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A-Sailing We Will Go

Restorative Exercise for Sailors

I recently went sailing on my husband’s boat and realized two things; I get seasick and sailing is hard. I’ve given my husband a fair share of ribbing for taking on a sport that you can do sitting down whilst drinking a beer, but the truth is, you need to keep your wits about you and have some basic abilities to sail well. 

The minute you get on the dock and have to step on the boat you realize this requires balance and the ability to move your hips through a large range of motion. You need to step from an unmoving surface, over a lifeline about the height of your knees onto a moving object at not necessarily the same height (could be stepping up or down, depending on the size of the boat and the height of the dock relative to the waterline), holding only a thin, not quite vertical, wire (stay).

Once on the deck, it’s not always flat, even when not “underway” – some decks are sloped or the flat part is only large enough for one foot width. Boats are all about space saving. There is a line running the length of the boat around knee height supposed to keep you from falling over, or  which you can attach yourself to in rough conditions.

Going inside this boat requires a deep step down into the cockpit, followed by a huge step over the cockpit wall and down a steep ladder. This is not a boat for hip replacements. 

The boat is tied to the dock and to some floating lines to keep it from bashing into its neighbours and/or the dock so it is kept a fair distance from any other structure, meaning you need to step onto it from a distance but also, when you are ready to leave, you need to untie the lines from the dock and throw them to the dock so they don’t fall into the water. There is a good deal of tension on the lines due to the other lines keeping the boat in its place, so you basically have to manually pull the boat as close as you can to create slack in the lines and then remove them. I found this part required a great deal of finger strength and I struggled to untie the knots that had tightened due to the boat pulling on them as it swayed this way and that.

Once the boat is freed from the dock, you need to motor out away from the other boats and docks and put up the sail(s). This requires more knot undoing, some standing and moving along the deck to remove the sail covers and also the ties that keep the sail from moving around under the cover. The main sail itself is humungous. Once the sail is uncovered and freed from its ties, it’s ready to be raised. This requires a handle be placed in a large winch and the line, or sheet, from the sail is wrapped around the winch and then winched around and around (using lots of hand, forearm, shoulder and trunk muscles), raising the sail. This means, your effort is multiplied by the lever of the winch handle. If you had to actually raise the sail manually, it could be done by simply pulling on the rope, but that would take a long time and be exhausting, even if you had the strength to do it. 

The skills to sail are not to be considered here, that takes years of experience and being able to read the wind, know the safety considerations of the water and include things like knowing who has the right of way when sailing close to other vessels, using a radio, how shallow the water you can sail in without getting stuck, and how to navigate, trim sails, turn the boat safely, position the sails for various wind directions, etc. I’m talking mainly about the physical skills needed. 

So let’s take a brief recap of the physical skills I’ve identified so far:

Shoulder dexterity, to reach up to the main sails and foresail covers, ties (and occasionally to other structures on the boat) and to reach for the lines on the dock.

Hip flexibility, to move on and off the boat, and to navigate the depth of the cockpit relative to the deck, and the cockpit relative to the cabin (inside)

Finger strength to pull ropes, undo knots, hold the winch handle and rudder (if you are a rudder sailor and not a wheel)

Arm strength to winch the handle and raise sails, hold onto ropes against the resistance of the wind in a huge sail. This also requires back, trunk, core and leg strength, as it’s done standing. Imagine grinding a coffee grinder the size of a bucket that is attached to your counter and filled with several pounds of coffee as quickly as you can. That’s kind of what winching a sail up is like.

Knee and hip flexibility to move around the deck

A huge balance component, as you constantly fight the tossing and turning of the boat on the water, due to waves and wind conditions, on a surface that is rarely flat, always tilted and often wet.

An ability to make quick decisions and reactions (maybe this is mental but it does require the confidence in your physical self to make decisions that you can carry out). For example, you may be required to move from one side of the boat very quickly, while bending low to avoid being struck by the boom and tossed overboard or knocked unconscious!

The ability to bend over at the hips and not always the spine, and to sit in cramped spaces, on different planes (semi reclining for example), often by holding on to something or wedging your feet against something.

Good eyesight to navigate around obstacles in the water or other vessels.

No fear of heights, as you maybe be required to be hoisted up to the top of the mast to repair equipment

The strength to hoist another human 43’ (mast height)

The ability to swim (hopefully not often required, but a good skill to have if you are a sailor)

The ability to jump overboard and swim to someone who has been knocked unconscious and tossed overboard by the boom. 

So if you don’t have these skills, you might want to consider a motorboat. 😉

If you have your heart set on a sailboat, start working on your movement skills, I can help!

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