Safety at Sea: Mental Preparations Contribute to Positive Outcomes

When <em>Totem</em>’s steering chain broke, I knew where to find the problem and fashioned a repair using a length of Dyneema.

When <em>Totem</em>’s steering chain broke, I knew where to find the problem and fashioned a repair using a length of Dyneema. (Courtesy Jamie Gifford/)

Imagine: You’re on a ­passage. Stronger than usual Caribbean trades push up a raucous sea. It’s wet, very sporty sailing. Not alarming, but a white-knuckled grip on the dodger frame suggests that’s not too far off. Then, bang! Only simple observations register. The mast is up, sails are drawing, and there’s no jarring impact from hitting something. And there’s confusion. A sound loud enough to pierce this wind must be bad. What you do next is your path forward. How do you prepare for a good outcome?

This very scenario happened to us on Totem while tearing along a remote stretch of Colombia on the way to the San Blas Islands of Panama. The first seconds were tense and fuzzy—no apparent change, but what was about to? Then movement: The wheel was free-wheeling. Totem carved a whitewater path over a wave. We were still on course while the helm was adrift. Then came instant clarity. I understood the problem, risks and solution. I’d imagined it many times before…

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