All of us wear PFDs (Personal Flotation Devices) that inflate upon contact with water, and are tethered to the boat via two 3-5 foot elastic lines. Carabiners are attached at the end of these two lines so we can unclip from one anchor point on the boat and clip into another, without ever losing a connection to our vessel. I pictured slipping off the deck and being dragged through the black water by my elastic tether. “Ready to go?” Andy shouted? ’Do we have to,' I thought. “Ready!” I answered, uncertainly.
That was last night. It’s now 13:05, the following day (Friday). I’m snuggled up in my down sleeping bag, attempting to gain body heat from my last watch that began at 8am and was over at noon. As you might imagine, attempting sleep on a 60-foot boat enduring the conditions mentioned is aspirational at best. Despite having the best birth on the boat, the lee (down) side of the couch where the heel of the boat suctions me into the back cushion, I couldn’t fall asleep. Gregory Allen Isokov, delivered through noise cancelling headphones helped block out the shouting, banging and whistling rigging above, but could do nothing to slow the pitching and yawing of the boat. So, I didn’t get much sleep during my first 8 hours off watch, but will try again now.
It’s now 20:30 (8:30) on Friday night. Sorry for the break in the action but sleeping has been my only remedy to kick those last nagging remnants of sea sickness. I’ve kept all my meals down, but all day as we bucked the Baltic, the warm cabin below came with the burden of close your eyes and lay horizontal, or visit the nearest head.
So, how am I feeling? I asked for danger and got it. I didn’t ask for nausea, though one can’t cherry pick everything, and got it. I wanted adventure - who the hell has ever sailed the Baltic Sea, or more generally, could point it out on the globe? Got it. Meet random dudes with interesting back stories - check.
Tonight, as my little Costa Rican helm mate and I steered the boat at a comfortable 8 knots, under a light (12 knot wind), on flat inter coastal seas as the sun set over the horizon, I was reminded why I love to sail. Of course the bragging rights of a much-inflated survival story back home are worthwhile, but I’d have to be more shallow than you might already think to do this purely for others. Your opinion of me is none of my business. I can sit here now and smile at having survived one leg of an adventure, unscathed, with a fun story to tell, and an experience I can recall for a lifetime. And, my grandkids will dig how cool I was back when we drove our own cars.
In an hour we pull into dock, downtown Kalmar, Sweden, which I’m told has it’s own castle. It’s Friday night, and I’m on vacation, so the castle will have to wait - I’m going to find rum.
Thursday morning, 10:58am, anchored in the Swedish Archipelago, approximately 4 hours away from hoisting the hook and heading out into the Baltic. We just finished a 90-minute safety briefing. I couldn’t be more confident in the boat, and more importantly, the crew’s ability to survive an emergency. As my safe return to the State’s seems to be everyone’s biggest concern, aside from Tara’s sanity in my absence, I thought it worthwhile before heading to sea to share what I learned this morning and why I’m feeling confident. Secondarily, I still have the goal of skippering my own boat and crew offshore one day, so plagiarizing a system that works for 59 North sounds intelligent, if mildly illegal. We’re in international waters, so pretty confident all laws are followed at my discretion.
Emma is Andy’s first mate, which means she is responsible in redundancy to Andy for the safety of boat and crew, the two most important jobs of a captain/skipper. Around 9:30 this morning, after wrapping up a Euro breakfast of sliced cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, toast and plum jam, with black coffee and tea of course, we settled into the cabin to begin the safety briefing.
All of us are now represented by a number. There are 9 souls on board, so in the event of an emergency, where quick action is necessary or potential safety has been jeopardized, Emma begins an “accounting” for crew by shouting her number “1” loudly. In succession, we yell our number. Any gaps in the chain would indicate an injured or lost sailor and a bigger problem. Andy made it clear at the outset that if you go in the water offshore, you’re likely dead, so, and this cannot be overemphasized, do NOT go in the water. I am number 7.
