Look up in the sky. It's a bird, it's a plane, no, it's Spreaderman.
Don't think I'm confused. It's definitely not Superman or Spiderman up
in the rigging. It's Spreaderman standing on our mast spreaders
guiding us through the coral reef as we sail the turquoise waters of Coral
World. Whenever we do shallow water sailing, we always put out a call
to Spreaderman to keep us out of trouble.
This is what Spreaderman is looking for when we come into an anchorage.
He wants turquoise water in all directions as far as his eye can see.
As long as the water is totally turquoise, there will be no rocks or reefs
to ruin our day. This anchorage in Conception Island in the Bahamas
has scattered coral heads that could punch a hole in our hull if we don't
pay attention to where we are sailing as we approach the island. The
water between the two sailboats in this picture is between eight and fifteen
feet deep, and there are no brown coral heads in sight.
This water is four to five feet deep over a white sand bottom. When I
anchor in water like this, words like paradise start popping into my mind.
When Spreaderman looks down, he is checking the color of the water; dark
brownish patches are rocks or reefs, greenish patches are sea grass, and
turquoise is sandy seabed. Isolated patches of coral are called coral
heads or "bommies". On the right side of this picture, you are in
paradise, and on the left side you are in purgatory or worse. If you
run into this reef day or night, it could be the end of your voyage.
You can't see coral reefs when the sun is directly in front of you.
The reflected sunlight blinds you to the presence of dangerous reefs.
That's why you only enter tropical anchorages with the sun high overhead or
behind you. Thousands of boats have been lost when they sailed
directly onto a reef they couldn't see because the sun was in front of them.
If this what Spreaderman sees from his perch on the mast, something has gone
badly wrong. The yacht is surrounded by coral heads, and it's time to
back up, slowly and straight, to avoid disaster.
We stand on the spreaders rather than using a true crow's
nest on the mast. We got an estimate in Australia to see how much it
would cost to construct a real crow's nest, and they reckoned it would
require about a thousand dollars to fabricate and install one.
That's big money to spend on an item that will only be used when navigating
in coral. That's why we use our spreaders as our poor man's crow's
I installed fold-out mast steps all the way to the top of my fifty foot
mast. Those steps are the stairway used by Spreaderman as he navigates
Exit Only through coral in the Bahamas, Caribbean, and South Pacific.
When it's time to go aloft for a look, Spreaderman folds out the mast steps
and climbs to the first set of spreaders one-third of the way up the mast.
From twenty-five feet above the water, it easier to detect coral reefs and
bommies that lie dead ahead. His elevated point of view prevents Exit
Only from getting boxed into coral traps.
When you anchor among coral heads, you need to look
around your boat for 360 degrees to make sure there are no bommies that
could cause a problem if you drag anchor or if the the wind or tide shifts
during the night. When it's pitch black on a moonless night, there's
no way to tell the location of the coral heads. Coral reefs don't
move, but boats drag anchor and swing their position with changes in wind
and tide, and prudent mariners make sure there are no threatening coral
heads in the vicinity of where they drop their anchor.
When you make a mistake, God forgives you, but coral does
not. Coral punishes you relentlessly for every mistake you make, and
it punishes you in the middle of the night during your time of greatest
So what do you do when you anchor in coral? Call Spreaderman, and let
him take the worry out of Coral World. After all, there's nothing more
beautiful than putting your anchor down in six feet of crystal clear
turquoise water, and when Spreaderman makes sure you're not near any coral
heads, you know beyond all doubt that life is good.