Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Stripper pole safety with true-lover mats

Sailor's true lover mat weave provides secure footing on Oceanus's companionway steps.
The vast majority of injuries (more than 70 percent) aboard a sailboat are the result of falls. Most falls occur while going in or out of the companionway. *

This statistic became real for my friend Kevin, who owns Skylark, a beautiful Columbia 50 he moores on San Diego Bay. Last year his wife fell coming down the companionway ladder when they were anchored at Catalina Island. Her feet were wet from kayaking and she slipped on one of the three wide steps going down into the cabin and broke a rib.
Kevin's beautiful Columbia 50, Skylark, getting ready for a sail on San Diego Bay.

The accident cut the trip short and they made a speed run back to San Diego and the emergency room.

"It's easy to forget just how incredibly slippery things can get when they get wet," Kevin said, "Things getting wet on a boat is an everyday deal. Plus, I'm only getting older and don't heal as fast anymore."

Kevin's quick solution was to install self-adhesive rubber safety treads from Harbor Freight (http://www.harborfreight.com/self-adhesive-rubber-safety-step-tread-98856.html). It seems to be working.

"Elegant?  No.  Functional?  Yes," he said.

Skylark is so elegant that I didn't notice the rubber treads when I was aboard. I was about to follow Kevin's lead and make a trip to Harbor Freight for treads to cover our varnished steps, but my wife had another idea. She suggested that I make rope mats for the steps similar to the ones I made for our previous sailboat, Lobo, a Pearson Renegade.

The pattern for the rope mat is called the sailor's true lover mat weave. I saw it in my old copy of Hervey Garrett Smith's book, The Marlinspike Sailor. Even in Smith's day (before the advent of fiberglass boats and synthetic ropes) sailboat owners used rubber matting on ladder steps. He grants its efficiency, but says: "Neat rope mats, however, are not only just as efficient, but softer under foot, far more interesting, and bespeak a real welcome to the cabin below."

I got out my old copy of the book. I looked at the picture, but try as I might I could not get the knot started. Why I could weave a rope mat 30 years ago, but not now is... well... let's think about something more pleasant, shall we?

Rosella to the rescue

Our friend, Rosella from a few boats down, weaves rope mats. I know this because examples of her work are all over her boat. She's from Western Samoa and started weaving mats and other things when she was a child.

Rosella and Virginia weave rope mats for Oceanus' companionway steps.
She agreed to come to our boat and show us how it's done. She wove the first mat while Virginia knitted and watched. It took a few months to schedule another weaving session. When Rosella returned, she and Virginia wove the last two mats together. Rosella set up the pattern for both mats and then together they wove in the rest of the rope. This kind of activity encourages a lot of visiting and stories. It's the kind of activity that weaves communities together.

After Rosella left, Virginia and I tightened up the mats so they fit the steps. The edges of the mats come right to the edge of each step.
Rosella and Virginia talk story while weaving rope mats.

Once they were the size and shape we wanted I glued them down with white adhesive caulk. Each mat took an entire tube. It's a time consuming task too. You must make sure all the rope is glued down, especially around the edges. It takes time to mold and press the mats into the right shape and clean up the extra caulk that squeezes out as a result.

I installed the top mat three or four months ago. We are pleased with how well it's held up. It looks better with age. The 5/16ths nylon rope used to make the mats is tough and abrasion resistant. Best of all, it provides great traction and feels good when you step on it with bare feet.

Keeping them clean is less of a challenge than I anticipated. A quick vacuum usually does the trick. The steps are removable, so when they get really dirty I can take the steps on deck and give them a good scrub. If they really get ugly we could always paint them. I would hate to do that, however because we would lose some of the cushy feel.

Stripper pole love

The other part of safety around the companionway is having convenient and strong places to grab. A few months ago I installed a brass stripper pole near the companionway. Several visitors to the boat looked at me over their glasses when I point out this safety feature. "Every well-found yacht should have a stripper pole, right?" I said sheepishly.
A view of the weavers from the companionway shows the brass stripper pole.

Since everything aboard needs to serve at least two functions, I used the stripper pole as a leg to our new salon table. I lashed on an L-bracket on with net twine using a French hitch. Now, blessedly, it looks less like a stripper pole.

Two teak grab rails on either side of the companionway complete the safety upgrades.

Making Oceanus safe is a major goal during her refit. Projects to improve safely, like getting in and out of the cabin without falling, are a priority. I can't eliminate all possibilities of falls, but these are some obvious ways to mitigate the risk.

* For you ex-copy editors and researchers out there: I can't remember where I read this, but it stuck in my head. Anyone?