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PBO 691

ESCAPE BY YOUR SHELF – text only version (please see photo of the printed article for pictures)

I believe that all of us, including the yacht designers, consider that a hatch is not just for ventilation, but also a means of escape both in emergency and as a convenience. A fire being the most serious scenario.
Last year, I handed over the aft master suite of my ship to my son and his partner. My son had previously enjoyed bouncing out of the front cabin quarters through the hatch using the well placed ledge half way up the main bulkhead as designed by Moody so you can get up high enough through the hatch.

He looked around the aft cabin and said, “where’s the step for getting out of the hatch?” No step. “Ah”, I calmly explained, “the ceiling is a lot lower, so it is not needed”. I swung back the hatch and demonstrated the ease of which one can stand on the berth and just…. Hmmm, ahh.. phfff. Well, I did get through but only as I am a climber and visualised a squeeze top-off at 24 metres that I had managed at Sennen Cove some years earlier. It was annoyingly almost ok, but not quite at my 5’10” stature. And not at all for less flexible or shorter occupants. At over 6’ height and lean, Sam managed fine.

So, with a teak offcut, I formed a little ledge to double as a step and as a shelf for a coffee cup, but ended up being used mostly for an LED candle (excellent for boats!). I bolted the step through to the ensuite for ultimate strength and later covered up the nuts with a bathroom ‘tidy’ made from scrap wood. The step worked just fine for all and I was in the good books from my partner for the ‘tidy’. Note the handy place for the fire-stick extinguisher.

Let’s hope that the step is only used for convenience, not emergency! Which fits with my motto, ‘Plan for the worst, expect the best’.

…and for a different escape…

Last autumn, on a chilly night, I found myself swinging our modest laptop around the aft cabin trying to find that sweet-spot for viewing. Hmmm. Screen too small on the opposite shelf, too squiffy on the narrow side shelf. We ended up with it on my lap and I was ordered not to fidget – at all! So, we watched a film and I got acute cramp.

I started to eye up the candle shelf /escape ‘ledge’. Albeit only being about 2” deep at the most.
In 2014, PBO published an article by me (PBO 576) on making a shelf that I could use as a jury rudder for my previous boat and that also served as a locker door. The then editor or one of her clever team had wittily entitled it ‘Steer by your shelf’. I cant take any credit for that great title. Though, clearly I am a shelf-man.

So, staring at the little teak step, what was required was a temporary detachable shelf that would extend the little ledge. My laptop is a simple notebook style (a choice to keep power consumption low and weight low for carrying to and from the boat. It has no DVD drive, so I have a standalone USB powered DVD player. Hence the lower second shelf to house the DVD player underneath. A double shelf! Oh my, I am totally outshelving myself. (Note for next Scrabble Wordbook compilers.)

I used nuts and bolts instead of considered dowel pillars so that I could adjust it as a prototype, but the first set-up was right and I like the look, so it stayed this way.

Using the rule of less is more, I attached a thin strip of dark hardwood above the foot-ledge screwed into the wall allowing enough clearance for the depth of plywood, about 4mm. The plywood wedges tightly into the new recess. The weight of the new shelf and anything on it levers on the forward edge of the step-ledge and is held down by the hardwood strip. No fixings required!

The double shelf is easily stowed down the side of the wardrobe locker.

It cost next to nothing from existing ‘stuff’ in the ships stores which vindicates my membership of the ‘it may be useful one day’ association, which offers an automatic enrolment for all PBO readers.

But seriously, get all your crew to try getting out of your hatches unassisted. You may have your hands full and not be able to help them immediately. I wish you all happy escapes of both varieties.