Archive for the ‘Safety and Emergencies’ Category

Sensible safety upgrades

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Many of you may have read about the near disaster of the yacht Rambler 100 when its keel dropped off shortly after rounding the Fastnet lighthouse in this year’s Fastnet yacht race.

The yacht promptly turned upside down. This led to two major problems.

The first was the liferafts became inaccessible. The second was that there was no back up emergency communication that the crew could use for contact with yachts nearby and/or rescuers.

The Australian yacht, Wild Oats XI, which will start in this year’s Hobart race on Boxing Day, has used the knowledge of Rambler 100 incident to improve several safety features on board at no great expense.

The paramount one is to shift the liferafts into the boat’s cockpit, which means that in the event of a capsize they could be launched through the stern.

The boat now carries two life jackets for every crew member, one standard and the other a light weight one to sleep in.

Aboard Wild Oats XI, which is favoured to get line honours in the race, is a light foam surfboard for use in rescuing anybody overboard.

Last and not least, the boat has a second high frequency radio after an incident during last year’s race in which the officials claimed the vessel had not radioed in at the start of its crossing of Bass Strait. An international jury dismissed a protest by the officials.

For those who wish to read either of the reports in full, click the relevant link:

* Wild Oats XI – safety refit
* Rambler 100 Capsize safety review

“We’d be better prepared”

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

I’ve just been reading an article about a couple who sailed from San Francisco to Oahu, Hawaii. The 2080 nm voyage really challenged them, for a number of reasons.

The first being that the skipper, Ray Schmahl, 58 was an experienced coastal and bay sailor but had never sailed in the open sea. His boat, You Never Know, a Baba 35 is, however, a good cruising boat – a double-ender with a full keel. 

As they left the Californian coast they saw one sailboat, then spent the next 25 days alone on the sea apart from a few freighters, thankfully in the distance. To ensure their safety, Ray or his partner, Catherine Zimney, 57 took turns on watch. But this led to them both becoming exhausted, only ever having four hours maximum for sleeping, plus change-over time, meals, etc.

For the first week there was no sunshine and they were relying on solar power to keep their batteries topped up. For my money, I’d want to have several ways and would install a wind generator. At the same time, it would be impractical to use the boat’s engine as you’d be unlikely to have sufficient fuel to do so.

As you’d expect during a voyage of this length, they also experienced a significant storm and were also becalmed for two days.

If you like, you can read the full story of their voyage.

A fortnight or so after their safe arrival in Oahu, Ray said: “I would do it again. We’d be better prepared and know more about how things work.” 

Skipper & Crew CD cover

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We have developed comprehensive checklists to  help you prepare for a voyage. You will find them in Skipper and Crew, Knots and The Language of the Sea.

Who takes over? – Tip #8

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

OK, so we know from our last newsletter that the skipper is responsible.

But how would your crew fare if you fell overboard, had a heart attack or were knocked out by the boom? These are just three of many scenarios that would prevent you from controlling your yacht.

Firstly, don’t assume “It will never happen to me!” – that approach is asking for trouble. We know, first hand, that these things do happen. And, how your crew react may mean the difference between life and death – yours.

As skipper, you need to:

1. Have nominated a second in command, who will take charge of the boat and crew. Your choice probably will depend on the size of your crew. With a small crew, nominate one as mate – each time you sail. A large crew, split into watches, will have two watch captains. One of these will do.

2. Ensure you give that person plenty of opportunities to run the boat for you, including man overboard drills, mooring and coming alongside.

3. Encourage your crew members to undertake first aid training– and keep your qualification up to date.

4. Have more than one person qualified to use the radio, particularly if going offshore. Mobile phones may work but should not be relied on. In any case they can reach only the number you ring – not a wide audience.

5. Your deputy has to be more than somebody you trust – the crew has to trust them too.

In both The Boating Bible Manual of Seamanship and our newsletters, we promote safety on the water.


1. Racing with a difference

In the last few weeks we’ve seen notices of races and sets of sailing instructions for several rather different events.

