeover, ensuring the off watch doesn’t have to get up if conditions freshen.
Learn to hove to
For us, crossing an ocean is not a race, so the next tidbit is to learn to hove to. It’s a handy technique to avoid arriving in darkness as well as getting much needed rest. Therefore, when you get buggered battling the bad stuff, take a break and be refreshed. Just so you know, at the other extreme, when there’s no wind, we mostly drift. Why spoil all that peace and isolation with a noisy engine. While drifting we’ve had the most magnificent seabirds paddle up to us, looking for a hand out.
That favorite movie of ours ends with the hero standing in front of a classroom of new recruits delivering a humorous, yet serious monologue that we all could follow.
“When I was up there stranded by myself, did I think I was going to die - yes, absolutely. And that's what you need to know because it may happen to you. This is space. (pencil in ocean) It does not co-operate. At some point, everything is going to go south on you, everything. And you're going to say, this is it. This is how I am going to end.
Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That's all it is. You just begin. You solve one problem. Then you solve the next one. And the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.”