Tuesday 17 December 2013

Ditch Bag

So over the last few months, I have been putting together what is often called a “Ditch Bag” this is not to be confused with “Douche Bag”, which is entirely a different thing. The “Douche Bag” is the person who will get you in the circumstances where you might need a “Ditch Bag” Ha! 

The content of our ditch bag
Seriously though; If you don't already know ; a "Ditch Bag" is one (or 2 or 3) bags that are part of the abandon ship drill which are always "at the ready" stored in a specific easy-to-access place on board. In other words: If you have to ditch the boat in an emergency situation, then hopefully you have assigned a specific person to grab this specific bag(s) during your safety briefing before heading out !  And hopefully the person you assigned, remembers to do this while you are getting the life raft ready !

So what goes in this “Ditch Bag"?  Well, that's an interesting question.This has been on my mind quite a bit, and one can get oneself in quite the philosophical state of mind if one thinks about it for too long. But I digress, there are definitely some basics that you should have:

First of all: Hopefully you remembers that you are in a marine environment and that most things aren’t designed to float, so you need to make sure that the Ditch Bag ITSELF can float and that it has a tether so that is can be tied to the life raft.

Then you need to fill it with things you and the rest of the crew would need to survive: 

In our two ditch bags, which are being assembled as I write this, we have put : 

A Small First Aide Kit & Sunscreen 
A whistle
Flares (IMPORTANT: Make sure you don’t drop your lit flare in your raft or YOU will be the "DDB" (Designated Douche Bag) for the rest of the time you are floating in a half sunk raft waiting for rescue)
A mirror (yes they DO work very well to signal distant ships or airplanes, not just in the movies...)
A waterproof flashlight, extra batteries
Some floating rope
Any prescribed medication
Sea sickness meds
A Handheld VHF radio (extra Batteries)
and OF COURSE : an EPIRB !!!!  

Ours EPIRB looks something like this 
(I affectionally call him “Eddy the EPIRB”)

What’s that ?  You want to know what a EPIRB is ?  Oh ! It’s just the most AMAZING invention. One which has so far helped rescue over 20 000 people in the last 32 years !  
Have a look here: http://www.epirb.com

To the above list we have ALSO added :
-Hats (or head scarves), Sunglasses, Dry socks and Undies 
-One toothbrush and one comb
 (Who says families can’t share?!)
-A leatherman tool
-Some patch/repair kits and a pump for the raft (for when you drop the leatherman tool and make a hole in the raft!)

So, is that it ?    
Dudes, come on ! Have you not seen the movie "Life of Pi"  ? 
Obviously, you’re gonna need some water and food !!!  And, unlike Pi, you probably wont be able to rely on killing a Mahi Mahi with your bare hands or for flying fish to land in your liferaft !  But on the other hand you probably won’t have to worry about feeding a full grown tiger either.

So, for the all important food and water :

We have some containers of water but check this out :  
A hand operated water maker
We also have a hand operated  WATER MAKER...which will turn sea water into fresh (drinkable) water !! 
(Pi would of loved that one)
-Food survival rations 
-A Fish line and Hooks
-One of those collapsible camping water jugs. 

Our sea survival instructor said that if this type of jug is filled to 80% capacity it becomes neutrally buoyant (so that you can have it tethered to the raft and  trailing behind, almost as a sea anchor.)

-Hard Candies (for when things get really ugly- no one will know about the existence of these except me and anyone who reads this blog.... hehe)

But is that all that one needs to survive ? Maybe not. This is where one can start getting philosophical.

As I was assembling things for the Ditch Bag I found myself day dreaming as I was walking down the aisles of the Shoppers Drug Mart. I was imagining Mark, the kids and I floating for days in a life raft, and I wondered: What would we need ? What would make this more bearable, what would the kids need to help them deal with it all??  Let me tell you; it puts you in a very strange state of mind giving yourself permission to think these thoughts “out loud” in your mind.

In such dire conditions as being stuck in a life raft with your family: It is so important to keep your mind active and in a positive state.That is why in training we were told that everyone in the raft must be assigned a task from day one: there is the Minister of Communications (Radio, EPIRB), the Minister of Internal Affairs (makes sure all is well with the Life Raft), a Minister of Food and Water etc...

In an emergency, the last thing you want is to be the one that looses his or her cool and end up looking like one of these guys:

But how else to keep our sanity ? Well again in Pi’s example I’ve decide to include: a small notebook/pencil and to this I added some waterproof playing cards, a “hacky sack” (ball) and some dice. Oh, and a harmonica! You never know, we might end up composing a masterpiece while we are out there !  

I thought about bringing a book too but I got stuck on the question of which book?  I would want something inspiring, encouraging, something that would  be nourishing to the soul and I just can’t come up with THE book. Which book would YOU bring ? Have you got any suggestions for me ?   If you have any  suggestions, I would be happy to hear from you.