For example, the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club held the inaugural Hong Kong Nations’ Cup, contested by “anything from a Laser, through J80s and Hobies, up to Jelik” and catering for racers and cruisers.

But the fun is in the requirement that everybody on board had to be of the same nationality. However the rules governing ‘nationality’ are fairly broad, namely:

“A sailor qualifies as a national of a country if ANY of the following apply:
* The sailor was born in that country
* The sailor holds a valid passport of that country
* The sailor has the right of abode in that country (i.e., HK requires a Permanent HKID Card)
* The sailor has been normally resident in that country for at least 10 years at some stage in their life (for clarity, the 10 years need not be continuous)
* The sailor has represented that country at a major international event, for example the Olympics, the Rugby World Cup, the United Nations, or the Miss Universe pageant
* The sailor fluently speaks the language of that country
* The sailor can sing the national anthem of that country (in the native tongue)”

And the results? 58 boats competed, with 55 finishers. An English team led by Russ Parker won, from Jamie McWilliam (Ireland) and Warwick Downes (Australia) in a Flying Fifteen.

Other teams completing the course were from 17 different countries, while one of the boats that failed to finish claimed to represent Uranus. We wonder what his ‘passport’ was to race and under what flag!

Check out the whole story.

2. Old meets new

Before sailing from Sydney as skipper of HM Bark Endeavour, Captain Ross Mattson exchanged letters with NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavour, Captain Mark E. Kelly. The latter wrote: “…We are proud that our Space Shuttle shares its name with your sailing vessel and all that it represents.”

Part of HM Bark Endeavour’s mission on her current circumnavigation is to promote the Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships to be held in December. Ten Olympic class world titles will be contested, all of which are important qualifiers for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Endeavour has been chartered by the organisers of the Perth 2011 for 2-18 December. Event Director, John Langley is pleased to have her back in the West. He knows her well as he supervised her building in Fremantle in the early 1990s.

It will be quite a contrast between the go-fast modern skiffs and the sedate 18th century replica.

In their own words: GEORGE ELIOT

I would not creep along the coast but steer
Out in mid-sea, by guidance of the stars.

This couplet is sometimes, incorrectly, attributed to T.S. Eliot. The proof? It is the opening of chapter 44 of George Eliot’s Middlemarch.

George Eliot was the penname of Mary Ann Evans (1819-1880), who also wrote The Mill on the Floss and Silas Marner.

“You’re the skipper. You’re responsible.” – Tip of the Week #7

Monday, April 11th, 2011

What happened in San Diego recently really shocked us. Ten people boarded a yacht for a charity outing – a treat for a child with special needs. Seven were from one non-English-speaking family. In what followed, two from that family died.

Not long after setting off under motor, a couple ashore took a photo of the boat because it looked so unusual – badly weighed down in the stern.

With all the passengers crowded around him in the cockpit, the skipper unfurled the headsail. It then appears a gust or two of wind (and the wind wasn’t strong that day) was enough to flatten the boat, which immediately turned upside down.

Surrounding craft rushed to pull everyone out of the water. Sadly, though, two people could not be revived.

When asked, the skipper insisted that the water ballast had been filled and the swing keel fixed before setting out. He also claimed that the boat was not overloaded.

If we tell you that it was a MacGregor 26 and you look at the photo, there seem to be many reasons to doubt his word.

The skipper took responsibility for all 10 lives.

When we climb aboard our boat to go for a sail at the weekend, we don’t think of it as a matter of life and death. But, to quote the slogan of a recent NSW Maritime safety campaign:
“You’re the skipper. You’re responsible.”


1. An-Tiki has arrived!

After 66 days at sea the raft An-Tiki made land on 6 April. But not in the Bahamas as was originally planned.

Due to time constraints, the adventurers, led by 85 year old Anthony Smith, reached St Maarten, 2,500km south west of the Bahamas.

When we wrote about the voyage in January we had no idea whether the raft would cope with the wind and weather expected in an Atlantic crossing. In fact, 30 knots was the strongest wind recorded.