With each number, a job has been assigned via the “station bill," which indicates our job during an emergency:
There are a number of redundancies on board to reach the outside world. The ideal order of communication, though an emergency could throw order into chaos, would be to reach search and rescue via satellite phone and speak to them. They know and we know a connection has been made. The satellite phone is preprogrammed with numbers to relay stations in Denmark, Spain, UK and various other areas the boat might sail worldwide. Any of those stations could relay our message to another part of the world where rescue operations could be conducted.
Inside the “Grab Bag”, a yellow dry bag with “GRAB” written in large permanent marker and located behind the navigation station in the cabin, there are two EPIRBs. Two for redundancy, an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) transmits a signal via satellite to worldwide rescue operations. As the acronym highlights, our position in real time is transmitted until the battery dies - 3 days.
There exist three medical bags on board. In total, they qualify to keep a crew safe to sail offshore in the remotest areas of the world. Emma has been trained to administer all medical care supported by the medical equipment. From simple bandages, to back splints, oxygen, Morphine, staple gun, splints, and antibiotics the three bags are filled with life-saving content I hope not to see again.
I now have an answer to that nagging question around what to do in the middle of the Atlantic when you encounter an appendicitis? This hits close to home, as I am one of three in a six-person family that still has that useless organ. In my mind, it could go at any time, and Murphy’s Law of course guarantees that its failure will happen offshore in the middle of a sailing trip. I was ensured that the boat’s supply of antibiotics, administered via IV, would be sufficient to survive a 3,000 mile passage (cross an ocean), with time to spare, where one of my buddies at Intuitive could get me under the care of a cutting-edge surgical robot. Bring it, tummy ache.
In addition to the Comms, there are two heat-preserving hazmat suits that one would don after hopping into the life raft to avoid or slow hypothermia. Finally, there are a handful of various flares to deploy for signaling…or fleeting entertainment for a bored crew, drifting across the Pacific. After notifying the rescuer operation and deploying our EPIRBs, we would use a parachute flair (1,000 feet of loft before slowly drifting back to sea) to notify a ship we see on the horizon - can be viewed for 60-90 seconds from 30 miles. The second flare simply shoots a glowing burst into the air, like a firework. The third is a handheld flare that drips “liquid lava” according to Emma, so for the love of humanity, keep your arm out over the water so we don’t set fire to the life raft. Finally, when the helicopter is in close proximity, deploy the floating flare that emits 60 seconds of orange smoke that can be viewed during daylight or via infrared goggles at night.
There was no discussion of food, but can assume that both rafts (we have two - noticing the redundancy pattern?) equipped with a supply of Pringle’s, Candy Corn, and bubble tape providing the most important life-sustaining elements - high fructose corn syrup and potassium all while cleverly packaged to provide hours of entertainment. I would also expect a handful of Maxim magazines and Home and Garden, located in your seat back pockets. One can’t lose their whits while drifting helplessly toward the former Soviet Bloc in late autumn. I clearly didn’t inquire, but assume some version of food exists in the raft along with the tubes of water that are clearly marked “drink in case of emergency”.
Fixing the Problem:
First, remember Andy’s first rule of survival - stay with the boat. Most “emergencies” on the water entail something that will not sink the boat. As such, hopping into a self-deploying 12-man life raft is literally a last ditch effort to survive. So, what constitutes an emergency:
Fire - these could start because of an engine or an electrical mishap, but most likely an issue in the galley. We’re constantly making hot water for coffee and tea, cooking on the stove or baking cookies in the oven. Open flames and running lines of propane certainly need to be closely managed, but mistakes happen. There are 6 fire extinguishers clearly marked on board. We individually had to locate each one. Water, followed by a fire blanket under the sink, followed by the fire extinguisher are the order of operations there.
Leak - Not surprisingly, a boat‘s very existence is to retard the intake of water. That battle is often lost in little skirmishes with the sea at various weak points. Like Napolean, exploiting a hole in his enemy’s line, the sea looks for “through hulls”, which are the holes in the hull of the boat below the waterline. These “ports” have various functions including to supply water to cool the engine, wash the dishes or flush the toilet. There are similar holes through which water must exit the cooled engine, washed dishes and, yes, soiled toilet. A laminated diagram of every through hull lives in the navigation table. Next to each of these holes, attached to the seacock which is a device to shut off the intake or output hose, there is a wooden plug. Pound one of those bad boys into the hole, and you’ll avoid a slow trip on a life raft to the little island of Elba where our Frenchman, having lost his skirmishes, spent his remaining days.
