Carol Anne at Five O'Clock Somewhere recounts a scary incident she experienced while sailing this weekend in which she and one of her crew ended up in the emergency room with head injuries.
It's an aspect of our sport that is not often discussed. But we all know that a whack on the head from a boom is not uncommon. I vividly remember one occasion in the early 90's when racing my Laser at Devon YC on Long Island. A gybe in 25 knots - boom caught my head - a capsize - a recovery. No big deal I thought. But when I put my hand up to rub the sore spot on my head through my cap, my hand came away covered in blood which was soaking through the cap at a prodigious rate.
Then there was the case of Herve Aubry, a Mini boat skipper participating in a qualifying race for the 2001 Mini Transat race. After sending a MAYDAY an RAF Sea King helicopter was sent to pick him up. When it arrived at the yacht the skipper refused to be evacuated. He claimed that he had been hit on the head by his boom which caused him to become disoriented and had mistakenly sent the MAYDAY. The RAF helicopter returned to base just in time to be sent back to the Mini boat by a second MAYDAY call. The mini skipper this time abandoned his yacht and was picked up from the stormy English Channel......Disoriented? I should think so.
What's to be done? In an article on SailNet, John Rousmaniere discusses the question Should Sailors Wear Helmets? and cites a Boston neuro-surgeon who has tracked sixteen boom related fatalities in a dozen years. Yikes.
I'm not advocating compulsory wearing of helmets for sailors. We all love the feelings of freedom and independence that sailing brings us. But in a sport that appeals to similar types of folk - skiing - we do see more and more participants of all ages wearing helmets since Sonny Bono hit his head on a tree in a skiing accident and died. Skiers, climbers, cyclists, skateboarders ... the list goes on. Outdoors enthusiasts who now recognize that, at least in certain circumstances, wearing a helmet is just plain common sense.
What do you think? Will helmets ever be commonplace on sailing boats? In what situation does it makes sense to wear a helmet? Are helmets only for those who think their skull isn't very thick. Or do you think that it is only people with thick skulls who are stupid enough (like me) to hit their head on the boom?