We are off on holidays. The last time we left on holiday was in February and I was rather stressed because, well, I’m a highly stressed person and amongst other things I hadn’t finished laminating my kids’ certificates before we left.
Little did I know then how good I had it. Pre-ski holiday stress was nothing… Tomorrow we leave for a two-week sailing vacation – crossing the Med to Corsica for the first time on our boat. That’s 12 plus hours across open water, no land until we reach that distant and rocky isle. Apparently we stand a good chance of seeing whales en route, which would be awesome, even though I’m told they smell unbelievably bad. I wouldn’t care; I would love to smell a whale up close (not too, though – the image of a thrashing Moby Dick-like tail near our boat does nothing to calm the stress level.)
Seriously, pre-sailing preparation is very demanding. First of all, I’m in charge of ‘Provisioning.’ It sounds really official and important, I know, but it’s basically the same old grocery shopping I do all the time. Except now I have to do massive amounts in advance to feed four men for two weeks and think of everything we might possibly need in terms of food, drink, medicaments and household items. Anything forgotten will probably not be available in the small convenience stores we’re likely to find in port (and if it is, likely to be 10 times overpriced and a week past expiration.) As I’m not particular good at foreseeing what we need to create dinner even one day in advance, ‘provisioning’ for two weeks is more challenging than you would think. So far, in keeping with my priorities, we’re fully stocked with rosé and cleaning products, and at least we have two fishing poles on board.
Then, of course there’s the emergency ‘Grab Bag.’ Now contrary to what you might imagine, or at least what I might, a boat Grab Bag is not filled with fun little gifts items and nicely wrapped presents. No, this is a big waterproof bag that weighs a ton, which one is supposed to grab (hence the name) in the unlikely event we have to get into the life raft. (Highly unlikely, my husband assures me.) So I figure if I forget anything in my provisioning efforts, at least the bag is guaranteed to keep us from starvation for about a month. Military style tinned rations, but, hey, sustenance is sustenance. I’m thinking I should probably get another one to keep in the house.
So last night, in preparation for the big crossing, we go to the boat for the emergency debrief/training. My husband was in charge and he really knows his stuff on a boat. This is one place where I never second-guess him, which could be why he loves sailing so much. So the boys and I gathered around him on board and we all got right down to business. It went really well, I think.
The first thing my husband showed us is the life ring. We have one on the back of our boat, of course, international maritime law requires it. Problem is that you can’t undo the thing if your life depends on it. Which it very well might, as that is the whole point of a life ring. So, in addition to the official one you can’t undo, we have an emergency canister. In the event of man overboard you just unhook it and toss it into the water, aiming near the point where you last saw the person. Uh huh. All well said and done, but as you have to heave the thing overboard on a rocking moving boat while trying not to fall overboard yourself, well – all we can do is give it our best shot. After the canister is thrown, then one person is assigned to be the ‘Spotter.’ The Spotter’s job is to watch the floating head in the water as the captain tries to maneuver the boat back to the person in the water. Of course, this had all three boys immediately arguing over who had the best eyesight. After considerable discussion we moved on. Spotter To Be Determined.
Down into the main cabin, where my husband proudly opened a closet to show us a cute, funny little gadget he had installed. Although I didn’t know what it was, as soon as he asked ‘Schatz, what’s this?’ – It came to me in a heartbeat. A heart that swelled with pride as I proclaimed: ‘an EPIRB’ with the utmost joy. You see, an EPIRB is the ONE thing I’ve learned about boating in 17 years of being married to a boat lover, sailor and yachting expert. Boy, do I know my EPIRBs. Sometimes we will be at a cocktail party and my husband will call me over to a group of people and use my knowledge just to show off. I, of course, am happy to oblige – after all, what are spouses for if not to do their partners proud at cocktail parties? So he asks, ‘Schatz, what’s an EPIRB?’ And I answer, faster than I can say my own name, ‘oh, you mean an Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon?’ (Real casual-like.) Men tend to be especially impressed and look at my husband admiringly, as if to say ‘Wow, you married a woman who sure knows her EPIRBs – guess some guys have all the luck.’
Not to brag or anything, but not only do I know how to define an EPIRB with lightening speed, I even know all about how it works. Although this was my first time actually seeing a real one, I know that either you pull the switch and it emits a radio signal and tells the nice rescue people where you are, or in very worst case scenario, it gets submerged in water and then it works all by itself. You don’t have to do anything other than try to stay afloat somewhere in its vicinity. It’s a cute, cute little gadget if I’ve ever seen one.