If that method for stopping the leak fails, the first backup is the bilge pump. The bilge is the lowest point in the boat, where any water entering said boat eventually arrives. The bilge is checked by all crew coming off watch (every 4 hours). Slow leaks, or any indication of water entering the boat is commonly discovered first in the bilge. If water starts coming in too quickly, there is an engine-powered pump that Emma explained will remove water at the pace a fire-hose exhausts a fire. Sections of the boat are also divided by bulk-heads, which are water tight dividers that, when closed, shut off an area of the boat that is flooding. Yes, I understand the Titanic had them as well. But, we don’t plan to run into any icebergs. And, need I remind you, DiCaprio had an Ohio accent so one should question the entire legitimacy of the film.
As mentioned, this really is our last resort. Having watched Titanic and read Dead Wake (Lusitania sinking), successfully boarding a life boat is nothing short of a small miracle. Picture a wild sea state, gale-force winds, precipitation, darkness, injuries, whistling rigging, and mass chaos whilst trying to leap into a moving target, burdened by your foul weather gear, deployed life jacket, and fear. Again, survival is achieved by staying with the boat.
After all of those redundancies of communication and sustenance, the remaining question is how long before we’re out of luck? Didn’t I hear the batteries on the EPIRB die after a few days? How long will that rechargeable lithium battery on the sat phone last? Water in pouches, stored in a self-contained box of a deflated life-boat - how many days will that keep a crew of 9 hydrated? The answer to all of this: we have about 3 days of discovery, before the chance of survival plummets to Vegas-like odds of rescue.
This all begs a question: Why would someone with any sense of self-preservation sign up for something as dangerous or feel more at ease following the aforementioned calamitous briefing? To that, I might ask when your family last discussed your fire escape route. Or thought through the dangers of driving up to Vail on a Saturday in light snow, before encountering the irrefutable perils you face once you arrive to ski. The point, we have a plan. We have able-bodied adults who I’ve discovered are fully functioning and a capable crew, despite our shared insensible sense of adventure. We have a well-tested skipper and first mate who I trust. And we have a boat who I sailed yesterday in 25 knot winds on a deep heel (picture a boat sailing at 15-20 degrees off it’s midline) and felt safe.
So, I am well aware of the dangers and equally confident in our survival. We have a few last minute items to address and then will be heading offshore, but Keep tracking us on the Garmin. I’ll update the blog from Germany.
Hegdo! (See ya, in Swedish)
It’s 10:20, Monday morning…downtown Stockholm. I made it. Sigh.
I’m enjoying a latte and omelette at the bar of a restaurant named for it’s address - Nybrogatan 38. I can’t discern whether the bartender was annoyed or mildly entertained when I asked for Swedish Pancakes. I considered caviar on rye before deciding I had enough excitement in the last two days and opted for safety.
While I’m nourishing, let me bring the world (7 of you reading this - thanks mom for the support) up to speed on the last 24 hours.
It’s not often when a plan, or a backup plan in my case, goes off without a hitch. As hypothesized yesterday, clearing customs in an EU country (France in my case) brought me within the rule of law under Sweden’s ban, and other than a wide grin by the Swedish border agent last night when asked where I was from (He was very fond of Denver International Airport, apparently) I was allowed entrance without any fan fare. The lack of excitement was almost disappointing following the previous nights’ drama.
Reflecting back on my tour de Europe, aboard my various Boeing, train and auto escorts, I have much to share. These thematic reflections hopefully widen the lens on what I observed on my travels yesterday. I assume a chronological listing of what I did, saw or ate would bore you to tears…had I not lost you already. These of course are my highlights, and should be judged accordingly…
When I landed back at Heathrow, I held a non-business class ticket. Unlike my first time through, where I had access to a world immune or neutralized of all imperfections, I was now among the “commoners”. The pungent smells, the bustling, the heat, and overall chaos was exciting and somewhat overwhelming. I finally collected my luggage, which seemed like a small miracle having handed it off to a ticket agent in the mountains 36 hours prior. Somehow it followed me. Oh, if that bag could talk.
