Avoiding falls and trips – Mr Salt offers sage advice to a canny youngster.

“Dad, Dad! Guess what?”


Hiram ‘Hy’ Tekk was under the galley sink, changing the filter cartridge of Quicksmart’s galley tap. When his son called, Tekk’s head flew up, knocking the cabinetry. “Ow!” “Dad, Mr. Salt showed me how to walk all around a boat with my eyes closed. It was cool!” “He what?” Tekk said. The sage at the end of the dock was at it again.

“Mr. Salt put a blindfold over my eyes. He put his hands on me and steered me all over his boat. I didn’t bump into a single thing! He said that everyone should know their boat blind.”

“He, huh?” said Tekk. The old guy tied a blindfold on my child, then put his hands on my child? Does this seem . . . creepy and weird?


“Mr. Salt said that on a boat you should move like a cat. With your feelers out. He means these,” Tommy explained, holding his bent arms forward and out from his torso, palms up and out, like antennae. “These are my cat whiskers. You know how cats go tearing through holes in bushes and under chairs and stuff, and they never lose their feet or hit their heads? That’s me now!” Tekk felt a kernel of nausea stirring. A slow burn of anger began to boil. Tommy was so innocent, so trusting. My son idolised D. Auld Salt. But was the old man . . . odd?

“Mr. Salt said that going barefoot is best, because your toes grip the floor and the deck, and you always know if your foot is on the edge of something, or if there’s a line or something slippery under your foot, and if your foot is wet or dry. When it gets cold you can put shoes on, but barefoot is best.”

“Mr. Salt said, ‘So you don’t tip over, keep your feet well located fore and aft and athwartships.’ I think he means, keep my feet spread apart, in front and behind, and keep them far apart to the sides. He made me bend my knees and stay low. Then he said, ‘Take the handhold like you mean it,’ and put my hand on a grab rail.”

Tekk felt the anger traveling up his body. His ears were red. His temples were hot.

“Mr. Salt said, ‘Now, I’m a wave, and I’m coming to get you! Are you ready?’ I said yes, and he grabbed my belt and pulled me right off the handhold. ‘If I was really a wave, you’d be thrown across the cabin or over the side of the boat. Let’s try it again. Take the handhold.’”

“I grabbed the handhold hard, and Mr. Salt grabbed my belt and pulled. I flew off again, but it took him two tries. He said, ‘That’s better. Now, take the handhold like you are hanging off the edge of a cliff.’”

Tekk, clenching and unclenching his fists, breathing hard, was silent.


“I grabbed the handhold really hard. Mr. Salt pulled and pulled but he couldn’t get me. ‘Now that’s a handhold!’ he said.”

“Dad?” Tommy said, tapping him. “Mr. Salt said that steps and ladders on a boat are like a tree or a jungle gym.”

All Tekk could think to say was, “Oh he did, did he?” “Yes. ‘Cause when you climb up or down a tree you use your arms and your legs, and you keep your face to the tree. Mr. Salt said, ‘Never turn your back on a ladder.’ He did one time, and he slipped really badly. His boat has a ladder, it’s five steps, and it goes into the cabin, and it’s really steep. He was going down the wrong way when he slipped and went bam, bam, bam, bam, bam all the way down on his bottom. He said, ‘It was a bad fall for an old bas, bas, um . . .”

“What did he say, Tommy?”

“He said, ‘It was a bad fall for an old bastard.’” “He said that? He said ‘bastard?’ And now, salty talk from the old salt. Tekk felt himself going numb.

Last week, Tekk had slipped. He was going down Quicksmart’s stern steps, feet close together and knees locked, when WHAM! Suddenly he was flat on his back. If they’d been underway, he would have tumbled overboard, but fortunately it happened in the marina. Luckily, he didn’t sprain anything. But his back hurt for days, and so did his head, where it had bounced on the fibreglass. He bought a package of safety tread to stick onto the steps. They’d help but would not guarantee that no one would suffer a bad fall there. The real problem was that he went down the steps backwards, without a handhold.

“Dad? Mr. Salt wanted me to ask you if it was OK if he showed me how not to go overboard or get thrown across the cabin. Is it OK, Dad?”


“He said that?” said Tekk, rubbing his face. “Yes, it’s OK. Everything is OK.”

“Oh!” said Tommy, “The other thing Mr. Salt said about his bastard fall was, ‘And I didn’t spill a single drop!’” BNZ