This article was published in Summer 2017 Nor’Easter for TONE (Tartan Owners Northeast).

for the rest of the series go here:

by Robin G. Coles

Suddenly-in-Command: Murphy’s Law!


Don’t give up your compass, VHF radio or common sense just yet.  Both brothers Murray and Murphy are coming for a visit. Murray’s the one that everybody loves. Your day out sailing goes smoothly.  The in-laws and kids are content.  It couldn’t get any better.

Murphy, on the other hand is the one you’ll encounter when you least expect him. He’s the one that puts you Suddenly-in-Command whether you’re ready or not. He’ll certainly test your patience.  Or in the case of the boat, your know-how. That’s why it’s best to prepare as best you can.

Below are different scenarios you might encounter. There are certainly a lot more.  Perhaps you’ve had some doozies.  I’m sure other boaters will share their experiences with you as well.

A good place to start is to put a list together of things that concern you.  Especially, if you’re the one who ends up at the helm. Then learn how to handle them.  Keep a notebook on the boat in a safe, dry spot. Wrapped in a plastic sleeve; preferably.  Put it someplace that’s easily accessible. Just in case you need it in an emergency.  Don’t write in a shorthand only you know.  It might not be you reading it.  Someone with little to no boating experience could be the one suddenly-in-charge handling things.

One thing for sure is don’t rely on your cell phone. Murphy likes it when there’s no cell towers in the ocean. In fact, he loves it when all cell phones go silent.

Recently a few buddies went out for a sailing trip together.  The first night out they stayed on a mooring.  And, encountered a horrific thunderstorm.  The wind lifted the boats right out of the water.  Then dropped them down like a tossed coin.  The wind generator spun like a pinwheel then snapped. No-one’s cell phones worked so they couldn’t report back that they were safe.

A few days later they ran over a lobster trap. Not once but twice. The first time they thought the expensive cutter got it. But it didn’t.

On the way back, the roller furling broke and the engine wouldn’t start.  A rain squall pushed the boat sideways right onto the beach. In the end, they called Sea Tow only to learn their membership had expired days before.

Memorial Day has passed.  Summer solstice is right around the corner. That means much more activity on the water.  Just like in scouting, prepared for whatever might hit. Go through your checklists.  Take inventory of everything on the boat. Make sure you have backups. Check your MMSI number, Sea Tow or BoatUS membership. Talk with your crew and make note of what they can or can’t handle. Go back through past issues of the Nor’easter and read the various Suddenly-in-Command articles. Of course, you can’t always see what Murphy brings to the boat. But you can make sure you invite Murray along.

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