Shouldering the 50lbs of gear, I rushed down to the train that shuttled me to a new terminal a mile away. “Do not miss the next stop, or you’ll end up in central London”, the ticket agent warned me. Mmm, Paddington Station and all of London’s glory or another 4 hours on various airplanes…
10 minutes later, I hoisted my burden and hustled up an escalator, through a couple tunnels, up the stairs, across the street and into a mass of people, sweating. I found the Air France airline ticket counter to check my bags and found myself in a line snaking through a dimly fluorescent-lit cavernous terminal. British Airways Club level was a distant memory.
When I finally caught my bearings, I looked around. I realized I was the one short white male in a sea of black, Indian, Asian, Persian, and multiple flavors of people. And…I felt totally at ease. It hit me for the first time since leaving Denver, that I was not in, well, Kansas anymore.
The suburban, mostly white, upper middle-class bubble that confines my existence had popped. I saw Europe and perhaps humanity for what I think it is: this multi-cultural, blended mass of people, living in close proximity, and perfectly color blind. It was awesome - I took off my sweaty jacket, removed my noise-cancelling headphones, and took it all in. Europe, and specifically that crowded terminal at Heathrow, reminded me that I am part of a much larger world than the little space I occupy in Denver. America may be a continent, but is most certainly not an island.
It didn’t go unnoticed that everyone was better dressed than me. Perhaps that tailored suit would have been worth packing after all.
Let’s not forget that 24 hours ago I held only a return ticket home from London. I was able to purchase, without first refinancing my house, 2 one-way airline fares via my smart phone (which works perfectly well over here) to travel across multiple nations, purchase necessities (enjoyed a Starbucks in Paris) in multiple currencies (thanks Visa) and arrive back where I started, on time, without any trouble. It was like I ventured out of my house in the morning, walked through a number of colorful neighborhoods, and returned home, unscathed, though exhausted, 12 hours later. The efficiency of moving people over here is mind numbing. I don’t think a flight has left O‘hare on time in 50 years. Not so on this side of the Atlantic.
Clearing customs in the UK simply entailed walking up to a machine, scanning my US passport, and walking through a turnstile. Churchill and Roosevelt would be so pleased to know we’ve remained friends over the years.
Boarding and de-boarding planes here is an art. There is an upper floor that walks down a bridge to the plane, while all de-boarding passengers walk down a separate bridge to a lower floor where they get their baggage and clear customs.
Efficiency aside, one oddity at the airports I cannot figure out is the withholding of gate assignments until 20 minutes prior to boarding. Every plane I’ve caught over here lacks a home until the last minute, when a gate is announced, and you run like hell to find where your plane is located before it’s no longer located there, and you’re left holding your tea and crumpets. Either this is an efficient way to get people moving, or keep them shopping in the endless maze of fragrances and duty free vodka that occupies every square inch of Heathrow and Charles De Gaul.
Oh, and did I mention how my bag, like R2D2, has followed me everywhere, on his own little adventure belowdecks. Efficiency. Europe has it.
Socialism and the Baggage Cart
This one may stir some blood, especially for those friends in the financial world who equate this word (Socialism) with Bernie Sanders, Anderson Cooper or mediocrity, equally grotesque in their minds.
Remember that burden of a bag I began lugging around the UK train/airport depot after falling out of favor with the upper class? Well that thing started to get fucking heavy after a couple days on the road, with little or no food and a lack of sleep. By the time I got to France and had to de-plane, gather my bag, clear customs, and recheck everything again, I was looking for some relief. I noticed for the first time that most people who didn’t have rolling luggage were simply utilizing the FREE carts that were perfectly organized near baggage. It dawned on me that they existed in the UK as well, and I was too blind to notice.
