It started as a balmy summer day in August several years ago. I was volunteer crew aboard a small sailboat being delivered south for sale.
A fateful day
We had anchored for the night in a quiet spot just inside the harbor breakwater. And the next morning, out of nowhere...
A vicious northeast gale rolled in with 50+ knot winds and steep white capped seas that caused the boat to buck like a rodeo stallion gone mad.
And then it happened...
Our anchor was ripped from the seabed by swell action like a gardener pulling a rotten weed from a garden patch. ...
Even with a second anchor down, we were dragging fast toward the seawall astern. The skipper was at the wheel with the engine in gear and then a line wrapped around the prop.
We were done for...
Nothing left to do except to man the fenders to cushion the crash. We slammed into the shark-tooth rocks of the seawall at five knots broadside. Vicious pounding shook the hull as each wave picked us up and threw us harder against the stones...
With just minutes to spare, we were able to get all hands onto the flat top of the seawall to safety. Seconds later she was submerged to her gunwales. Within twenty minutes, just top of the mast above the spreaders was visible in the howling wind and horizontal, driving rain...
If you need to leave the boat for any reason--emergency, illness, or danger--you want to have a ready-made, 'grab it and go' bag with your most vital personal items enclosed.
I found I came up short in being prepared for disaster on that fateful day. After all, these things have happened to other sailors, so there was no guarantee that they couldn't happen to me. A rude awakening can pack a punch and make you think about things in a realistic way.
No doubt you have already thought of many things you want in your general grab bag - things like spare EPIRB, torch, satphone, scissors, mirror, first aid, passports, fishing line, hand-pump watermaker, etc, but here is a reminder about some personal items that you might have forgotten - ten essential 'must have' personal items - for a short cruise, longer passage, or extended ocean voyage. In any event 'don't leave home without them!'
1. Documentation and Insurance:
Abandon ship bag
Vessel documentation, registration, and insurance. Credit or debit card receipts from the trip. The skipper had a terrible time when he tried to get action from his Insurance company right after the incident. It was a Saturday and it took several hours to get anyone to respond.
Make sure that you can contact a live human being that will take action to help you, whether it's a week day, weekend, or holiday. Accidents don't stop happening on these days, and your boat insurance company needs to provide live--not automated--help 24/7, 365 too. If they don't, find one that will.
List all of your user names and passwords for the most critical computer apps, like banks, credit card companies, or any website you do business with online. Access a computer from a local library or Internet café. Make a simple code for the app that's easy for you to recall.
For example, let's say you do business with Action Bank. Encode the word 'Action' with the alphabet and numbers like this: a=1, b=2, c=3, and so on. For the word 'Action', you would use 1-3-20-9-15-14. You can make up your own code. Be sure it's easy for you to remember, but tough for a thief to break.
3. Cash and Funds:
Seal your wallet or purse in a heavy duty zip lock bag. Carry at least $100 in small bills, plus have enough funds on a credit card to purchase a one-way ticket home by air, bus, train, or rental car.
Load an empty prescription bottle with $10 - $20 worth of quarters so that you can wash clothes at a Laundromat, purchase sodas or snacks from a machine, or make a phone call (if out of cell range or if your cell phone battery dies).
4. House and car keys:
Also leave a set with family or a trusted friend.
5. Communications Devices:
Pack a cell phone or IPhone with pre-programmed numbers of insurance company, friends, and family (seal in waterproof cell phone bag). Phone charger. Extra phone battery (batteries). Purchase a phone card in case you need to use a phone from a hotel. This could save you on costly long distant charges.
6. Prescriptions and Meds:
Ask your doc to write a script for 90 days worth of each prescription before you sail. Count out 30 day's worth of medication from each bottle, put it into a separate, labeled medicine bottle, and stow the bottles in a heavy duty zip-lock bag.
7. Change of Clothes:
Bring a full change of clothes. Include outer ware and underwear. Pack a lightweight windbreaker, hat, and extra pair of shoes. Seal everything in a zip-lock. Purchase miniature travel toiletries (find these at drugstores) and pack these in a separate zip-lock.
8. High Energy Food:
Include two days worth of high energy protein bars or snacks, sealed tight inside a zip-lock.
9. Spare Glasses:
Buy extra pairs of glasses at a Wal-Mart super store. They have great quality glasses at big discounts. You need a pair of clear lens and a pair of sunglasses--both RX. Make sure the sunglasses are polarized.
Not many things seem to give sailors comfort like a good detective novel or adventure yarn. Carry a spare paperback to help you get through the hours in case you need to wait for transportation like flights or buses.
Learn to sail like a pro when you prepare ahead of time with a good, solid personal grab bag like this.
Keep your grab bag lean with just the most necessary items you need. This will give you the confidence you need to enjoy your cruise without the worry of what to do--if the unexpected crosses your path.
John Jamieson (Captain John) shows sailors the no-nonsense cruising skills they need beyond sailing school at www.skippertips.com . Sign up for a free sailing tips newsletter or become a member for instant access to hundreds of sailing tips articles, newsletters, eBooks, and live discussion forums.