So then my husband decides we should run through some actual emergency procedures. The boys are thrilled and we all think this is a wonderful idea. We start with the radio. Channel 16 is the emergency channel. Being not just a laminating but also a labeling maniac, I kindly offer to make a special ‘Channel 16’ label for the radio when we go home. Just in case I should ever forget this particular channel number – a reasonable assumption considering the actual state of panic that would undoubtedly ensue if I ever need to make an emergency call. My husband, however, summoning up stores of patience I never knew he had, told me that it was a very nice offer but not strictly necessary, as, if I forget the number, there is a big red button I can press instead. It tunes directly to Emergency Channel 16. Cool.
So, we start. We begin with a simple scenario in which the boat breaks down, or fails to respond, but one in which we are not in immediate danger. In this case, the signal is ‘Pan, Pan, Pan.’ Given that we are sailing in French waters I at first assumed my husband was saying the French word for bread (i.e. ‘Pain’ pronounced the same way.) Which doesn’t make sense, I realize, unless you’ve lived in the French region as long as I have. Then you realize it could very well be a Frenchman’s emergency call/dying wish. But I digress, apparently the signal has nothing to do with bread. So then I logically assume that Pan means, broken, as in my car is ‘en panne’ i.e. not working. Wrong again. It’s just plain pan, pan, pan which apparently is some sort of internationally recognized code. Like, I should be expected to know this?
Anyway, after thrice signaling Pan, proper procedure is to follow with “This is Mindblower“ to identify the boat. Then one gives a brief description of the problem. Here I helpfully interrupt my husband to point out that if it is not something simple, like being unable to detach the life ring, then I’m not much good at either recognizing or describing mechanical problems. Still in a bid to retain my fast departing former glory, I offer that if they want to test me on how quickly I define an EPIRB then I’m the one for the job. My husband sighs and we move on.
Same channel, worse problem. This time my husband asks, ‘If I have a heart attack, what do you do?’ I politely answer that he and I both know that in that case I would never, ever be able to restrain myself from immediately saying “I told you so” – followed by something along the lines of ‘all these years I’ve been telling you to watch your cholesterol and now look what happens!’ Apparently not the right answer either. We try again. Imagine, he says, I’m having a heart attack and we’re in a Force 10 gale, and the boat is taking on water. What do you do? So I try to lighten this heartbreaking scenario with a little joke: ‘I call the guys on the radio and order some bread?’ I think it’s kind of funny but nobody even smiles. We move on. My husband decides we must run through this again and again until we get it right (all in the highly unlikely event, he assures me, that it ever happens.)
I suggest the training would be far more realistic if he were to get on the floor and writhe around clutching his chest and moaning. Despite enthusiastic encouragement from the boys, he refuses. I sense the patience is wearing a bit thin. Instead he lies on the couch and says, ‘I’m having a heart attack.’ A bit BOR-ING but we go with it.
So. Needless to say, I play my part with great enthusiasm. With staged and frantic panic, I look dramatically around the cabin until I locate the radio in its holder next to the command station. Where it always is. ‘Ah HA!’ I cry, grabbing it with a flourish, and then I simulate pushing that red button to perfection. ‘JULYDAY, JULYDAY, JULYDAY!’
‘CUT!’ My husband roars as the boys crack up. ‘What the hell …?’
‘It’s the International Distress Call’ I reply with enviable calm and considerable disdain. ‘Seriously, I would think YOU, of all people, would know that.’ (I am completely kidding of course, but I decide to play it up and my husband sadly thinks so little of my sea-faring expertise – apart from the superb EPIRB-reciting-skills previously mentioned- that he actually believes I am serious.) So, I go with it. ‘It’s MAYDAY in July,’ I tell him.
Now for the record, not only was I an English major, I speak French and have lived in Monaco for 16 plus years, where French is the official language. All this to prove that I know what MAYDAY means. It comes from the French phrase ‘Venez m’aidez’ (come to help me, or come to my aid) which over time and multiple drowning was shortened to M’Aidez or MAYDAY. I WAS JUST MAKING A JOKE HERE!
Again, nobody laughed and so we tried yet again. This time, my husband begged us to take it seriously and even made a half-hearted clutch at his chest as we repeated the scenario. It was going swimmingly until our oldest son asked out of the blue, ‘Hey Dad, if you have a heart attack, can I have the Miata?”
I tell you, we are an ADD family if you ever saw one. Not one of us can concentrate for a single second. Except maybe my husband, who started turning slightly purple. At which point I thought it best that we postpone the emergency run-through for another time, lest he actually had a heart attack and how ironic would that be? Now what was that channel number again?
To be continued… post holidays.