Safety at Sea Lessons from a Monkey

I do not think that watching kitten videos is a waste of time. Nor do I think watching videos of puppies sleeping with pigs or eagles getting their bellies rubbed is wasting time. I also strongly believe that watching videos of an exotic small animal called a Slow Loris reaching for a tiny cocktail umbrella is not only not wasting time, it is a good use of time when planning to sail across the ocean. While watching cat and puppy videos brings smiles and peace, therefore lowering blood pressure and reducing stress, watching and then channeling the Slow Loris while moving about a boat in the ocean helped our crew to be safe and laugh hysterically.

In the video, the little monkey reaches with outstretched arms and fingers and then grabs the tiny umbrella handle, curling each finger one at a time as if in slow motion, bringing the umbrella to the side of his face where he holds it and then seems to fall asleep. I showed this at first just for laughs to our crew John, who joined us for both ocean crossings. To be silly, we mimicked the loris while moving around the boat in slow motion curling each finger around stuff. But it quickly proved to be an actual logical and conscious method of getting from points A to B in heavy weather.

I was raised by my dad to always have one hand for the boat, or three points on the boat (two hands one foot, two feet one hand). But sometimes, if in a hurry, we might go to grab a slick wet hand rail and not get a grip. Moving like the monkey in the video made us think about curling our fingers around what we were grabbing. We could still move in a hurry if needed; we were just more aware of how we moved after watching the loris. From then on, we showed the video to anyone joining us for a long sail. It was always fun.

Not only did we enjoy moving around like little monkeys, we made an effort to make ourselves and the boat as injury proof as we could.

Before we left, we made sure that anyone could get from the cockpit, down the companionway, to the aft cabin or forward cabin with the ability to at all times be able to hold onto something. Our cabin is pretty spacious, so all it takes is one lurch, and you could go crashing. We really wanted to avoid broken bones, gashes, and dislocated shoulders, and the best way to avoid this is to make it too hard to happen in the first place.


I did a few things inside that I believe really helped. First, I moved around the space visualizing my next move and imagining a big roll or lurch. Is there something to stop a fall? Or is there something I can always grab? In order to answer “yes,” we installed a stainless-steel grab bar running along the length of our cabin.This, along with existing teak grab bars, worked well. Another thing I did was picture things crashing out of lockers and off of shelves, possibly hitting someone and causing all kinds of damage. I went nuts with tie downs (I call these “inch worms”), and I made sure everything was in its place and tied down. Also, our boat has lots of storage lockers that either open and close with a little latch inside a finger hole, or slide open with louvered doors. On all of the doors, we installed positive latches on the outside so they wouldn’t pop open. Maybe not so pretty, but safe.

web_tenacityOn the outside, my husband Robert built a new bimini with beefed up steel, so if we had to grab it, it would hold. He installed running jack lines along both sides of the deck so we could hook our harness onto this if we had to go up on the bow in rough weather. We always wore a harness on watch at night. No exceptions. Period. Also, no peeing off the side. Ever.

We replaced most of our rigging (everything but the actual mast tubing) and all the life lines. We opted to not have the white protective coating on the life lines so we could spot rust, should rust happen. When we went to replace the old lifelines, we were shocked at how rusty they were. We couldn’t see this through the coating. We also beefed up the thickness.

Of course we had spare parts for most everything and a hugely extensive medical kit as well as very readable books on emergency care. But what proved the smartest thing we did was to prevent bad things from happening in the first place.

Our first night out offshore we encountered a massive gale that lasted pretty much all night with 60-knot winds, 30-foot waves, lightening everywhere, and basically awful conditions. This was off of Cape Henry where there are still shoals causing the waves to be as turbulent as a washing machine. When it was all over and the sun came out and the dolphins came to play, I noticed that everything had stayed in place, nothing crashed, nothing broke, all clean, all good!

We had two extremely successful ocean crossings and many successful ocean passages with not a single injury. I think I may have had a broken nail once, but really, that was it. We have heard lots of horror stories about serious injuries that happened to people, and it sounded as if all of them could have been prevented. Most of these injuries were caused by being thrown around the inside, getting hit with flying objects, or falling off the boat while peeing. I am grateful that no one got hurt on our boat. And I am grateful we never had any injuries the whole time we were cruising. It would have been miserable being laid up with a broken bone while in Europe. However, it could have been a great excuse for watching kitten videos.

--by Cindy Fletcher Holden