The UK Daily Telegraph has collected an interesting batch of statistics from the adventurers – e.g. seeing only eight ships during the voyage of 2,763 miles.

2. A weighty matter

It was interesting to read that the US Coast Guard has amended the Assumed Average Weight per Person (AAWPP) from 160lbs to 185lbs (72.5kg to 84kg). Accordingly, from 1 December 2011 passenger vessels must comply with new stability criteria based on the higher weight.

We can’t say whether this change in regulations would have made a difference to the sailboat accident in this week’s tip.

In Australia in recent months we’ve seen thin airline passengers complaining that they have to pay for ‘excess’ baggage. They want heavy people to pay more for their seats!

We haven’t been able to find what the AAWPP or equivalent is in Australia, but hope that it has been adjusted in line with the increasing waistlines of Australians.

In their own words: TRISTAN JONES

A small craft in an ocean is, or should be,
a benevolent dictatorship.

How true! But a great deal of what Tristan Jones wrote was actually created by his imagination!

For instance, Tristan Jones said he was born on 8 May 1924 on his father’s tramp steamer off Tristan da Cunha. In fact, he was born Arthur Jones in 1929 in Liverpool, England. But by blood he was a Welshman.

Having taught himself to sail in middle age, Tristan became a circumnavigator and a great storyteller. He sailed many miles single-handed, but not as many as claimed in his stories!

As well as reinventing his past, he embellished his adventures as his imagination dictated. Between 1977 and his death he wrote 16 books including The Incredible Journey and Saga of a Wayward Sailor.

Tristan died on 21 June 1995 in Thailand.

Some fans have set up a website in his memory.

First Aid Kit for Sailors – Tip of the Week #4

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Having regulations is not always a bad thing. To gain a sailing qualification, you’re required to hold a current Senior First Aid certificate. If you’re racing skipper, you must equip your yacht with a first aid kit. Each racing category, 0-7, has its own detailed list of contents.

If you’re a weekend cruiser, you are not governed by these rules. But you should be aware that accidents are just as likely to happen on your boat as on a racing one.

We’ve always carried a ‘ready box’ of bandaids, sunscreen, etc. in addition to the official first aid kit. This means that we only have to access the ‘official kit’ occasionally. So keeping it fully stocked is less of a problem.

Keeping a first aid kit up to date, however, can be expensive. But it’s important to be able to administer the correct treatment when it’s required.

Keep safe!


1. Correction – Chris Lewin owns another Challenge

The yacht that Jessica Watson will skipper in this year’s Sydney-Hobart  Yacht Race is owned by Chris Lewin.

Chris has achieved good results with the boat in the Sydney 38 division,  coming third in 2004 and second in 2010. Let’s hope Jessica can go one better!

The crew have already started training together. You can read more about them.

Thanks to Mike O’Reilly for pointing out our error.

2. Beautiful yachts

It seems that J Class yachts are making a comeback! The J Class Association was formed in 2000 to modernise the design rules.

Sail magazine reports that there’s a J Class regatta planned for Cowes in the lead up to the Olympics next year. Won’t that be a great sight?

3. Respect for the sea

The devastation caused by the tsunami in Japan has shocked the world. Its effects will be felt for years to come. It serves as a reminder that we must all respect the sea.

National Geographic has before and after photos of tsunami-affected Japan. If you have a scroll-button on your mouse you can zoom in and out to see more detail.

And a BBC video link of when the tsunami hit, showing substantial fishing boats being pulled from their moorings and demolished under a bridge upstream.

In their own words: HAL ROTH

Long ocean passages usually don’t require engines;
it’s the ports and headlands at each end that may
demand some expert sailing.

And isn’t that the truth? How often do we hear of single-handers relaxing, catching up on sleep because they’re close to the end of the voyage and/or back in familiar surroundings? But it shouldn’t surprise us – research shows that most car accidents occur close to home.

