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How NOT to Get Off Your Boat By Harmon Heed


y Gulfstar ketch is on the hard in the Charlotte Harbor Boat Storage while I refurbish the interior. It’s a great yard where you can have contractors come in, or you can do your own work. You can even stay aboard like many snowbirds do while prepping their boats for the sailing season. I live in Sarasota and drive down to the yard two or three times a week. I park next to the boat, unlock my ladder from the jack stand and extend it up so it rests on the gunnel. When I got there in early February, some white-haired snowbird had parked next to the boat where I stand my ladder. He didn’t leave his keys in his car. I didn’t see any strangers around. So, I unlocked my ladder, stood it and extended it up to the gunnel and rested the top on the long Genoa track. It had to be tilted to the left so I slid it up so the stanchion would stop it from sliding over. Then I climbed up and went to work. I went down and up three times that morning, to and from my truck, being careful not to scratch the oh, so-close car. When I went down for lunch, the car was gone. On my way back up, after lunch, I thought about straightening the ladder, but naah—it was working fine the way it was. When I began my descent down to go home and my eyes were toe rail level, about ten feet off the ground, the ladder started sliding. “Uh, oh,” I thought, “This isn’t good.” I pulled on the ladder and it twisted to the right and my left foot slipped off the rung. “Uh, oh, this is going to hurt. “ I pulled my left leg back so it wouldn’t get caught between the rungs; the ladder twisted over on top of me, and I started going down without the ladder. I should have grabbed for a lifeline or the toe rail, but I wasn’t very experienced in falling off ladders, so I didn’t. 70 April 2011


The next thing I remembered was the sound of people yelling and running toward me across the large gravel of the yard. I was laying on my belly with my arms outstretched. They tell me I was out for about 30 seconds. When I started coming to, they asked if I was all right, could I feel my arms, legs and back? I brought my hands in next to my chest and started to push myself up like a boxer off the mat. Then I laughed because I wanted to yell, “Yo! Adrian!” It was Rocky week on AMC. The gathering people helped me up, and someone brought a big block for me to sit on. Shirley and Smitty, the yard managers were right there, and Shirley had some clean, white terry cloths. She pressed one to the left side of my head. “You’re going to the hospital,” she said. “No, I’ll be all right. I’ve been in worse than this.” Smitty asked, “Is there anything I can get you?” “Yeh, how about a slug of whiskey?” I grinned. Shirley put her hands on her hips. “Do you want us to call an ambulance—or me to take you to the hospital?” “Uh, where are my glasses?” I dodged.

Doug found them a few feet away and handed them to me. When I put them on, I winced because I stuck the left earpiece into the crooked, five-inch gash the ladder tore in my scalp on the way down. “Ouch! Second mistake, “I laughed. I pulled the cloth away from my head, saw the blood on it and my shirt, looked up at Shirley and said, “Yes, ma’am, I am ready to go.” A very nice lady named Bernice from Manitoba drove me to the Englewood Community Hospital. It was her husband, Doug, who had earlier held up fingers in front of me to count. “Yo! Adrian!” At the hospital, I learned betadine stings on an open wound. And that it takes a lot of scrubbing to get dirty hair out of an open wound. And that fourteen staples and half a dozen sutures don’t go in without pain. But the lovely PA, Rae Ann, and the nurses made it as quick and painless as they could. They were all professionals. I’m writing this to convince the readers out there to secure both sides of the top of their ladders to the gunnel. Securing BOTH sides will not only stop the ladder from sliding sideways, but it will also stop the ladder from twisting over. I now have lengths of 3/8-inch line “bowlined” to the ladder, just below the top rung, which I snugly tie off to the track cars to the right and left of the ladder. It sure beats gashing my head and walking around with my skull wrapped up like a mummy for a week. “Yo! Potato Head!” It could have been a lot worse. I could have broken an arm or leg, done a face plant on the sharp gravel or even broken my neck or back. Please. Tie your ladder off on BOTH sides so that doesn’t happen to you. Oh, if you do park next to a boat in a yard, please leave room for the owner’s ladder and your keys in the car so the yard can move boats in your absence.