PSA: Watch That Winch!

30 Oct
No, we didn’t catch a fish…

It’s been a wild ride these first few months. Between the greenness of my boat, my very rusty sailing skills and the generally amateur nature of my ever-rotating crew we’ve run into quite a few snags. Most we’ve been able to laugh off. A couple, like my ripped genoa, I’ve had to work off, but overall there’s been nothing too serious. Until yesterday. Yesterday we had an accident which scared the hell out of me. (Spoiler: everyone’s ok now, but I’ll warn you that the photos after the jump get a bit gruesome.)

 The lake was quite rough yesterday but that was actually just what I was hoping for. My parents are back in town for a week and I wanted my dad to hear some creaking noises that had me a bit worried (Verdict: all’s well!). We had a couple friends along- Sasha, who has sailed with me many times, and Katherine, a new friend with plenty experience sailing small boats, and another friend named Evan. There has been a strong North wind for a few days so coming out of the harbor we were motoring into twenty knots and choppy 5+ foot swells when we decided to pull the main up to catch a little wind. Sasha, who has done this many times, volunteered and Katherine offered to help. In retrospect this was probably our first error- it was just a bit too wild out there to be showing someone the ropes for the first time. They had the main nearly up before some sort of snag caught my attention. I’ve been having issues with that halyard and I could see that they were struggling a bit so I asked them to hold up and let me get a handle on things. As I stepped around the mast I just had time to notice that Katherine was standing directly over the winch when there was a loud crack as the handle swung back and hit her in the head.

 She dropped like a stone and immediately Sasha knelt beside her to help while I grabbed the halyard and dealt with the sail. Neither of us saw exactly where she was hit but it had made a hell of a crack and now we could see a lot of blood. Though Katherine was conscious she wasn’t communicative.

Even with the blood cleaned up that’s one scary wound

Thankfully there was not a moment of panic, nor indecision. While Sasha and Evan tended to Katherine I got the sail down and my dad, on the helm, turned us back to the marina. We still had no idea how bad her wound was- there was enough blood that Sasha couldn’t tell where it was coming from and all of us feared that she had lost an eye, or shattered a bone in her face. It was a very scary ride back to the dock. Once there the rest rushed Katherine to the hospital while I stayed aboard to get things squared away, and clean up. It was a rough hour, scrubbing blood off the boat with horrible visions running through my head of what might have happened.

I felt a bit guilty taking these photos but I figured if she survived with skull intact Katherine was probably going to want to see the carnage. Luckily I was right!

As it turned out, we were lucky. The winch handle had hit in about the best possible place (if there is such a thing)- squarely in Katherine’s forehead, where it did no permanent damage. It did open her up down to the bone and required quite a few stitches, as well as a CAT scan for safety’s sake. She’s a trooper though and only hours later she was laughing about it over a strong drink, pointing out that she had learned a very valuable lesson about always knowing where your head is. I also learned an important lesson about another warning I need to give anyone who comes along on the boat. Really the winch shouldn’t have been able to swing back like that but, as Katherine said herself, you need to be sure your head is safe even if things fail to work like they should.

The crew at the hospital, feeling much more chipper!

I’m still not sure exactly what happened. The winch is old and a bit loose so it’s possible that a pawl slipped under load, allowing the handle to spin in reverse. I did check it afterwards and they all seemed ok at rest but an overhaul of that winch is now on the ASAP list. It’s also possible that the handle simply swung back through the distance of one pawl at precisely the wrong time, when Katherine’s head was very close to the handle. Whatever caused it, I know from here out everyone on the boat will get a warning about keeping in mind exactly where your head and fingers are. With any luck we won’t ever ave a repeat of that trip!

Katherine says- Watch out where your head is!

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 Index of DIY and How-to Posts

This article was syndicated from Safe At Harbour But Meant For The Sea: DIY Sailing with Paul Calder

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