Tuesday, August 12, 2008
TechTip - It’s All In Your Hands
Get walkie talkies.
Let me tell you two True Stories, both which recently took place on Don Quixote on the same memorable night in Squirrel Cove, Desolation Sound. We’ll change the names of the fellow boat as a courtesy.
Story One - Hank of s/v Beautiful Sloop brought his friend Steve on a three week tour of Desolation. Both are very experienced sailors, familiar with these waters. The night was stunningly clear with a light warm breeze. So at twilight Steve got in the tender and went for an evening row. Unbeknownst to the captain, Steve strayed a little too close to a reversing rapid at the head of the cove and was swept inexorably into a salt water lagoon. With no way to get out of the lagoon, Steve settled in to take a brief nap until the tide turned and sent the water rushing back out.
Meanwhile, three hours pass and Hank started to get seriously concerned about his friend. While Steve is in his late 40’s, experienced and in good health, it was pitch dark, a slight breeze was coming up, the temperature was dropping. Steve wasn’t responding to Hank’s increasingly concerned yells. At about midnight, Hank pulled anchor and started around the anchorage seeking assistance from fellow boaters in finding his friend.
Story Two - This is where Don Quixote entered the picture. Hank swung by our boat to ask for help. We rafted up s/v Beautiful Sloop to ready our tender and take Hank on a search into the shallower areas of the cove. In the meantime, a third tender arrived to help Hank. We loaded Hank into the third tender and handed him a walkie talkie. They headed towards the lagoon on the whim of yours truly who guessed that a tender wandering around towards the end of a flood in Squirrel Cove is going to get swept into the lagoon. “Didn’t you read the cruising guide? This happens to people all the time.” Off they went. A second walkie talkie was loaded into our tender along with a medicine kit and a doctor on the chance these would be required. The third handheld stayed on the boat with me where I could use the VHF if necessary to call for additional help.
A few minutes later, Steve hailed Don Quixote. The changing tide had released Steve from the lagoon. He then rowed back to his anchorage only to find his mothership gone. Now he was wandering around looking for s/v Beautiful Sloop. Fortunately, I had her tied to our port and could let Steve know he’d found home. I then got on the walkie talkie to recall our search teams before one of them strayed into a low hanging branch.
Moral of the Story - Buy handhelds. We have a trio of Motorola Talkabout T5000s we picked up at Costco for about $50 a year ago. Until this incident, I had thought of these devices as essentially an electronic leash for children and spouses. The girls take them everywhere. This enables them to go ashore without us, shop in different stores in harbor, head off on errands or to a playground when docked. For this purpose alone, I would recommend them for cruisers. Inevitably, someone will be in the liquor store and another in the laundry mat or grocery store when the question of “What do you want for dinner?” comes up.
However, our experience in Squirrel Cove demonstrates their use as a safety device. Steve and Hank’s inability to communicate did more than cause an uproar in an otherwise quiet anchorage. It resulted in multiple boats wandering around in the dark of night dark looking for someone. Any time a bunch of boats are moving in a small area full of shallow inlets, big rocks, and steep shores in the inky black, you dramatically increase overall negative nautical karma.
Contrariwise, our ability to communicate with our search parties enabled us to prevent a steady, Laurel and Hardy style parade of dinghies going into the lagoon to get the last lost souls who went in there to look for the previous set. Instead, we could call them up and tell them to get their bottom hulls back to us since all was well. Also if Bad Juju had taken place, we could have easily communicated the need for additional gear or a call to the Coast Guard for more troops.
Handhelds are not a substitute for any other form of nautically sanctioned communication device. You still need a VHF, an SSB, and a handheld VHF for your ditch bag. The walkie talkies, however, give you an easy, cheap, and painless way to keep track of all your errant crew in the best of times and the worst of times.