In the early 1960s, Hal Roth (1927-2008) and his wife Margaret cruised the Pacific aboard their yacht, Whisper, a 35 ft sloop. Prior to setting sail, Hal had worked as a journalist, good training for authorship.

McGraw-Hill republished the story of that voyage, his first sailing book, Two on the Big Ocean in The Hal Roth Seafaring Trilogy. This compendium was released in 2005 and includes Two Against Cape Horn and The Longest Race. These books have inspired a generation of cruisers.

Not just a cruiser, Hal competed in Class 2 (40-50 ft) of the 1986 BOC Challenge (now the Velux 5 Oceans, i.e. single-handed) and finished fourth in a field of 14 in 171 days.

Hal’s final book, Handling Storms at Sea: The 5 Secrets of Heavy Weather Sailing was published just after his death.

Read more about Hal Roth, a remarkable man.

Surviving Falling Overboard – Tip of the Week #2

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Do you have a way of getting back onto your boat if you were to fall off it? If not, you may want to remedy this when you read what happened to a 57 year old man in Alaska.

The Petersburg Pilot described how a man got himself rescued recently. But he is very lucky to be alive.

The man had had three beers earlier in the day. This, he believed, slowed his reactions because he would otherwise have grabbed at the boat or its rigging as he fell.

He fell in head first, rather like diving. Needless to say, Alaskan waters in February are cold. The immersion would have taken his breath away.

[Ann once sat in a sauna and then dived into a lake in Finland in May and experienced this.]

The beers plus the depth and darkness of the water plus the effect of the cold made it difficult for him to know which way to swim to get to the surface. His brain kicked in and he blew out some air and watched the bubbles.

He would have been surprised and shocked to find that he was 30 ft from where he fell off his boat. His underwater panic and confusion after his fall sent him a long way.

His first attempt to pull himself out of the water failed. The hose he grabbed wasn’t attached to a tap. It was a good idea that didn’t work.

Recognising he was losing energy and body temperature he got himself back to his boat and tried to climb out with the help of the mooring lines. That pulled the boat to the dock and almost crushed him.

He had removed his boat’s swimming step and taken it home to refurbish it so his normal method of getting back onto his boat was not there.

He then hooked one arm around a cleat so that he wouldn’t fall back underwater and yelled for help. It took a while for people to find source of the voice because he was below the level of the jetty.

He was pulled from the water and attended by emergency workers who had been at a training session nearby. After a few hours in hospital, his body temperature was restored and was allowed to leave.

He then returned to the marina and climbed aboard his boat where he was staying overnight. On arrival, the first thing he did was rig a rope step.

Next day he recommended that everyone should have a method of getting out of the water. Swimming ashore is not always an option.

Be warned!


1. Ownership of error

“A navigational error caused them to run aground.”

How often have you read this statement, or variations on it? It’s as though the vessel has deliberately run itself aground.

Could it possibly be that human error is the real reason?

2. How loggerhead turtles navigate

Most of us have marvelled at the migration of birds, whales and other sea life.

Nature programs show us mother turtles coming ashore, laying eggs and then leaving. The hatchlings then emerge and scamper down to the water, only to return years later to lay their own eggs in the same spot.

Now researchers have worked out how loggerhead turtles navigate. As Science Daily put it:

The loggerheads’ secret is that they rely not on a single feature of the magnetic field, but on a combination of two: the angle at which the magnetic field lines intersect Earth (a parameter known as inclination) and the strength of the magnetic field.
Continue reading the loggerhead turtle story…

If mankind had this innate ability we wouldn’t have to rely on either traditional or GPS navigation!


A ship is always referred to as ‘she’ because
it costs so much to keep her in paint and powder.

Chester William Nimitz, (24 February 1885 – 20 February 1966) was a five-star admiral in the United States Navy.

He was appointed Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet in December 1941, just days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. 

Nimitz spent the rest of the war in the Pacific and signed for the United States when Japan formally surrendered on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

As well as numerous military US awards, Nimitz received the Légion d’honneur and recognition from 11 other countries.

