One of the things that James and I love about sailing is that emergency preparedness is, for good sailors, a natural way of being. As mainstream life in America grows ever more swaddled by layers of technology and commercialism, we are fascinated to observe that people do not, by and large, feel safer or more peaceful. The trend toward increasing anxiety is observed in our science and I have seen it myself in 23 years of speaking intimately to people about the nature of their consciousness. What we have found in settling into life aboard Rejoice is that while it was initially rather harrowing to be so directly responsible for all aspects of our own survival, once we began to understand and engage with the means for doing so, we felt a tremendous increase in our peace and inner stability.
I was particularly inspired to find that the most capable and experienced people that I met were not, in fact, just somehow easygoing; they were deeply engaged with their existence. Our fantastic instructor in Wilderness First Aid, Ken Johnson, was a firefighter for 15 years and now teaches as North Coast Fire and EMS. Ken suggested that his technique of regularly running drills in our minds, reviewing our skills, imagining how we might handle emergencies that could arise in different situations. Tanja Koster, an incredibly experienced sea captain who I had a private lesson with through her wonderful Teach2Sail program said, "I always know what I am doing, and what I am going to do next, and I am always thinking of a Plan B." When we prepare for hardship or danger, we know we are in a better position should danger arise, and this brings ease to our minds and hearts, and knowing one has done one's best is always soothing.
One of the ways that sailors prepare for danger is to have a ditch bag at the ready. This the bag that you grab if you must abandon ship. On land in San Francisco, we knew we should have an earthquake kit, but there was never a day where that was our highest priority, so we never had one, and as a result we carried instead the slight anxiety of knowing we were not prepared for this. At sea, one is more self-reliant, and we learned from the error we had made on land. Preparing our ditch bag was tremendous fun, as well as increasing our peace of mind. If you are a loved one reading this, I hope that hearing these details increases your peace of mind as well.
I know that there will be some folks who feel an increase in anxiety as they read this. Please, if you feel nervous reading this, take a moment and feel into the knowledge that preparing makes us more prepared. You might feel edgy reading this, but what we have done here makes us safer. In the unlikely event that we need to abandon our ship, we'll have some good things at hand. And perhaps you can let this be a spur for your own life -- is the discomfort of thinking about danger or hardship keeping you from making the appropriate preparations? Your will, your natural disaster kit or plans, that medical checkup? Perhaps this can inspire you to take your own steps to prepare and find more peace in doing so.
Okay, now, the sailors are skimming along thinking VERY NICE SURE NOW SHOW ME YOUR LIST. Sailors love to compare ditch bag lists, and I am grateful to others who posted theirs, particularly the vlogging crew of Ruby Rose.
- 20 Liter Ocean Pack Dry Bag Waterproof and, if closed with a good bit of air at the top, will float.
- EPIRB, the magic alert button. More technically, it is an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. This is not a button that you push because you are uncomfortable or afraid, this is a button that you push because you feel pretty certain you are otherwise going to die. If you do push the button, all ships in your vicinity will be notified of your distress. It is a tenet of maritime law (and sailors' honor) that those at sea are obliged to offer assistance to those in distress unless doing so would put them in danger. If you are rescued, you may be required to scuttle your ship, to open all the through-hulls in your boat so that it sinks rather than floating uncrewed to be a hazard to others. So if you push that button, people will do their best to come to your aid, but you will probably lose your ship. You do this only to save a life.
- Copies of our vital documents.
- Electronic flare
- SOLAS orange smoke flare, which also shows up on infrared
- Big red signal flag
- Signal mirror, wrapped in a bandana with Morse code and semphore keys
- Survival fishing kit
- 2 silver emergency blankets
- Food. A bag each of cashews, pumpkin seeds, and raisins. Various MREs are common here; we are both allergic to every sort I could find, and having digestive distress in a liferaft would not increase our chances of survival. These provisions are well-packaged; replacing them is on the calendar for a couple months before they expire so that the food can be eaten before it goes bad.
- 2 triangular bandages
- Seasickness medication (Ondansetron/Zofran)
- MediHoney, a great topical antibacterial agent for wound care.
- Quikclot clotting sponge
- Gauze pads, Transpore tape, and bandaids
- Flashlight Rechargeable battery replacement is on our maintence schedule so they are always fresh.
- Lighted hand-bearing compass Our original one, which was replaced by a nicer one for regular use.
- Pen and paper
- Tiny plastic bottle of Green Chartreuse
- Tiny statue of Ganesha, remover of obstacles
- Deck of cards
Water, of course, is the primary thing needed for survival. The ditch bag lives right at the base of our companionway stairs. We keep two 1 gallon jugs of water on the counter just above this. A portable radio is on the nav station just beside it. We plan to drill grabbing the ditch bag, radio, and water jugs regularly.
Rejoice came with a life raft designed to fit 6 people. We took the raft to Sal's Inflatables just a couple weeks ago, as it was due for its every 3 years servicing. They kindly inflated it while we were there so we could see how it works and what it contains -- its own set of flares, fishing supplies, emergency blankets, water, flashlight and batteries. It is also designed with a rainwater collection mechanism.
When James threw in the Green Chartreuse, I laughed and questioned him. He answered very seriously, "Morale is the captain's primary job." I said, "But safety! Isn't safety the captain's primary job?" "Morale," he answered, "is part of safety."
Ahhhhhh. Yes. As the yogis say, there two wings on the bird of freedom: practice and nonattachment. We practice, preparing for whatever may come, and we do so without attachment, accepting that we cannot know what the future may hold. And here aboard Rejoice, we aim for it all in joy, because we are alive.