And other lessons learnt from a memorable maiden voyage on Obelix
We were excited about this week-end, the stars had aligned and all the conditions were gathered for us to bring back Obelix safely from Whangarei to Auckland with the family:
- low tide around 10:30 to allow smooth motoring out of the river with the receding tide in the morning,
- light winds and sunny weather for a calm sea and stress free sail,
- an experimented friend to join as crew for the delivery,
- and friends who could drive our car down to Auckland while we were sailing.
But this was largely because our optimism clouded our judgement and prevented us from double-checking those assumed perfect conditions…
Trying to to cut a long story short, we’ve learnt quite a few lessons the hard way, on a 9-hour navigation that took us from Whangarei Cruising Club to Sail Rock, back to Marsden Cove marina (½ hour drive South of Whangarei only), where the whole family emptied their stomach, and I got injured enough to warrant a change of tack and a trip to the emergency department.
- DEADLINES: We knew it, sailing should never be motivated by a deadline, a tight schedule or any time bound agenda. Here bringing the boat this weekend meant we were on schedule to make our move during the school holidays and the boys could start next term at their new school. We genuinely thought we had made the decision to bring Obelix back this weekend irrespective of this agenda, but was it really the case?
- PREPARATION: My take away here is that preparation doesn’t stop when the decision to go has been made. Even though we can say we prepared for this trip (gear, food, first aid kit, charts, devices, weather forecast, etc.), we missed a crucial part which was to get an update, just before going, on the weather and sea conditions, the estimated time to arrival, the condition of the gear and equipment, and how everyone was feeling about the trip. Everything seemed approximate, rushed, and unquestionable, where I feel we should have reassessed the situation on a regular basis.
- CREW ROLES/ACCOUNTABILITY: We also failed to assign clear roles to each crew. With two kids aboard, we needed someone to look after them, someone to helm, and someone to help with maneuvers. We took turns on a completely ad hoc basis and lacked someone to clearly be in charge. When I became out of action due to sea sickness, it wasn’t clear how to share the duties between looking after me the kids, and the boat and we had nobody to make those decisions and communicate them. In fact we had two skippers, Thomas, boat owner and experienced sailor with offshore experience, and Borja, our friend who had the most nautical miles under his belt having sailed from France to New Zealand a few years ago. But we hadn’t spelt out who was “the skipper” on this trip.
- COMMUNICATION: We all observed the sea was a little more rough than anticipated as soon as we left the estuary and probably felt this wasn’t the easy delivery trip we were expecting, yet no one dared to suggest we went back, until I got injured. I wish we hadn’t waited for that extreme condition to call off a trip that didn’t feel right. Next time, we’ll make sure the communication is more open, and while we have designated a skipper to make the decisions ultimately, all feel free to share their concerns.
- ELECTRONICS: Too many unchecked devices is worse than one reliable device fully charged. Can you believe we had a handheld GPS, a tablet and 3 mobile phones with GPS and navigation app, and a power bank, nevertheless, after a few hours four out of the five devices were out of batteries. And we turned off the last working mobile to save its power for when the night came. This added considerable stress and anxiety (yet we carried on).
- FOOD: Picking the right food before and during a voyage is key. First to ensure it stays in the body as much as possible and provide the necessary energy, second to make it as painless as possible if it does go out. Hummus is definitely crossed off the list, maybe because of the garlic, but it’s way too heavy on the stomach. According to a coast guard on my sea survival course last year, the best food is strawberry yoghurt: it tastes the same both ways.
- FIRST AID: Let’s not assume everyone has done a first aid course and a quick recap as part of the safety briefing before leaving could be beneficial. When after falling (while losing my balance coming back in the cockpit after getting some fresh air in an attempt to dissipate my nausea), I saw blood dripping all over the cockpit floor, I asked for someone to help press on my forehead to stop the bleeding, I received no help because Thomas was helming, and Borja had no idea what to do. Fortunately they changed roles quickly after that and I managed to collect myself and press on my wound myself until Thomas bandaged me.
After my fall, with my forehead bandaged, the right side of my face all swollen and covered in blood, and still severely retching despite a resolutely empty stomach, I was feeling like Bruce Springsteen in his Streets of Philadephia, “bruised and battered, I couldn’t tell what I felt, I was unrecognizable to myself, I saw my reflection in a window, I didn’t know my own face”, but deep inside I was relieved we were going back to land and my seasickness nightmare would be over soon. Now that I’m all stitched up (6 external stitches just above the right eyebrow), I wonder what I will look like after I’ve healed, although all my friends and family assure me a pirate scar will only make me look more legit. Unfortunate timing a few days before the tango festival, but, hey, who knows, my physical appearance may act as a deterrent on the dance floor, or on the contrary, as a good conversation starter…
On a positive note, all systems are go on Obelix, the boat behaved incredibly well in the messy waves, we had immensely joyful moments getting out of the estuary, Zephyr in the cockpit steering between the red and green channel buoys like a true captain under the guidance of Thomas, Azur sitting on my lap at the stern, smiling, his hair flapping in the wind like thousands of little wagging tails and telling me how he liked the movement of the boat that jumped in the waves like a dolphin. We had a smooth arrival at the marina, a nice dinner at the Land & Sea cafe before I got taken to hospital by the ambulance. I was very well looked after, got a chance to catch up with family and friends on WhatsApp when waiting on my hospital bed for nearly four hours, and then got back around midnight to a caring partner, comfortable boat and kids deeply asleep. They are not even traumatised by this somehow dramatic turn of events. Zephyr was almost disappointed when we said we would adjourn the delivery trip and leave the boat in Marsden Cove for now. For us grown ups, the uneventful Sunday was very welcome.