"You can't buy safety. You have to earn it" Lin & Larry Pardey

For me the Pardey's books are my bibles of sailing. They contain wisdom and advice that I find invaluable. This is another excerpt from Lin and Larry Pardey's "Seraffyn's European Adventure". This book was written almost 30 years ago. Today we have turned buying safety into an art form. We constantly interchange convenience with safety and we live in a world of motor sailors and vessel assist. I say rather than roller furling, go forward to change the jib. Rather than motoring into the wind to set or reef sails, practice under sail alone. All of the tasks of sailing provide the experience that make us a better sailors and might someday save our lives. Experience is something you cannot buy at West Marine.

You climb into the bunk and get some rest so you'll be fresh to help us navigate into port. I'll call you as soon as I pick up any navigation lights.

The motion seemed to get even worse as I lay against the hull in the leeward bunk. I tried to sleep, but with little success. The cabin lamp we'd left burning ran out of oil and in the complete darkness each sound was magnified. Books on the shelf thudded, wine glasses clinked, a pot in the oven screeched as it shifted, and a can in the locker beneath me thumped against the wooden bunk front. I heard the hiss of passing waves, the slapping crash as our channel and chain plates hit the waves. Spray splattered against the windward cabin side; wind shrieked through our rigging. I was becoming really nervous and concerned when Larry called, "Lin, open the companionway!" I scrambled out of the bunk. "What's wrong?" I yelled over the roar of the wind that filled the night.

"Everything is under control," Larry reassured me. "It's magnificent out here, but I've just picked up a light and I need you on deck to take a bearing and time the light sequence. Put on something warm under your wet-weather gear."

I lit another cabin lamp and found an extra sweater in my locker under the forward bunk. With light glowing though the cabin and my mind occupied by studying the information on our approach chart, I lost my apprehensions. I climbed over the drop board in the companionway, pushing the heavy canvas cover aside.

The sight that met my eyes was magnificent. Huge waves ranged toward us in even rows, their crests glowing green with turbulent phosphorescence, white spray streaking their faces. Larry steered, one hand on the tiller, the other clutching the bulwark, with the end of the mainsheet tied around his waist. Seraffyn roared across the face of waves, sometimes burying her whole bowsprit in the foam that lifted from her bow. The white swinging anchor light we used as a stern lantern threw light that gleamed off our soaking decks.

“Tie the end of the jib sheet around yourself and go up next to the shrouds. The light I spotted is just on the windward side of our bow,” Larry told me, giving a big grin as Seraffyn gathered speed from an extra-heavy gust. I passed the end of the jib sheet that was tied to my waist around two shrouds and secured it so my hands could be free. I had to shield my eyes from the spray as Larry headed Seraffyn up into a particularly big sea. Then I caught the flash he’d seen. Flashlight in one hand, arm around a shroud, stopwatch in the other hand, I finally figured out the beginning and end of the light sequence and timed it. It definitely was the huge light of Corunna and we were right on course. I unlashed myself from the shrouds, sat down on deck, and scooted back to the cockpit, the jib sheet dragging on the deck behind me. Larry reached over and secured my jib sheet safety line around a cleat, gave me a quick hug, and went back to steering.

Together we enjoyed the majesty of the stormy night as Seraffyn charged across the waves like a racehorse, averaging close to seven knots. Within another hour we could feel the huge seas swinging more toward our stern as they curled around the northern corner of Spain. Soon they began to loose their power. Within four hours of the height of our “quickie” storm the wind lost its force as it became blanketed by the hills, and within another hour we were almost becalmed.

It was 2300 when Larry said, “How about standing a watch for me?” I readily agreed, since by then we had an accurate fix on our position from two different navigational lights. Seraffyn moved slowly through the water on the offshore breeze. Helmer steered and I spent my time enjoyably washing dinner dishes, putting away the various small items that had been dislodged in the gale, and drying wet weather gear as our stormy Biscay Bay farewell blow became just another memory.

In six years of cruising this had been on of only three or four times when we’d used anything like a safety harness. But Seraffyn had strong twenty four inch high lifelines, eight inch high bulwarks, and a massive boom gallows frame to hang onto. And from the first day I sailed with Larry he had told me, “One hand for the ship, one had for yourself.” We’d often discussed safety harnesses and always carried two in a convenient place in Seraffyn. But, as a good friend once said, “You can’t buy safety. You have to earn it by learning good sea habits.” Safety harnesses are a great assistance if you happen to be wearing them at the right time. But in practice few people wear them every minute of the time they are at sea. Good hanging on habits, strong and convenient handholds, and the awareness that death is only one misstep away are just as important and will stop you from falling overboard when there is an emergency that gives you no time at all to find and put on you harness. The time in the Baltic when we were suddenly broached, Larry didn’t have a safety harness on – it was good hanging on habits that saved him.

Your can pickup all of Lin & Larry's books here