A cycling helmet saved my bacon. Could this man's invention make sailing safer?
A helmet saved me the weekend before last.
If it didn’t save my life – and quite possibly
it did – it definitely saved me from a serious head injury and very likely a
brain injury. Most people don’t make a 100% recovery from a brain injury.
I took a major hit while cycling, but more of
that in a bit.
Helmets are so well adopted by cyclists and
horseriders that it seems slightly shocking to see someone riding bareheaded.
They are fast becoming accepted in other high
risk sports, such as skiing, and are beginning to be seen in sailing. Think of
the Extreme 40 circuit, or the new America’s Cup AC45s: everyone has to wear a
helmet to protect themselves on these fast-paced, capsize-prone multihulls.
There’s a good argument for wearing a helmet on
a smaller boat as well. According to the Coastguard and RNLI, being hit by the
boom is one of the most frequent causes of injuries on board.
The problem with wearing a helmet, though, is
that in normal civilian sailing circles no-one else does. Let’s face it, if you
turned out for weekend racing looking like Wallace from Wallace & Gromit
you’d get some funny looks.
One sailor has come up with a great answer.
This is Tom Tait (pictured above), and he has produced a sailing helmet that
looks like a yachting cap.
Tom is a remarkable man. Where to start? I met
him at Cowes Week this summer, when he was racing X One-Designs.
Tom was Cowes Week’s oldest competitor at the
age of 90, and on the day we talked he had finished 40-something out of a fleet
of 145 XODs. He has, mind you, had plenty of practice: he bought his first X
boat in 1927 when it was a relatively new-fangled design just 16 years old.
Seeing the value of head protection, Tom has
gone back into business with the SafaSail Cap, which he is marketing through
Nauticalia. There are two versions, one that looks like a standard peaked
yachting cap, and another with a narrow peak that makes it easier to see
telltales and mastheaad wind indicator.
The caps conform to EU standard EN812 – the
same as construction site bump caps (though not as impact resistant as the
standard for cycling helmets).
I think the SafaSail cap is a great idea as it
looks very inconspicuous. I will definitely be using one because the boom of
our little boat comes right down to forehead height when the flattener’s out.
As for the value of helmets generally, my brush
with doom has transformed me into an evangelist. While riding in rather too
close formation with some friends down a hill my handlebars flicked over and I
hit the road sideways. I didn’t even get a hand out it was so quick. We had
been doing 20-22mph and my head and right side hit so hard I bounced up and
walloped down again on the left side.
The polystyrene foam of my helmet compressed
and cracked front and back, and there are some scary point impacts in the
plastic outer cover. If I hadn’t been wearing it, I doubt I would be writing
this today, or perhaps any day.
Or rather pecking it out with one finger of my
left hand because other parts of the body didn’t fare quite so well. I blew out
shoulder ligaments so this blog will be lying slightly fallow until a nice
surgeon pegs the washing back on the line.
But anyway… point is, have a look at the
Safasail cap. And if you are cycling, even if you’re only popping down to the
shops, please, please wear a helmet. Everything else can be mended, but the
head – not so much.