THE OCEANS AND SEAS ARE THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CONNECTION TO NATURE THAT I AM PRIVILEGED TO SHARE WITH YOU – BUT THEY ARE REAL, ALIVE AND COMMAND RESPECT.
YOU WILL NEVER CONTROL or truly understand the oceans and seas, but your journey to read the Earth’s great waters will be your greatest life education.
But imagine finding yourself overboard, trapped in cold, dark waters miles from shore in the midst of a ferocious Bay of Biscay storm, water rushing through your mouth and nose.
You are battling to fight off the panic and gain a sense of which way is up. It all happens in a split second, when nature reminds you that she is in control. A combination of luck, skill and mental clarity is what gets you out of these situations. But what gets you into them? And how can they be avoided?
I have been a professional sailor for nearly 30 years, sailed in two America’s Cup campaigns, raced around the world three times and held 15 world sailing speed records.
Arguably I have used up my nine lives. I fell overboard in 1999 while sailing solo across the Atlantic. I truly believed it was over for me but was lucky enough to hold on, with a broken arm, while the waves rolled my yacht (with me attached) the right way up after what seemed like a lifetime trapped underneath.
On another occasion, I was ready to meet my maker during the Jules Verne record race after a sudden wave exploded across our decks and flung me 50 feet across the catamaran’s trampoline while traversing the deep Southern Ocean off the Cape of Good Hope. It happened in the small moment between me transferring my tether from one hook to the other.
I have been dealt many lessons and learned some important facts about self-preservation.
Recently we have found ourselves in the midst of high profile and tragic losses at sea, of yachtsmen paying the greatest price of all. My heart breaks for every family that has to go through the pain of losing their loved ones under such circumstances.
Today’s yachts are becoming faster, lighter and more technical. Better navigation tools help us to avoid dangers, but lighter yachts mean they are more susceptible to sudden shifts in winds and waves.
Now more than ever, it is vital to remember the basics. First and foremost, you are responsible for yourself and your safety. The most important thing you can do is stay on the boat. The Golden Rule on any vessel is “one hand for you, one hand for the ship”. Constantly be aware of what is happening around you. Never fall into the trap of being overly confident.
Enrol in a sea survival course and if you cannot swim well, learn to do so. Know your vessel and make sure all of its survival equipment is on board, serviced and in perfect working order. Practice MOB drills. Even the highest calibre sailors wear life jackets day and night.
Responding to the call of nature over the back of a boat is one of the most high-risk situations you can put yourself in. Regardless of speed, time of day or weather conditions, it is dangerous. Use the head down below. Failing that, use a bucket.
On my second around-the-world passage, we were to attempt a speed record on a 110ft Maxi catamaran. I created bum bags for each of the crew with all the necessary survival equipment – knife, torch, strobe, cyalume glow stick, sea dye, streamer, mini flares, personal MOB locator and whistle.
It is no use having all this equipment in your dry bag stored down below if you have fallen into the water. It is a very small inconvenience to carry, but could save your life when nothing else will.
So to my daughters, please explore the oceans if your hearts so choose. Find the love and peace that only the sea can give you. Learn more about the life your dad is passionate about. But do so with a healthy fear and with the greatest respect for what lies beyond the horizon. Be safe, be happy and enjoy every moment.