We had the first kid fall between the boat and the dock this weekend.
One of the things we’ve had to adjust to recently is having Take Two on a fixed dock instead of a floating one. With a floating dock, the boat is always in the same position relative to the dock, so it’s easy to create a safe and comfortable way to get on and off.
But a fixed dock never moves, and the boat, subject to tide, current, and wind, moves all over the place. At times you can simply step from deck level, over the lifelines, and onto the dock. But at other times the deck might be below and several feet away. It can be very difficult if you have short legs, are carrying a baby, or wearing Italian shoes. Which covers the whole crew at one time or another.
The preferred way to get aboard at low tide is the Tarzan method. We have a halyard clipped to the toerail and a light painter from the halyard to the dock. You pull the halyard to yourself by the painter and then swing aboard with your best yodel. This works great for the kids, and even the adults after a few cocktails. But it’s not so good at high tide, or for getting back off the boat.
The next effort was a ramp from the toerail to the dock. I made it out of a 2×10 and put some 1×2 furring strips on it for tread. It worked great, but it kept falling in the water between the boat and the dock. We never saw it happen, so I could never discern exactly what the problem was, but eventually accepted that the ramp idea was flawed.
The latest invention is a step, made from some spare 2×10 into an inverted L-shape with triangular supports, and screwed into a piling. The kids know that when I break out the power tools something interesting is about to happen, so the older ones were loitering around on the dock and casually watching me work. Sam was last to join. He saw kids on the dock, he saw a new step between the boat and the dock, and he deduced that the others must have used the step to get to the dock. Unfortunately he was not correct. The step was only tacked in place while I was busy cutting the triangles to support it.
Nobody saw what happened next, but we all heard the big splash and Sam’s shrieks of fear.
Poor Sam. All the kids had been coached: if you fall in the water, just swim to the transom steps and climb out. It used to be that they could haul themselves right out onto the dock. But the swimming part was new, and Sam hasn’t been the best listener lately. With the surprise of falling six feet and finding himself in the water, he forgot to swim and instead bear hugged the barnacle-crusted piling.
Sam is okay. A calm reminder was all he needed to detach from his piling and swim to where we could lift him out and hose him off. He needed some patching up, and calming down, but once that was done it was like it had never happened.
The lesson here is that when you panic, rational thought often goes right out the window, and the results are often not good. Unfortunately, panic is hard to predict or control. Sam has jumped off the boat and swum to the transom hundreds of times for fun. But the difference between jumping and falling triggered a completely different response.
Sometimes we just have to learn things the hard way. To this day, I have a row of 3-inch scars on the inside of my left knee. I got them when I was a little older than Sam. It was the last time I ever tried to climb up a piling. I’m betting this will be Sam’s last time, too.