Although he retired from the position of Chief of Naval Operations in 1947, his earlier appointment as Fleet Admiral meant that he remained on ‘active service’, with full pay and benefits for the rest of his life. His naval career, thus, lasted 65 years.

That’s all for now, but please feel free to leave a comment.

© 2011 Bevanda Pty Ltd

Dangerous diesel – Tip of the Week #1

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

The UK has been confronted with an EU directive to lower the sulphur content of its diesel from 1,000 parts per million to only 10 parts per million. Additives are being mixed in to restore the lubricating effect of the sulphur.

So what is the UK Cruising Association concerned about? A bio-fuel called Fatty Acid Methyl Ester (FAME), when added to diesel, can have a destructive effect on marine engines and dramatically shorten the storage life of the fuel.

Although the Federation of Petroleum Suppliers (UK) says that FAME will not be added to diesel to be supplied to marinas, the Cruising Association recommends that everyone ask their diesel supplier:

  • What is the age of the fuel and its sulphur content?
  • Does the diesel contain FAME?

In the USA there’s been a long campaign against increasing the ethanol content of petrol from 10 to 15 per cent. So boat owners need to be careful where they source their fuel.

Here in Australia service station pumps clearly state that using petrol with 10 per cent ethanol is harmful to outboard motors. Its use can cause performance problems and permanent damage to the motor, fuel tank and fuel lines.

So, be warned!


1. Inspiration for Moby Dick

US marine archaeologists have discovered the wreck of the Two Brothers, a whaling ship captained by George Pollard. His previous ship, The Essex, had been the inspiration for Herman Melville’s novel – it was rammed by a sperm whale and sank.

The Two Brothers was found off Hawaii, where it had hit a coral reef in 1823.

“To find the physical remains of something that seems to have been lost to time is pretty amazing,” said Nathaniel Philbrick.

He has researched both ships and their captain, a native of his home, Nantucket, and written a book, In the Heart of the Sea: The tragedy of the whaling ship Essex. Nathaniel’s other books include Mayflower and Sea of Glory.

2. Pinchgut looked small

When the two queens – Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth – came into Sydney harbour the other day they made Pinchgut/Fort Denison look tiny.

QM2 was due to visit Lyttleton, NZ – at the epicentre of this week’s earthquakes – when she left Sydney. She has been re-routed to Wellington, due on Saturday.

3. Wooden boat heaven

In this month’s Afloat Bruce Stannard reports on Hobart’s Wooden Boat Festival. If you like wooden boats, it’s worth a read, Wooden Boat Heaven.

By the way, if you live outside Afloat’s circulation area, this ‘Priceless’ magazine is available by free subscription. Each month you’ll receive an email with links to the feature stories and all sections of the magazine.


I had to slow the boat down she was going so fast. It sounds funny that I would be trying to slow the boat down in a yacht race but it’s all about getting that balance between speed and safety.

Going too quickly can get very dangerous very quickly and we are not in a place where you can afford for anything to go wrong.

So said Canadian Velux 5 Oceans competitor, Derek Hatfield, after he had been woken by the humming of the keel of his yacht, Active House. Pulling on his wet weather gear and hurrying on deck, Derek found his yacht was screaming along at 21 knots in a 35 knot wind.

Derek was near Point Nemo in the Southern Ocean. It’s the place on Earth most remote from land.

The ‘we’ he was referring to is himself and his yacht – which is common among solo sailors.

That’s all for now, but please feel free to leave a comment.

© 2011 Bevanda Pty Ltd

Satellite phone vs HF radio

Friday, January 21st, 2011

The skipper of the line honours winner of the recent Sydney-Hobart yacht race believes that the race’s officials should “move with the times” and accept communications by satellite phone as standard. But how can race officials be expected to handle calls for 80 or more yachts?

Two of my recent newsletters have discussed why I believe that HF radio communications should continue to be used in offshore yacht racing:

1. Communication on the water – or is it?

2. More on satellite phones

What do you think? Please join the debate by leaving your comments.