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Boatyard Sense

2010 March 2
Get you and your boat out of the boatyard unscathed by following a few rules

Boatyard. The word leaves me with the same sort of warm feeling as the word "hospital." I suppose that's logical, as a boatyard is essentially a hospital for boats. My wife Irene and I recently spent a month on the hard in Thailand, where we learned a few lessons the hard way. This resulted in a few specific thoughts that may keep you out of the hospital, and your boat out of intensive care, while off the water.

A boatyard is a potentially dangerous place, so it would be prudent to begin your stay by cranking your situational awareness up a level. Go into a mental Code Yellow. We decided to start every day with a proactive attitude toward safety, not just in our own sphere of activity but also in the larger environs. And that began at the haul out.

Haul out
Your first chance to exercise cautionary discretion is in your choice of boatyard. Does it have a railway type of haul out, where the boat is located on an underwater cradle on a slipway and then winched up? Or perhaps a travel hoist is used where slings are positioned fore and aft under the boat prior to lifting? If slings are used, you might request that they be tied together to prevent them slipping off the ends of the yacht. We have had this happen, and it's definitely exciting. If a crane and slings are used to lift your boat you'll want to check the capacity of the crane, and the maximum load angle of the crane's lift.

Also, before you turn over your boat to be hauled, ask if the yard is insured. Once you've done your due diligence here, you may as well just relax and ready yourself for 30 minutes of blind faith.

The hardstand
Your boat has made it out and there it sits smelling like leftover bouillabaisse. The question now is how will it be supported when it's deposited in its appointed space. Having the yacht hauled out of the water in its own cradle, and then having the cradle set down on leveled blocks, would be my preference; there's no risky period when stability is being transferred. Incidentally, how stable do your neighbors look? Domino falls are not unheard of.

Using screw jacks to support the boat's sides, as wooden blocks take up the weight via the keel, is common and acceptable. It would perhaps be wise to snugly tie the jacks together under the keel to prevent them splaying out. This system is especially suited to cruising boats with long, wide keels. Additionally, on a gravel yard the jacks may need periodic tensioning. Some yards insist on doing any adjustments themselves.

What's the best chance to see the inside of an emergency room directly from the boatyard? A good fall. You'll probably be climbing up and down a dodgy ladder a couple dozen times a day, probably with your hands full and your mind elsewhere. There's wonderful potential here. A pair of steel-toed work boots would be a sensible upgrade over flip flops-and they'll cost a fraction of an ambulance ride.

This also would be a good time to initiate the attitude that will steer you smoothly along in your relations with the boatyard staff. In a friendly and courteously firm manner, try to get the best ladder available. A missing rung will eventually bite you.

Set your ladder at a fairly steep angle; we want to climb it, not walk a springy plank. A quick way to check the angle of the ladder is to stand before the ladder as if you're going to climb it and grab the rails directly in front of you. With your toes touching the ladder's base, your outstretched arms should be at a 90-degree angle to your body. Once the ladder is set, tie it off at the top with multiple tight lashings and put an old mat at the bottom to avoid tracking up grit. Sand on a deck acts like hundreds of tiny ball bearings, all of them happy to help a person over the side.

One signature trick of the seasoned boatyard survivor is the ladder bucket. Have a large, stout bucket on a line attached near the head of the ladder. Load up the bucket with what you need, then safely climb the ladder maintaining three points of contact-one hand and two feet. Once on deck, pull up the bucket, remembering to lower it for the next cycle.
Clearing for action
Falling overboard in the boatyard can cripple and kill. You should really be in Code Yellow when you're walking around the deck. On the hard, lifelines should be left fully taut or fully removed, so that no reflexive move for support finds a yielding line.
If you have roller furling, consider taking your headsail sheets forward to the sails, coiling the lines and wrapping the coils, one this way, one that way, around the furled sail. Any other running rigging-preventers, barberhaulers, furling lines-can be coiled and hung where it cannot possibly be stumbled over. When you have a yogurt container of epoxy in one hand and a ready-to-drip brush in the other, a cat's cradle of line around your ankles is not welcome.
Electrical cables that come up to the boat should be brought across the deck perpendicular to the side so that they won't act like roller bearings when stepped on. Similarly, keep the ground down under the boat, where you'll do a lot of prep work, scrupulously clean and clear. You're not 18 anymore with the weight and agility of a cat, and stepping blindly off a scaffold onto a pile of tools will have a definite downside.

The plank
You'll possibly end up with a circle of planks supported by scaffolding around your boat. These planks are quietly waiting for you to stand on them, six feet in the air, and apply a sideways force, when they will slide out from under you. Sooner, rather than later, they will get you. Tie or wire them robustly in place before you consider walking on them. After you've bashed your head on a plank end once you'll know enough to take an old towel (check first with your wife) and tape it around the end of the plank.
If you wear a baseball cap when you're working under the boat, down among the jacks and scaffolding, wear it backwards; the bill obscures your overhead view of obstacles. And if you're bald, like me, you might consider removing that insidious little metal button on the top.

Safety gear
Having hot slag from a grinder in your eye is irritating. It's even more annoying when you notice that your safety goggles are resting debonairly on your forehead. Incidentally, sunglasses are not safety goggles. In fact, if you don't look decidedly wonky you're probably underdressed from a safety point of view.

Most power tools produce enough noise to damage the small bones of the inner ear. Headphone-type ear protectors are more effective than earplugs. It's not just your work that is dangerous-if your neighbor is hammering steel plate you may as well slip on the earmuffs.

The solvents found in antifouling and two-part paints are very unhealthy to breathe. A properly fitting respirator with appropriate filters would provide minimal protection against dizziness, headache and the negatives of a liver full of tulene and xylene. Similarly, resist the temptation to wash your hands in the solvents of these paints; they will quickly migrate into the bloodstream. Instead, buy a large box of latex surgical gloves before you go into the boatyard and use them when mixing or applying paint and epoxy.

Quit when you're ahead
Boatyards are loud, hot, dirty places where a lot of hard work gets done. Even if you've been drinking water like a popcorn-fed camel there will come a moment of sunburned dehydrated exhaustion when you realize that your Code Yellow has turned itself off and you've had it.

Quit. Just stop for the day, regardless of the time. Put your tools away carefully, get a shower and crack a frosty beer. You can then sit languid and self-righteous (and unscathed) and make tomorrow's work plan.

Marigolds and patchouli
The notion of Code Yellow is really just one of alert common sense: stay focused on the task. When we were in Thailand, however, we went a bit further and adopted a touch of Buddhist eclecticism. Daily we burned a stick of patchouli incense in front of our carving of Ganesh, the elephant-headed deity regarded as "the remover of obstacles." We had an incident-free stay in a hectic boatyard and when our cutter Moose slipped down the ways it was with a floral garland of marigolds looped around her bow pulpit. Whatever works!

Duncan and Irene Gould are in the Chagos Archipelago, halfway across the Indian Ocean on their passage to South Africa. They can be followed at www.getjealous.com/svmoose.