When I didn't know anything about sailing, I thought sailing across oceans
was just plain dangerous. After all, it's nearly three-thousand miles
across the Atlantic Ocean from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean, and a
lot of bad things can happen out there. Your yacht can collide with
whales, there are black squalls, white squalls, tropical depressions,
tropical storms, hurricanes, and icebergs - lots of fearful things are found
offshore. At least that is what everyone tells me.
Once I went sailing, (sailed around the world) I
discovered that most yachting disasters befall cruisers when they are in the
Danger Zone within one-hundred miles of land.
Offshore, there aren't any rocks and reefs to threaten
your yacht. You do need to keep a good lookout so you don't get
rundown by ships, but other than that, sailing offshore isn't nearly as
risky as being close to land. Water is a soft and relatively forgiving
medium. An incompetent sailor in a strong yacht can make stupid
mistakes and still survive because water is soft. Yachts are generally
much tougher than the people who sail them.
Once you come near land, you enter the Danger Zone,
because land is hard and unforgiving. If you make a mistake and run
into land, you have instant disaster with probable destruction of your
yacht. Take a look at the pictures of the yacht Endurance. It
was sailing from Gibraltar to the Canary Islands when it entered the Danger
Zone. The unfortunate skipper fell asleep, and the boat sailed
straight onto the rocks of Graciosa Island in the Canaries.
You can fall asleep at sea while you are on watch, and
autopilot takes care of the yacht. But if you fall asleep in the
Danger Zone close to shore, the autopilot will run your yacht up on a reef.
The pictures show the dents in the side of the aluminum hull, fortunately
not puncturing the strong aluminum skin. Unfortunately, both rudders
and rudder shafts are destroyed, and the folding prop, prop shaft, and hull
adjacent to the prop sustained significant damage. You can't afford to
fall asleep in the Danger Zone.
When we sailed up the Red Sea, a single-handed sailor fell
asleep shortly after passing through the Bab Al Mandeb and entering the Red
Sea. The self-steering carried the sleeping sailor toward shore, and
he didn't wake up until the boat was on the reef and destroyed. Once
again, you can't afford to fall asleep in the Danger Zone.
Another friend sailing up the Red Sea fell asleep on
watch, but he was more lucky. He woke up just in the nick of time and
steered the boat out of harms way before it was driven ashore by the
self-steering. If he had remained asleep in the Danger Zone for a few
minutes longer, he would have lost his yacht.
We sailed twice from Fiji to New Zealand, and on both
trips there were yachts lost in the Danger Zone. In that last
one-hundred miles before arriving in New Zealand people sometimes feel like
they have it made and let their guard down. During our trips south to
New Zealand in the Danger Zone, boats have been run down by ships, people
have fallen overboard, and boats have washed up on the rocky shore.
When we are sailing offshore, we keep a watch to look for
squalls, ships, floating debris, whales, fishing boats, and fishing nets
floating in the water. But overall, we aren't too worried, because we
are outside the Danger Zone, and there is usually room for error.
But once we enter the Danger Zone, we are especially
careful. Being one-hundred miles from safe port doesn't lull us into a
false sense of security. Instead it heightens our awareness and we
raise our state of alert, because we know we are in the Danger Zone.
We want Exit Only to successfully complete the voyage, and want to live to
see another day.