Now, mind you, these things only cost $5 where I’ve used them in the States, but whether it is my “can-do” attitude (carry your own bag, you puss) or religious discomfort in spending even frivolous money, I only “splurge” on a cart when I have my family of 6 in tow, with countless pounds of senseless overpacking. It seems lazy to throw my one, though increasingly heavy, duffel on a cart. But, haven’t I somehow paid for that cart already? Along the way a tax on my ticket or an airport fee or some way of financing that “free” cart already occurred. So I grabbed one. And all of a sudden, my journey became easier. I was happier. And I took notice of, well, a benefit of a socialistic system.
What about the other side of this positive viewpoint. Recall, there were carts being used back in the UK. I paid for those too. But I didn’t use one. Should I feel bad for having financed something I didn’t use? And, perversely, they were being used by people that didn’t look, or smell (they were certainly better bathed at that point), or spoke, or practiced religion, like me. Oh, the unfairness!
I didn’t care. In fact, In reflection, it felt good that I had somewhere along the way paid a fee I never noticed to make their day a little better. Maybe their happiness from the free carts I financed accounted for my comfort in standing next to them, unthreatened, in line. Who knows. Karma, or socialism, has a noticeable effect.
I’ve been struggling with sleep the last few days, even while tucked into 1,000 thread Egyptian Cotton sheets last night, trying to get my circadian rhythm back. During last night’s two-hour mind toss, I was unpacking these reflections on Socialism further:
I sometimes struggle or “feel” spending money. I really don’t perceive myself as cheap, but when one is in the mindset of saving and accumulating at this age, or burdened by the obligations of a family and a house payment, a business and all the responsibility there in, one can’t help but feel a sense of “loss” when money is spent, however large or small. I have read about the same chemical reaction in the brain that occurs when money is spent that is triggered in a fight/flight response. So, is there an enhancement to happiness (like I felt with the cart) when you receive something without noticing or “suffering” the $5 payment in my cart example?
It was 3am and I couldn’t sleep…my mind kept wandering: Take an all-inclusive resort example: Assuming over the course of a week you give nominally more money to a resort, but make one payment at the outset or conclusion and then eat, stay and play for “free” versus paying less at the beginning or end, but “suffering” ala cart fees for each meal, lounge chair or source of entertainment, are you happier? I now realize I am.
I’ve never thought about why I love Southwest Airlines so much. I pay one fee, sit with whoever I get, can change my ticket at any point, and R2D2 can bring a friend or two without additional costs. If I don’t change my ticket, don’t check two bags, or want to pick a particular place on the plane, I don’t benefit from the price I paid, but I might down the road. This at odds with United, where I buy a ticket and then get nickel and dimed for bags, seat assignment, changes to my flight, wireless service, etc. Both airlines are making money - I guess I just appreciate the one time payment, and mindless effort thereafter.
So, Socialism in Europe, sounds like taxpayers “suffering” more than Americans at the outset or conclusion of the year, to experience “free” (carts or healthcare) along the way. Are they happier? Perhaps.
Ok. I hope I didn’t lose any friends during that diatribe. I’m not voting for the Green Party next election, but my eyes are now open to a system I clearly never understood, and probably scoffed at in the past. I’ll be less judgmental about my European friends and their socialism moving forward.
And for those of you who’s blood pressure rose during my observations, relax, your bubble will protect you from Socialism and Andersen Cooper. But, for the love of humanity, stick with Club Level or you’ll find yourself in a sea of discomfort.
Ok. I don’t know the rules around loitering in this country, but my breakfast is long since finished, and after this second Americano, I may just levitate out of here. I only have one day to experience Stockholm, so better get started. Taka (Thanks) for listening.
We're the Zimmerman Family!
Home Base | Denver, CO
A family of six that
LOVES to sail !
Follow our crew (Royce, Tara, Avery, Charley, Nora & Ruby)
as we blog our sailing adventures
Set Sail 4.22.23 | Las Palmas - Across the Atlantic - Island of Antigua
Set Sail 9.22.21 | Sweden - Germany -
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