5 lessons from John Kretschmer on safety

June 28, 2020 in Safety - No Comments

Tim and I had the pleasure of passing some quarantine time taking John Kretchmer’s Safety at Sea webinar along with about 150 other souls around the globe. It’s no secret that John is one of my sailing heros, but over the years he’s grown into a dear friend and trusted advisor.

Last October I attended JKU in Solomons, Maryland and recommend it to anyone who is serious about going offshore. This week’s webinar covered a tiny bit of that content and it reminded me of some great lessons I’ve learned from John after attending his workshop and sailing 4,000 NM aboard Quetzal. That’s me jumping into a life raft!

Lesson 1: The best sailors are safe sailors. John’s adamant that we can’t separate safety and seamanship, and I believe he’s correct. If you look at big disasters at sea, you’ll find that most are a combination of many things going wrong at once (versus just one thing going wrong). Safe sailors are thinking way ahead (before they even leave the dock) and making all kinds of decisions to help limit risks; thereby, cutting unsafe situations off at the pass.

Lesson 2: Don’t be a slave to the waypoint. Yes, we all like to get from point A to point B as fast as possible, but doing it at the expense of your boat, gear, and crew, does not win any medals. Most of us are not ocean racers, so you if have to fall off the wind to have a more comfortable ride and less pounding on your rig… do it. We’re out there to sail. So sail.

Lesson 3: Don’t live in the bunker. I can tell you that after sailing with John on three offshore passages, he is religious about doing daily “walkabouts” on deck. And, nine times out of 10, he finds something that is amiss–be it the lashing on the dingy loosening to a random cotter pin laying about (um, where’d this come from?) to a line that is starting to chafe. If we hole up in the cockpit because it feels safe and cozy, it’ll be uber uncomfortable to go topside in a blow.

Lesson 4: Run your jack lines down the center of the boat. John is a firm believer that simply running your jack lines from your bow cleat to your stern cleat puts your lines too close to the toe rail (translation: edge of the boat). The goal if you fall down while on deck is to not go over the side of the boat. If your jack lines are rigged too far out, the likelihood of going over the side and then being dragged along in the water (and drowning) is much higher. It takes some imagination and a little work to figure out how to rig down the center. But, it’s worth it. Here we are setting up and testing our jack lines on Felicità. Note, only the starboard jack line is rigged in this picture.

Lesson 5: Loop your tether around the jack line, back to your harness. This does a few things. First, it shortens your tether which, along with jack line placement (lesson 4 above), helps limit the chance that you’ll go over the side. Second, if you do go over the side and need to detach from the boat (imagine you are getting pulled under), all the fittings are right at your chest. Third, by having all the fittings up at your chest, you avoid having to drag a fitting along the deck as you move around doing your topside work. This keeps things from clunking around, and more importantly, keeps both hands free to work and/or hold on.


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