Saturday, January 19, 2019

So What's in Your Ditchbag?

We were two hours into a deep sleep when the fire alarm woke us. If you've never lived in an apartment before, there's simply no way to describe the brain-splitting volume of the alarms in the old St. Louis buildings. It took us a moment to even realize what it was since we were so dead to the world and, not seeing or smelling any smoke, we took the time to dress and put coats on. It's incredibly cold in St. Louis right now and standing on the street corner in my jammies just wasn't all that appealing.

Peering into the hallway, we still didn't see any smoke and only smelled the remnants of someones's cigar nearby. We made our way down the ten flights of stairs, only meeting one other family along the way. In the lobby there were maybe thirty or forty people milling about while the firemen checked the alarm panel. Within ten minutes we were given the all clear to return to our apartments.

The experience was weird for me after living on a boat for so long. On a boat, any alarm demands instant reaction, and any emergency is almost certainly life-threatening. Here, in a building with at least 150 apartments and probably 200-400 residents, only 30-40 people even paid any attention to the alarm. While we were waiting on the fire department to clear the building, I chatted with a couple of our neighbors. I was told that it happens on a fairly regular basis, the last one being six months ago which surely has resulted in alarm fatigue. My one neighbor told me that he always comes down now because the last one involved a fire in the dumpster that had traveled up the trash chute at the end of the building. He said it was a serious fire that could have become catastrophic quickly, so he now responds to every alarm.

After returning to our apartment, we talked a little about it all and I mused that maybe we needed an apartment ditch bag, one with our passports, jewelery, and space to throw our wallets, phones, iPads, Captain's licenses, and my treasured framed 4-leaf clover set that my daughter gave me. It's definitely easier to think about dealing with losing everything when you're parked on land and can walk to your daughter's house. Quite a bit different from having to jump into the water with what you have on to avoid a boat fire. Yet, even here, I can't pull myself away from the well established habits of the boat. Whether you live on a boat, or have returned to land, the mindfulness you learn while cruising is truly a great thing.

The photo above just a few hundred yards from our mooring at Dinner Key is the fire that caused me to put together our first ditch bag on Kintala, although it's developed over the years. My apartment ditch bag will be much smaller than the one we used on Kintala, just a small bag with a few things that are sentimentally irreplaceable to me. The ditch bag on Kintala was one of survival, and that for an unknown time span. Since I've been asked for the contents list before, I thought it would be an appropriate time to post it here. So what's in your ditch bag?

  • First aid kit - ours is actually a separate whole duffle-sized bag that is bright orange. I spent a long time assembling a good-quality first aid kit with seasick meds, prescriptions including antibiotics, a blood pressure reader, surgical wound closures, etc.
  • Portable VHF
  • Portable receive only SSB and 2 extra sets of batteries
  • Multiple space blankets
  • MREs for a week for the two of us
  • 8 quarts of water (yes, I know it's not enough but we wouldn't be able to lift the bag with adequate water. We would have to collect water with space blankets)
  • Flares
  • Distress flag
  • Signal mirror
  • 3 knives
  • Multi-tool
  • Small fishing kit
  • 2 inflatable pillows
  • Wind-up flashlight
  • Wind-up AM/FM radio
  • My prescription
  • 2 books
  • Pencils
  • Waterproof paper
  • Package of ginger candy
  • Extra pair of glasses and sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Patch kit
  • Superglue
  • Several pieces of rope
  • Bailing Cup
  • Passports
  • Boat documentation and insurance paperwork
  • Room to put our last minute items in: cell phones, our Delorme InReach satellite communicator and the EPIRB and, of course, my treasured four-leaf clovers.

1 comment:

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

That's a lot of stuff! I'm small (20ft) centerboard boat sailor in coastal waters, so no ditchbag. If it starts getting hairy, I clip my tether to an eyebolt, and clip my little vhf radio and my cell phone in its waterproof box to my life jacket. Wallet in back pocket. My main worry is capsize and lee shores. I spose my wooden boat could burn, but I have no motor. With eight semi-tight lockers totaling about 24ft3 of volume, I'm unlikely to sink even if seriously holed. No lifeboat, of course, and my tender is a little plastic kayak.

Nice to think about getting back on the water when your kitty is in better shape.