On a previous tall ship journey I was awarded “minus sixty salty points” by a seasoned sailor for wearing a glove on one hand. On that trip I developed a healthy aversion to anything ‘yaughty’ – thrilled by the experience of sailing under square sails and without such preposterous inventions like winches and epoxied laminate. Hoisting a rag takes six people jerking simultaneously whilst singing a shanty and the final stretch requires a handy Billy.
The glove wasn’t optional, though. “Oh, you got a hand hole,” my saline administrator said sympathetically. It had only cost me a few days to tear open the skin of my brittle hands on the many ropes on board. Blisters, they hurt man. I quickly smarted up though, despite the salty points being continuously subtracted from my account – I doubt I will ever manage to recover from that deficit. So here’s a golden tip for anyone stepping on board for the first time. It’s something I only realised needs attention quickly after I embarked on Tres Hombres, once my nautical motor skills were reactivated: be extra careful when coiling.
As long as rope doesn’t slip through your hands, it won’t peel your skin. Usually, when it does slip, for example when you’re hauling with everything you’ve got, you see the problem as soon as you can. It’s in those unattended moments, without a lot of strain on the rope, that you might grate your hands ever so slightly with devastating effects in the end. Even if you don’t geek out on a perfectly coiled and secured brace or halyard, like some of us do, you’ll be coiling a lot. The trick is to simply grab the next stretch of the rope, instead of pulling it through your palm or fingers.
Out of the numerous physical feats my recent months at sea yielded, I think I was proudest of my hands. You can always grow a beard. And sure I wouldn’t have been this bronzed, wouldn’t have rocked this natural coupe du soleil as hard if I hadn’t defied West Europe’s coastal waters this summer. But the hands of a sailor: you can’t fake those, baby. There’s something quite satisfying about hitting your bunk at the end of a shift and realising you can’t fold your fingers in all the way anymore.
“Plus ten salty points.”
And to my surprise people on land noticed. Once they were done swooning over the deep earnest marine wisdom in my eyes and unseasonable sun-toasted exterior, they grabbed my arm and planted their faces in that weathered patch of leather and purred softly. I’m only slightly exaggerating here.
But damn does it wear off quickly. A virtual keyboard on a tablet and an ergonomically shaped steering wheel just don’t quite rub off the same way. And as the resilient layers from my hands have started peeling, so has my confidence. My firm handshakes do not yield the same respect anymore. I do not detect that same shiver when I touch someone in a sensitive area during a romantic encounter.