What about safety?

What about safety?  This is such a necessary part of any planned trip on the water I want to reassure anyone who is following this tour or supporting it, that I take safety seriously and will be thoroughly prepared before I set out. I want the Old Man in a Boat Tour to be remembered for all the right reasons!

The Old Man in a Boat Tour is a long trip- solo and for the most part unsupported – so how am I going to stay safe – sailing, rowing, camping and from Covid?  This calls for no small amount of advance planning and indeed, the Greta T has been built with safety features as well.  So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of my safety plans.

  1.  The Boat:  the Greta T hull is wood (with a bit of carbon fibre skinned foam core panels for the bulkheads and floor) so all of this floats. There are also sealed buoyancy chambers under the floor, along part of the side decks and under the foredeck at the bow for further safety.  The mast sections will be sealed and the sails have been designed with a built-in floating foam pad at the head of each sail to help prevent inversion (turtling… in sailor parlance) in the event of capsize.  Speaking of capsizing, yes it does happen even to experienced sailors, so part of the work up and testing will include a capsize drill.  However, we have designed the Greta T to be self-bailing:  the floor slopes to the stern which is substantially open so all water will drain out pretty quickly.  A short “shake-down cruise” is planned to 50 Point Park.
  1. Skip Izon and I have planned for a sail rig that can be “reefed” (reducing the sail area) in the event of strong winds.  The masts can be rotated to roll the sails up and the battens (the sticks in the sail to support its shape) are quite long and on the diagonal, but made to be flexible enough to roll up with the sail as well.  If it’s really windy, my plan is to move the foresail (smaller) back to a second mast position further aft and sail with that alone, leaving the mainsail completely reefed or even taken down and stowed in the boat.  One of my Laser sailing friends thought I had elected to have a pretty substantial sail area (mainsail: 56 sq. ft.; foresail: 38 sq. ft.) – for comparison, a Laser (one sail – cat rig) full-rig is 72 sq. ft. – but I feel confident that the sails are mounted so much closer to the deck than in most small dinghies and that this will be a big factor in helping the Greta T keep on her feet (with some hiking from her skipper, too).  Reefing the sails (one or both) will also help keep the boat well balanced.
  1. Safety equipment:  as well as the usual, required gear (throwing rope, bailer, whistle, pump, life jacket) I am going to have a small set of navigation lights for emergencies, a really good flashlight,  an anchor and line, waterproof charts and a GPS, a phone in a waterproof pouch, a solar charging device, some binoculars and my trusty compass from my Laser.  I am also taking some strategically selected small spare parts and an emergency patching kit.  A couple of small, hand held flares are being contemplated as well.  
  1. Amongst my camping gear I am going to have a small stove, an emergency warming blanket and a small first aid kit.  Although I am traveling pretty lightly, I will have adequate clothing and protection for sun and rain – it’s a given that when sailing on a small boat like this one will get wet!  At the Laser Masters’ regattas I am always being teased for wearing two “Buffs”, a floppy hat and sunglasses – you can’t tell who’s sailing the boat!
  1. I am also retro-fitting (courtesy of Maya) my life jacket with a new belt/buckle and two stainless steel “D” rings to attach a tether device with two leads so I can move about the boat and always stay attached.  Skip primarily builds showroom boats (lovely matched grain and shining varnish).  It was a bit of a battle of wills to get him to allow fittings on the deck and re-entry safety lines, but they will be there!  Although the pictures we have posted of the build show a wood exterior, the hull will be painted with only the fore deck as naturally finished wood (I have the blisters from all the sanding and leveling to show for it!).
  1. I will be filing a “float plan” each day after a weather check with my team (June and Maya on the home-front) and we will have a nightly call in procedure.  
  1. I must admit that I am somewhat concerned about visibility and speeding motorboats – especially on the TSW (Trent Severn Waterway).  With the sails rolled up and rowing the boat, the boat’s profile in the water is quite low.  The forward rowing system is great from this respect as you can see where you are going, but I wanted something to increase the visibility of the boat (other than painting it fire-engine red!).  I found these neat highly reflecting, almost holographic, stickers that can be put on both sides of the blades of the oars – they flash quite brightly with the motion of rowing, even on a fairly cloudy day!  I am still going to keep my whistle close at hand!  The Greta T has a beam of 40”, so even if I take on a bit of water from someone’s wake, I think I will be pretty stable.  
  1. Covid preparations:  I have been vaccinated – once – and was hoping to squeeze the booster in before setting out.  My second dose appointment was initially scheduled for late August but it remains to be seen how much provincial timelines are advanced in the coming weeks.  So I will be taking a good supply of washable masks (custom made by Maya), hand cleanser and will be practicing strict social distancing everywhere I go and minimizing my land traveling to grocery supply/restocking trips only.  The sight-seeing is all from the water anyway!
  1. Finally, what about me… am I prepared for this sort of trip?  Well, I hope you will count the training I have been doing to get into shape for what potentially could be a full day or days of rowing (please pray for wind, but not too much ☺) – rowing 4 – 5 km. a day, a nice long walk with June each day and 30 minutes of pretty strenuous calisthenics*.   Although I have a RYA Coastal skipper certificate from my days in the Royal Navy, I decided I might be just a bit rusty so I have been doing a lot of reading and on-line work with charts and navigation.  If you read a blog post from me in Montreal, you’ll know I missed the left turn at Trenton…

I hope this detailing of my plans and activities regarding making this a safe trip has been informative and reassuring, but if you have any concerns/questions or suggestions please get back to me through the comment feature on the web-site.

  • An excellent guide to exercise for body and mind health is “Seven Minutes of Magic“ by Lee Holden.  Avery/Penguin.  New York. 2007

Published by Ian C. Robertson

I am a retired Mathematics teacher and formerly a sailing instructor and Instructor-Evaluator with the CYA. I have been planning this fundraising trip for a number of years now, and despite setbacks - notably a cancer diagnosis and the pandemic - I am now at the building stages of a light, wooden, 16 foot rowing and sailing boat for the trip. The trip: 1,3000 km. along Lake Ontario, up through the Trent-Severn Waterway, along Georgian Bay to Lake Huron, through the St. Clair River, Lake Erie, alongside the Welland Canal and back onto Lake Ontario to get home to Grimsby! I am offering to match all donations to the WWF for this trip up to $8,000 and I hope and believe that there are lots of people who will support me and the WWF!

%d bloggers like this: