Welcome to Abandon Ship Season

In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is. ~ Yogi Berra

It’s known by an assortment of names – grab bag, ditch bag, abandon-ship bag. Most sailors know they should have one, and nearly everyone understands it should contain something more than a fifth of Scotch, a Leatherman tool and a copy of The Old Man and the Sea.

When it’s time to deploy the life raft, it’s well past time to consider its furnishings. Coastal cruisers, circumnavigators,  casual visitors to Safety at Sea seminars and card-carrying members of the Offshore Racing Congress all know that flashlights, fish hooks and flares can help make a life raft a home. So can desalination tablets, signal mirrors, waterproof flashlights and a VHF, for that matter. Whether you throw in a spear gun and a spare sea anchor will depend on your budget and preferred cruising grounds, but no one quibbles over the need to preserve ships’ papers, insurance documents, passports and cell phones.

If everyone were prepared for the vicissitudes of life on the water, that’s what each bag would have – an assortment of practical necessities for sustaining life while awaiting rescue and the paperwork necessary to reassemble life back on land.  Unfortunately, not everyone prepares.  Sometimes, even the best preparation isn’t enough. Now and then the stories of what got saved, and how, become the stuff of legend. Continue reading

Skinny Waters

Who knows what Captain Francesco Schettino was thinking when he altered course, driving the magnificent Italian liner Costa Concordia onto Isola del Giglio’s off-lying rocks? The usual course for the weekly cruise between Civitavecchia and Savona had been entered into the ship’s computers, and explanations for a later, manual over-ride of the system have been confusing at best.

Schettino first claimed to have been on the phone with a retired captain living on Giglio, a friend he hoped to impress by deviating from his course, cruising near shore and offering a salute. Under increasing pressure from investigators, Schettino himself tacked, insisting the course change was meant to satisfy Costa’s managers. “It was planned,” he said. “We should have done it a week earlier but it was not possible because of bad weather. They insisted. They said, ‘We do tourist navigation, we have to be seen, get publicity and greet the island’.”

Whatever Captain Schettino was thinking, he’d made one of the worst mistakes a sailor can make. He’d headed for skinny water. Continue reading