On being … all in this together

By Ingrid Sapona

Last weekend was haul out at my sail club. We’re a self-help club, which means members must contribute a certain number of volunteer hours every year. Many members get the bulk of their work hours by working launch and haul out. The only paid workers we use during haul out are professional crane operators. And, since renting cranes and hiring crane operators is expensive, the goal is to haul out all 280 boats in one weekend.

For years I’ve been on the crew that’s responsible for putting the boats in the crane slings. It’s not physically hard work, but like all the tasks involved in hauling out boats, there are special safety issues and things to pay attention to. Honestly, one of the hardest things for me about the weekend is just being on my feet for so long.

It can also be pretty boring because after we hand off the boat in the sling, it takes time to place it in the cradle, which means there’s a lot of waiting around. The down time provides a chance to socialize and catch up on club gossip. But, as the day goes by, there’s less to chat about and the boredom seems to lead to grouchiness and snarkiness.

Because there are so many variables that come into play, every haul out is different. The shear variety of sizes and weights of the boats make it tricky. This year, for example, we hauled out everything from a 22 foot sailboat that weighed 2200 lbs. to a 39 foot cement (yes, cement) sailboat that weighed 33,500 lbs,, not to mention a 34 foot trimaran (it weighed only 5000 lbs. but imagine trying to put slings on three separate hulls) and a 44 foot power boat that weighed 33,000 lbs.

One of the biggest variables every year is the weather. To maximize the amount of time the boats are in the water, we launch early (the last weekend of April) and we haul out late (the last weekend of October). Though there has been the odd snowflake at haul out, wind and rain are what most of us dread. Foul weather gear helps keep your body dry but I’ve yet to find gloves that keep my hands warm and dry and that afford the dexterity you need for most haul out tasks.

Wind is by far the most troubling because it adds to the danger and chaos. Wind makes it challenging for boat owners to bring their boat over to the dock where the crane is stationed. But that’s nothing compared to the danger of having thousands of pounds of boat sitting in cloth slings dangling from a crane in high winds – picture a 10,000 lb. pendulum swinging 20 feet above the ground.

The past few years we’ve been pretty lucky in terms of the weather at launch and haul out. The forecast for this past weekend, however, was worrisome. Saturday we were expecting rain and winds from 25-30 knots (which is 29-35 mph or 26-56 km/hour); Sunday looked to be a bit better, with some sun and less wind. Though it seems the weather forecasters are as wrong as they are right, to our dismay, their prediction was accurate.

Remarkably, despite the forecast, everyone who had committed to working showed up at 6:30 on Saturday morning. Because of the weather conditions, before we hoisted the first boat our crew chief reminded us of the safety precautions and stressed that safety trumped speed. It quickly became clear that more teamwork than usual was required, given the conditions.

The rain and wind made it seem colder than it actually was, but no one seemed to complain. Indeed, by mid-day I couldn’t help notice that the camaraderie seemed stronger than usual and there wasn’t any of the usual mumbling and grumbling under peoples’ breath that so often seems to be in the background. I pointed out the lack of the normal bitching to a few of my crew-mates, and they agreed that it was a pleasant change.

On Sunday afternoon, after the cranes were shut down and we were all enjoying a celebratory drink, we learned that we had hauled a record number of boats with no incidence of property or physical damage reported. In short, it was the smoothest haul out in some of the least pleasant conditions in memory.

There were probably a variety of things at play in peoples’ moods and behaviour during haul out, but I can’t help think that the crappy conditions and added risk helped everyone appreciate the need to work together and helped everyone appreciate each person’s contribution to the overall effort. I think that in today’s society, where many of us pride ourselves on our self-sufficiency, sometimes it takes sub-optimal conditions to remind us of a very basic truth: we’re all in this together.

© 2013 Ingrid Sapona


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