So, that is all for now, if you are wondering what to get us for Christmas; think of a water proof flashlight that does not sink, or an energy bar with a really long shelf life, and be assured that we will most probably NEVER get to use it !   

Thanks for reading, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year !!!

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Survival at Sea !

The question we most frequently get from people sounds something like this:  "But aren’t you afraid ?"

My answer to this is: Hell Yeah ! Most absolutely !  I think if I was not afraid of setting out into the ocean people should be worried !!!  I have read a few books written by women who talk about this subject and the common theme that keeps coming up is that they were afraid mostly because they did not feel that they were prepared for an emergency. That, if the worst happened, they would not know what to do !  I am glad to say that I feel the same way. It's the same with anything, if you head out into the mountains, if you decide to learn how to fly, or if you decide that you want to become a bullfighter !  One needs to face the facts and ask themselves: what is out there and what do I need to learn to protect myself ?

(This was sent to me recenlty, and although I still AM affraid of storms the sentiment is a good one I think)

You can’t imagine my ELATION when I found out that there was going to be a course offered on safety at sea and in my very own home town too !  
During two days of the course I sat in complete and absolute fascination as our excellent instructor taught us everything about life rafts, flares, the design of lifejackets, survival techniques, the medical aspects of survival at sea, weather, search and rescue techniques, storm tactics and so much more! 

I have to say that we were in very capable hands. Our instructor; Captain Eric Hill  from Maritime Helicopter Tactics, and Canadian Forces Maritime Warfare Centre, has a great deal of experience in marine rescue. Not only a rescuer,but also as the offshore training skipper for the Royal Canadian Navy, he holds a commercial endorsement for sailing vessels to 200 t and is a qualified RYA/CYA radar, diesel, and commercial Yachtmaster instructor. As Canada’s only Yachtmaster Instructor, he is an endorsed ISAF Sea Survival instructor for offshore racing and is a qualified Advanced Medical First Responder. So there, how’s that for credentials ?!? What was really great about this course was that Eric had many personal stories and experiences to share which made everything so much easier to relate to.  

But my favorite and best part of ALL was that we had plenty of hands on practice!   We got to jump in the pool, fully dressed in our foul weather gear to swim a few length  and experience putting on lifejackets (PFDs) and inflating them while in the water. We then got to practice getting into the life raft from the water, still fully dressed in what was now some very heavy clothe. I swear I gained 20 pounds in water alone!  
It may sound easy, but I assure you that it was NOT! Nevertheless, I am happy to say that I made it into the raft, before getting too exhausted !  Then the life raft was flipped over (did you know that as many as 50% of life rafts are deployed upside down?) and we each took turns to “right” it (flip it over). 

The next day, we all got a chance to set off a flare in the parking lot of the college where the course was given. It was quite a sight to see, 6-8 of us at a time, holding our flares up high, this even garnered the attention of a couple of the security guards from the college who come to investigate !  Flares can be quite dangerous as you can imagine and Eric gave us all some great safety tips such as; "It can take a couple of seconds after pulling the tab before your flare sets off, what ever you do, DO NOT TURN THE FLARE AND LOOK AT IT !”

This is the visual that comes to mind when I heard captain Eric say: What ever you do, DO NOT TURN THE FLARE AND LOOK AT IT !”

Funny enough, it DID take my flare a few seconds before it went “Bang”, and it was all I could do to keep my self control to NOT look at it ! We heard more than a few stories of panicked sailors who had never set off flares before, and in an emergency, with shaky fingers, dropped them on deck or worse, in the life raft !  
MC holding up a flare in Survival at Sea training, Calgary
The class all holding our flares

I came out of the course absolutely electric with energy and eager to share all that I had learned with my captain and crew. I can tell you that on Amelie there will ALWAYS be a safety briefing before any departure and EVERYONE, including the kids, will know how to : start the engine drive the boat, set off a flare safely, use the radio, put on and inflate their own life jackets ! (Did you know that self inflating life jackets do not always self inflate? You didn’t ?  Then.. You are welcome my friend).

Now this from the RYA (Royal Yachting Association):
“Cruising is one of the safest leisure sporting activities, and 99.9% of those afloat will never use their life raft. However, if you are part of the unlucky 0.1% your chances of survival will be greatly increased if you understand how to use the equipment and how to help yourself. It is a well-proven fact that, in the event of an emergency at sea, people with training are more likely to survive.”

Mark and I have a firm belief that in this, and all ventures in life, one must be self sufficient and self reliant and this course just helps me feel even better about how we are getting prepared. I hope that we will never be in that 0.1 % but if we ever are another thing I learned in this course is to “NEVER TO ATTACH ANYTHING FROM THE HELICOPTER TO THE BOAT” as our instructor liked to repeat. Haha ! I got another funny cartoon visual from that one! People can really loose their minds in an emergency I guess ! 
Anyways, for the sailors out there if you are looking for where to book this excellent course here is the website: