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MOB at the Star North Americans
Team McLube



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Sep 22, 2009, 2:32 PM

Post #1 of 39 (89610 views)
MOB at the Star North Americans Log-In to Post/Reply

My thoughts on the second race of the day of the 2009 Star Class North American Championship held off Westport, Ct on Sept 16, 2009

I am writing this out of concern for all sailors, competing in regattas, who may end up concerned for their safety and ultimately their lives.

Having nearly drowned in the second race of the day on Sept 16, 2009, I need to address these concerns immediately.

In my case, the sailing instructions stated that safety of the boat and her entire management was the sole responsibility of the owner/entrant. This is not acceptable.

We need to know that there are backup systems in place in case of a life threatening emergency.

Based on my experience we need Ė in the race instructions- telephone numbers and VHF numbers to call in case of said emergencies. They should include a link to the race committee boat, a link to the yacht club, a reminder that 911 can be called, channel 16 on the VHF can bring help and coast guard numbers. The race committee boat should have on board a safety person, whose main purpose is to monitor the cell phone numbers given out to the entrants as well as the VHF channel . The race committee should advise local marine police of the event, how many entrants and any other information that the marine police need to provide safety for the event.

So now on to my thoughts about the race.

The second race began after several aborted starts. The wind was about 20 knots with 4-8 ft seas and a dark sky. The windward leg was 1.7 miles and was a long wet leg. We rounded the windward mark and had a bit of a problem with the main sheet being tangled. I let out the main, set the vang and we started to go downwind. I noticed that the boat seemed more unstable than during the last downwind legs in the first race. I noticed that the main was too far forward and told Mike (My crew of many years) that we needed to pull in the main so as to stabilize the boat. Before we could do that, the boat rolled down a wave and broached. Mike hung on, but I slid down the side of the deck into the water and since the boat was still moving at a good speed, I was pulled into the water.

So there I was in heavy seas with my boat still going downwind. I immediately pulled on my trigger for the inflatable vest, so that it would inflate. However it did not inflate. I also forgot that there is a backup tube with which to manually inflate the vest. So I was in the water with no usable life vest. I was able to keep my head above the water but just barely. At every crest I looked around to see any boats. I only saw Mike trying to sail back upwind to me and he did reach me, but I could not hang on or get into the boat. Mike then grabbed our VHF and tried to call the RC, but to no avail. They did not answer. He asked me to verify what channel they were on and I said 78. I should have also told him to issue a May Day on channel 16 but that did not enter my mind.

The boat was extremely difficult to control, the main sail was completely torn and eventually it drifted away. I could see Mike, but he had idea where I was. I watched the fleet go downwind and then eventually the fleet passed me on their upwind leg to the windward mark.

At about that time I noticed a dismasted Star not too far from me and started to yell. It took a few minutes for them to realize I was in the water. After another minute or so they tried to throw a life vest to me, but it came right back to them. I yelled at them that I was not in good shape. The dismasted boat started to go downwind from me and I thought my life was about over. After several minutes I observed a person swimming with a life vest to me from the dismasted Star. I guess it took about 10 min for him to swim against the sea to me. I was very tired and spent at that time and told him that.

Kevin Elterman(from the dismasted boat) got to me and gave me the spare life preserver, which I placed under my arm and had my other hand on his shoulder to give me some support on that side.

The two of us spoke a bit and kept our heads downwind, so the water from the waves would not enter our mouths. Kevin raised his other hand in the air to attract any passing boats. He had a yellow slicker on which sure helped. Eventually a passing Canadian coach boat noticed Kevinís hand and was shocked to see two persons in the water. We got aboard and the coach boat brought me over to the RC boat. At that point I had been in the water for about 45 minutes.

I stayed on the RC boat (about 1 hour) while they finished the race, picked up the marks and came to the club. I was very cold and wet. After about 10-15 min on the RC boat, some of the persons on the RC boat gave me their dry clothes and a blanket they found on the RC boat. I came ashore and they took me to the shower to warm up. After several minutes in a hot shower I felt OK. Mike gave me some of my dry clothes from my car and I went upstairs for the Mid-Week awards dinner where my wife, Pam, was doing a Caribbean Rum party. We talked for a while about my experience.

Fortunately I live to tell the tale, but it could be life or death the next time.

Lessons learned for me

1) Always check the inflatable life preservers. I usually am very anal about safety equipment, but I sure did miss on the vest
2) Have a list of things to do for your crew in the event of an emergency.
a) Call the RC on the VHF number they give you, if you cannot reach them call 16 and issue a May Day
b) Call the club and/or RC boat on the phone number they give.
3) Carry a VHF portable ( I have for years)
4) Carry a cell phone (I usually do but that day the battery was dead)
5) Ask the RC boat for cell numbers, VHF numbers if they do not give it to you.

Lessons learned for the RC Boat/Race Organizers/National Organizers

Provide Cell numbers for entrants to call
Provide VHF numbers for entrants to call the RC Boat
Have a safety person on the RC boat, whose main function is to monitor the cell phone and VHF for incoming calls
Consider the use of portable VHF devices to give/receive information about a race. i.e. It could be used to inform entrants that they have been disqualified and entrants to inform the RC that they are leaving the race and going in. There is no reason not to have entrants carry a VHF device and a cell phone onboard. They are cheap, light and provide lots of backup safety.
Allow all boats on or near the course to provide help and give them Cell and VHF numbers to provide help
Any person who has hypothermia needs to go ashore to warm up or get medical attention
Non-medical persons including the entrant should not be making medical decisions after an emergency. Medical attention should be obtained as quickly as possible.

Fortunately for me luck was on my side and Kevin broke his mast upwind of me and we eventually connected. Otherwise I would not be writing this.

Thorsten Cook
Star 7959
Hull 60 in the regatta

Frederic Berg

Sep 24, 2009, 4:56 AM

Post #2 of 39 (89496 views)
Re: [Curmudgeon] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

The heading is unequivocal - not acceptable.

It is not acceptable for the Race Authority to take on ANY liability for the safety of the yacht and crew of race participants. To require the Race Authority to take on any liability will lead to fewer and fewer organized venues for sailing resulting in diminished participation in the sport in all but the very high end and professional events. Local and regional club racing would all but disappear in our litigious society.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Cook went through this very life threatening experience and I am sure I am not the only one to empathize with him for his struggles. However, this is not a reason to simply wipe out local and regional sailing as we all struggle to promote and organize now.

I have personally been in life threatening situations while enjoying our beloved sport. Never would I have considered anything other than educate others from the experience, certainly not attempt to curtail the sport for millions of fellow enthusiasts!

Tim Whitford

Sep 24, 2009, 5:03 AM

Post #3 of 39 (89484 views)
Re: [Frederic Berg] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

In reply to Thorsten Crooks letter re the Star Class regatta. The rules clearly state whose responsibility it is to race or continue racing. Take some bloody responsibility and suffer the consequences of you own decisions! Stop expecting the planet to come out and save you when you make a bad decision.

Larry Parrotta

Sep 24, 2009, 5:08 AM

Post #4 of 39 (89476 views)
Re: [Curmudgeon] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Mr Cook had the option of not sailing that day as many of the competitors didn't. Participation in the boats/regatta is voluntary. The Class rules do not allow electronics on the boats except for a compass. The boats don't sink, positive flotation is required by Class rules. Class rules also require life jackets aboard the boat. Whether you wear them or not is your choice. Get real.

Jim Champ

Sep 24, 2009, 5:11 AM

Post #5 of 39 (89467 views)
Re: [Larry Parrotta] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

This is completely acceptable, and is the only way in which volunteer run sailing events will be able to continue. You chose to sail with inadequate safety equipment that you didn't know how to use: no-one else forced you. Your recommendations about VHF, cell phones etc are completely valuelesss for the vast majority of single and two handed unballasted craft in which such things are impractical to carry or use.

Events do run patrol boats, and they have a valuable role to play and save lives, but they cannot be everywhere and cannot be depended on. The sea is a very big place if you are separated from your craft - its happened to me and I know it. In nearly forty years of sailing there have been two fatalities at clubs I have been associated with, albeit caused by medical problems, not by drowning, and I have been involved in a very close call sailing a boat on my own, and another with a crew member, both involving entrapment in non self righting craft. I do not lightly dismiss the dangers, and I think deeply about how to reduce them.

Sailing is not a very dangerous sport compared to say mountain climbing or motor racing, but the dangers are there. We had a high profile incident in the UK this summer where there were two fatailities which, unlike your incident, were not attributable to inadequate preparation on the part of the causalties, and there will be others. If next time its me, well so be it. That is better than the destruction of the sport I love in regulation - and make no mistake: that is the route your proposals for the responsibility to be taken from the competitor would lead. I would never man a patrol boat under such circumstances, surely nor would any other sane person.

Jim Champ

Eric J. Schou

Sep 24, 2009, 5:19 AM

Post #6 of 39 (89458 views)
Re: [Jim Champ] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Having grown up on San Francisco Bay seeing wind speeds of upwards of 25 knots on a regular basis I believe it is the responsibility of the skipper to decide whether to race or withdraw. Only he or she knows what shape his or her boat is in and whether to continue or even start the race. After all we are on the water, not a football field, and as we all know our field of play can be dangerous. To belittle the race committee or their back up crew is trying to put blame on them for a serious event sounds like Obama, as if we are not responsible for our own actions. Nice try buddy, if you can't make a decision to protect yourself and your crew it is your responsibility, not the race committees. - Eric J. Schou


Sep 24, 2009, 5:39 AM

Post #7 of 39 (89427 views)
Re: [Curmudgeon] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Mr. Cook-

Your PFD should also have a sound signalling device (loud whistle) and if sailing at night, a visual signalling device (strobe, chemical light stick). Also, make sure you (not the RC committee) know the risks before you leave the dock. Please take some personal responsibility for your decisions.
Michael H. Koster

Alan Ouellette

Sep 24, 2009, 6:29 AM

Post #8 of 39 (89331 views)
Re: [kitchenshoals] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Two thoughts regarding "This is not Acceptable":
1. Trying to place responsibility for safety on the organizing authority will be the end of organized racing.
2. Lifejackets should not have moving parts.

The Publisher

Sep 24, 2009, 6:36 AM

Post #9 of 39 (89311 views)
Re: [Alan Ouellette] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Lynn Fitzpatrick wrote about the incident at the Star North Americans here:

The Publisher

Sep 24, 2009, 6:39 AM

Post #10 of 39 (89305 views)
Re: [The Publisher] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

From Lou Roberts - Skipper of Dismasted Boat:


Sep 24, 2009, 7:09 AM

Post #11 of 39 (89250 views)
Re: [Curmudgeon] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

In my report, I was not asking the RC or organizing group to take on liability for safety. I am trying to ask for safety to be addressed in the race instructions and the conduct of the event. Simple things like give me the telephone numbers/VHF numbers to call in the event of a problem. Let me know what you have in place to support safety of the race.

Too many times I have gone to events where the RC is manned by several older persons. They might have a pin boat but that's about it. In the event of an emergency, they would not be able to respond. I have called yacht clubs during events and gotten an answering machine to leave a message. ( Broke a head stay, pulled down sails and drifted many miles from the course, not in an danger but needed help to get back to port).

I understand that I am responsible for the decision to race or not. During the previous race on that day I did not feel that I could not or should not be racing. I also feel that way about the second race. No doubt I made a mistake in the position of the main during the first downwind leg of the second race. That caused the boat to be unstable. In fact, I reconized that the main need to be sheeted in. However before I could pull the main in, we rolled into a broach causing me to fall off.

To the poster who said that electronic devices are not allowed Star, this is incorrect. They are allowed but they cannot be used during racing. The race instructions clearly stated that no electronic transmission or receiving is allowed during a race.
I agree with this.

I see no reason why a cell phone and VHF portable cannot be carried on a boat. I keep mine in a plastic baggie. Stays dry no matter the conditions. It's cheap insurance and it allows you or your crew to call for help.

My purpose in posting this report is to further safety on the water.

Thorsten Cook (MOB)

Bruce Thompson

Sep 24, 2009, 7:21 AM

Post #12 of 39 (89237 views)
Re: [Curmudgeon] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I would offer you question. Would the extent of the difficulties of this boat and its skipper have been more obvious if the crewman had simply lit a flare?

Federal law requires that a 22 foot boat carry day & night visual signals. Here is the relevant information from the state of Connecticut

RRS 1 requires competitors to render assistance.

The biggest problem seems to be that the other competitors were unaware of the seriouness of the situation.

I am aware of another situation where a fleet of offshore boats sailed by a man in the water because they did not see him. The distressed boat had issued a mayday call by VHF and a professional response was put in place complete with police boats, a helicopter with rescue divers and the RC boat. But it took time for the help to arrive. He drowned in the interim.

The lesson I'd draw is if you get in trouble, make sure those around you know about it. You are required to have visual signals, use them.


Sep 24, 2009, 7:30 AM

Post #13 of 39 (89228 views)
Re: [Curmudgeon] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

First, let me say that I and everyone else are glad that things worked out and you are still with us. Obviously this was a life changing experience for you. Hopefully you will continue to sail and race. That said, I must agree with everyone else that posted before me. Changing the environment (RC responsibilities, Patrol Boat responsibilities, etc.) is not the answer to this situation. Each skipper and crew needs to make the decision to sail, or not, in the conditions that are present. With the information available today regarding weather, etc., there is no excuse for not knowing what to expect on the race course. We are asked to accept liability in many situations, sailing in a regatta, signing our kid up for Little League, getting behind the wheel and driving to work, however we really don't ever take it seriously. Yes, we may read the fine print and sign the form, but that stuff is just for the lawyers and the risk managers - it is at least until something happens. Then all of the sudden, "the risks weren't properly explained", "someone should have done something to prevent what happened". The bottom line is we need to understand when whe accept liability, that something can happen and then we also need to manage that risk as best we can. Enough of the soapbox.



Sep 24, 2009, 8:50 AM

Post #14 of 39 (89117 views)
Re: [The Publisher] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

It's almost unfathomable to me that the author of this article (Lou Roberts - skipper of dismasted boat) and crew did not have PFD's on. Based on the articles posted, it sounded pretty nasty out there and I can identify with that. If you don't have the common sense to have a PFD on in those conditions you should reconsider sailing as a leisure activity. You may be better suited to indoor sports.

Another suggestion for those sailing short-handed or for that matter, anyone sailing in windy and adverse conditions - arm yourself with a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon). These can be had for less than $600. Hopefully you will never have to use it in your life-time, but if you need to be found or want your next of kin notified, it's a worthwhile investment.
Michael H. Koster


Sep 24, 2009, 9:20 AM

Post #15 of 39 (89078 views)
Re: [Bruce Thompson] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I don't believe a flare would have helped. By the time my crew would have gotten to the flare, the fleet was well downwind. On their upwind leg, maybe but my crew and boat were 1000 ft to the side of the course.

Thorsten Cook MOB


Sep 24, 2009, 11:05 AM

Post #16 of 39 (88966 views)
Re: [tpcook] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

First, itís quite a relief everyone made it safely to shore. Second, the accounts that I have been able to review do not shine a favorable light on the conduct of the skipper of hull #60 and offer little to credit the organizers of the 2009 Star North American Championship. The heroes here are Kevin, who took a calculated risk by leaving his boat with floatation devises to assist the distressed man in the water and the RIB operator who happened along to pull them both from Long Island Sound.

There is plenty of blame to go around and most of it starts at home. (1) Mr. Cook entered and sailed in the regatta knowing (or should have known) the organizers accepted no liability for his safety, the safety of his crew, or the safety of his boat. Regardless of his objections to their non-acceptance of liability on both theoretical and practical levels, he chose to race. (2) He further made a decision to sail in conditions that others declined. That he defends his decision, in hindsight, to sail is puzzling at best as the actual events amply demonstrated he was not prepared to race in the conditions at hand and, in having done so, he nearly drowned, put his crew at risk, and endangered the life of his rescuer. (3) Having decided to race, Mr. Cook did not take the most basic precaution. He did not wear a properly functioning PFD of the correct type for the conditions. A correctly sized Type III would have been a much better choice regardless of whether or not his inflatable vest had deployed when he went overboard. Iím taken aback that a skipper experienced enough to compete in a Star Nationals would not wear a Type III, with a loud whistle and rigging knife attached, in the conditions described. (4) He lacked a working knowledge of the PFD he was attempting to use, which was inadequate. Any inflatable is inadequate if it does not deploy when needed and the user is unable to remember there is a manual back-up system when he/she needs it the most. (5) He does not seem to be aware of the USCG mandated safety equipment required on his Star boat, or how to properly use the required equipment in an emergency. This includes PFDís, a throwabe devise, sound devise, and visual distress signals. (6) VHF radios and cell phones can certainly be carried, but should not be relied upon. You are free to compile your own site specific emergency numbers. It might even be a good idea to program them on speed dial? (7) The skipper is free to equip his boat/person with safety devises not mandated. A PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) was a suggestion in a previous post. If purchased, it should be kept on your person, preferably attached to a functioning PFD being worn, and with each user having a functioning knowledge of how to use the devise in an emergency situation.

I think Mr. Cook has been fairly chastised for both his actions and inactions. However, the organizers, while they have, or should have, avoided liability, they come off as being hapless and ill prepared. While Mr. Cookís near miss was self inflicted and his safety recommendations seem misplaced in light of his own ill preparedness, this race organizer should consider steps to do much better.



Sep 24, 2009, 11:54 AM

Post #17 of 39 (88923 views)
Re: [jrb] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I read with interest your comments

I am not aware of any Star that carries flares or any kind of visual distress signals. I agree with you that we should.
The only safety equipment a Star carries (And it was part of a safety check before the regatta) is a line about 60 ft long, a 6 lb anchor, two PFD's (Type 3), one paddle, 1 liter bucket/bailer. That is what is required under Star class rules.

I might also note that Star class rules do not allow any electronic equipment except a compass and timer, however in this regatta it was stated that no transmissions or receptions could be used during the race.(Leaving open the issue as to whether it could be on-board) Looks to me that maybe the Star class rules should be changed.

I do have a non-inflatable PFD vest on board for myself, but these vests are much more bulky than the inflatables and I and many others cannot get under the boom while tacking. So we use the inflatable, which adds about 1 inch more to get under the boom.

I may buy some skin tight marine clothing as currently the suit I wear is a bulky offshore suit.

I also race a 52' yacht in the Caribbean, but there is lot more safety equipment aboard. Gun fired aerial flares, radios, EPRIGs, etc
Last year someone on another yacht got severely injured by being flung into a winch. He suffered permanent spinal injury. One of the other yachts had their private medical backup boat assist the injured person.

Thorsten Cook

Bruce Thompson

Sep 24, 2009, 1:12 PM

Post #18 of 39 (88856 views)
Re: [Curmudgeon] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

It is very important for competitors to understand how hard it is to see someone in the water, particularly in waves. The next time you approach a windward mark with a ball for an offset mark, note how close you need to get to see the ball reliably. That ball is many times the size of a human head. And you know where to look, relative to the windward mark. Both crews remaining in their boats quickly lost sight of the men in the water. Anything to help the searchers locate you is desirable.

The use of a whistle at least adds 360 degree capability. If the searcher is looking ahead, he won't see to the side or behind him. Sound was what saved these men.

As to Star class rules.

The purpose of an anchor is to hold the boat in place until help arrives. A 60 foot anchor rode in LIS with 4-6 foot waves is worse than useless.

Here is a link to the Lightning Class rule on radios

Note that it makes them available for emergencies, but requires the competitor to drop out if used for other purposes than receiving RC communications (usually recalling OCS boats).

paul ludgate

Sep 24, 2009, 1:29 PM

Post #19 of 39 (88847 views)
Re: [Curmudgeon] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Sorry to hear that he had a bad experience. Having said that it should be noted that nobody is forcing us to participate in sail boat races. The NORs have all the pertinent info available to competitors to review, and if you don't think it's safe don't do it.

It seems to me that we are being urged to protect ourselves against anything and everything again (because we are obviously incompetent)... maybe we should have 2 chase boats follow us around the course (come to think of it; if they went with us everywhere wouldn.t that be great ? ) with medics, the other with lawyers..we'd have everything covered that way....

Brent Boyd

Sep 24, 2009, 2:01 PM

Post #20 of 39 (88806 views)
Re: [paul ludgate] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Mr. Cook needs to take up bowling and sell his boat. Maybe bowling would be too dangerous for Thorston. I guess he could sue the bowling alley because he slipped and twisted his knee with no EMT on duty to take him to the emergency room. Another idea would be to have Thorston write a check for all the electronics and chase boats he thinks are necessary for each regatta he enters. What a candy ass fool he is.

If the conditions on the course are too gnarly for him, he should not go out.


Sep 24, 2009, 2:15 PM

Post #21 of 39 (88776 views)
Re: [tpcook] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

In Reply To
I read with interest your comments

I am not aware of any Star that carries flares or any kind of visual distress signals. I agree with you that we should.
The only safety equipment a Star carries (And it was part of a safety check before the regatta) is a line about 60 ft long, a 6 lb anchor, two PFD's (Type 3), one paddle, 1 liter bucket/bailer. That is what is required under Star class rules.

I might also note that Star class rules do not allow any electronic equipment except a compass and timer, however in this regatta it was stated that no transmissions or receptions could be used during the race.(Leaving open the issue as to whether it could be on-board) Looks to me that maybe the Star class rules should be changed.

I do have a non-inflatable PFD vest on board for myself, but these vests are much more bulky than the inflatables and I and many others cannot get under the boom while tacking. So we use the inflatable, which adds about 1 inch more to get under the boom.

I may buy some skin tight marine clothing as currently the suit I wear is a bulky offshore suit.

I also race a 52' yacht in the Caribbean, but there is lot more safety equipment aboard. Gun fired aerial flares, radios, EPRIGs, etc
Last year someone on another yacht got severely injured by being flung into a winch. He suffered permanent spinal injury. One of the other yachts had their private medical backup boat assist the injured person.

Thorsten Cook

Itís not matter of ďshouldĒ you carry visual distress signals. The length of your boat (Star) and the body of water on which you were racing (Long Island Sound) combined to trigger a USCG requirement that you carry visual distress signals. Iím somewhat frightened for you, and those you sail with, that you donít seem to have an understanding of this very basic fact. The Star Class Rules you cite are in addition to USCG requirements. They do not substitute for or supercede the USCG requirements. Iíd add those (Star Class Rules and USCG Regs) are also minimum requirements. A skipper is compelled to exceed the requirements if necessary for the safety of the crew and for the good of the vessel. As an example, on Long Island Sound I would certainly carry a much longer anchor line and heavier anchor, especially if I were not racing at the sharp end of the fleet in the conditions that prevailed around the time of your near drowning.

Visual Distress Signals are divided into subgroups for daytime and nighttime use. Some visual distress signals meet the requirements for both, while others are specific for use during daytime or nighttime. Had your crew been trained to display a simple visual distress flag or had your crew been trained to shoot off a flare, help would have been alerted much sooner and your time in the water could have potentially been much less.

As has been stated in a previous post, Star Class Rules prohibit the use of certain electronic devices ďduringĒ competition. Should you need to use one or more of the prohibited electronic devices in order to gain attention for an emergency rescue, that use might be forgiven or you might just have to live with the DSQ it triggers? That sounds better than dying. Iím not sure the class rules need to be changed? It seems more likely you are interpreting them incorrectly.

Plenty of Laser, skiff, and fellow Star sailors would disagree with your contention regarding limitations on ducking the boom because of the bulkiness of currently available Class III PFDís, me included. Perhaps you should shop around at APS or one of the other Scuttlebutt advertisers? They have plenty to choose from that will offer the boom clearance you desire.

Accidents seem to follow you on big boats and small. A thorough reading of Chapmanís and/or Start Sailing Right could be a big help to you.

Brent Boydís comments may have been a bit mean spirited, but he is right that you/I/we should be prepared to pay for any emergency precautions or care that we demand or require.

Now on to more enjoyable and satisfying pursuits, like doing homework with my autistic six year oldÖÖ

R. G. Newbury

Sep 24, 2009, 2:40 PM

Post #22 of 39 (88757 views)
Re: [Curmudgeon] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

What is not acceptable is that Mr. Cook still refuses to accept that personal responsibility is the way the world works. Mr. Cook is a person of full capacity who voluntarily and without any pressure or inducement engaged in an activity which had inherent risk.

What is now Fundamental Rule 4 was added (in the early '80's IIRC) to recognize that the assumption of risk has to be the responsibility of the competitor alone. No Race Committee can responsibly make that decision on behalf of others. And no Race Committee should be found liable for the injurious acts or omissions of the competitors. Even if there is a foreseeable risk of serious injury, it is reasonable for the organizers to do nothing about it, because to take steps to negate the risk, would be to destroy the nature of the activity.

Mr. Cook got into a form of trouble which is not only foreseeable but perfectly obvious. He accepted that risk by racing, and through his own defaults and omissions had a close call. He was rescued by Kevin Elterman, who heroically and against his own self-interest, dove from a safe location on a dismasted Star, into cold waters, risking his own life to successfully save that of Mr. Cook.

Mr. Cook now claims that it is unacceptable that the race committee did not do things which amount to holding his hand and telling him beforehand how to save himself. His circumstance however, resulted from his own failures: His failure to check that his life jacket worked, his failure to remember that he could manually inflate his inflatable life-jacket, his failure to immediately secure himself to his Star with a line, when it came within reach, his failure to have or contrive any sort of boarding aid to get back aboard, his failure to ensure that his VHF radio worked, his failure to ensure that his crew knew how to operate the VHF, his failure to tell his crew to use channel 16 to call for help, his failure to tell his crew to use the code word 'Mayday' (thus ensuring that the message would receive an urgent priority and would not be ignored), his failure to carry hand flares or smoke flares on board to attract attention and his failure to sail with crew who could have saved him in spite of himself by helping avoid any or all of the above failures. It is a long list and nothing the Race Committee did or did not do would change that listing.

Mr. Cooks in effect thrashes around blaming everyone but himself for the predicament he found himself in. But it was all his own fault. And the praise for Mr. Elterman, which rightfully belongs at the top of the story, appears only much lower down.

The items which he urgently raises as 'unacceptable' omissions from the Sailing Instructions, probably already exist in that document. And he could have raised those matters at the skippers meeting, if he had had the foresight to think of them beforehand and raise them. He points to them now, as reasons for his close call. This puts the cart before the horse. None of these 'unacceptable' omissions could have changed what happened, except to have possibly sped up his recovery from the water.

The list of errors is long, and instructive, beginning with 'lack of foresight'. It also appears that the dismasted Star had no VHF radio, at all (since there is no mention of attempts to use one) and also had l sufficent tools available to deal with the broken mast. Sailing instructions do not deal with these things and should not, so no changes are needed.

I am glad that no-one died. I am especially glad that Kevin Elterman was unscathed. He clearly deserves an award for his valour.

N. Stephenson

Sep 24, 2009, 3:59 PM

Post #23 of 39 (88723 views)
Re: [Curmudgeon] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

The recent post in Issue 2936 by Thorny Cook, entitled "THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE", while emotional and heartfelt, fails to acknowledge the organized and effective emergency procedures that were put into effect by the Race Committee and the Host Club for a National Championship conducted using Sailing Instructions developed in conjunction with the International Star Class.

Prior to Thorny's post, as Commodore of Cedar Point Yacht Club, I had already begun a full review of the facts surrounding the incident that occurred during the second race of the day on Wednesday during the 2009 Star North American Championship. As with all such incidents on the water there is always much that can be learned and applied going forward. The recollections of those involved differ by individual. Some accounts are more emotional and less objective than others. Creating the necessary patchwork of facts from interviewing those that were significantly involved has produced a clear story of what actually transpired on the water during that day and this objective summary of facts found.

While Thorny Cook is our friend and a respected, experienced fellow Star sailor, his conclusions and opinions are inconsistent with facts found and established maritime traditions. All of us, but most so Thorny Cook, are thankful for the favorable outcome resulting from the coordinated efforts of volunteers that worked effectively together through a well coordinated emergency plan that assured Thorny's recovery.

Facts found support the conclusion that Thorny Cook was successfully rescued as a result of the comprehensive efforts of the Race Committee under the direction of and experienced Principle Race Officer (Past Commodore Rich Gold) and other experienced Race Committee volunteers working under an emergency plan triggered by the emergency VHF communication made by Thorny Cook's crew using a VHF radio carried aboard a Star.

The 2009 Star North American Championship was, in fact, conducted under a Marine Event Permit filed with the Coast Guard, local authorities and Homeland Security. While advised of the Event, the local authorities do not and cannot provide "safety for the event" as Thorny Cook states should be available. Given recent governmental budget cuts, the resources for marine police have been substantially curtailed. The Host Club's resources, Sailing Instructions and emergency procedures were designed under the assumption that no local marine police resources would be available.

The primary VHF channel for Club, constantly monitored by Club Staff, is posted on a very large sign at the harbor entrance. Before departing the dock, every sailor and coach has an affirmative obligation to confirm emergency channels used. That is simply good seamanship and required preparation whether racing sailboats or simply going out for a "three hour tour". Further, the telephone contact number for the Host Club was included in the Sailing Instructions for those that chose to read them, despite Thorny's indication to the contrary. It was also an unfortunate fact that Thorny's cell phone had no battery power and was not available for use.

At the inception of the incident, after trying unsuccessfully to recover his skipper under sail, Thorny's long-time crew (Mike Young) used the correct, established VHF Channel for his initial emergency hail to the Club. Mike apparently did not hear the acknowledging response from the Club's high powered base radio in the conditions present. At all times following the initial emergency VHF call from Thorny's crew the Club's Manager ashore and the PRO on the main RC Signal Boat actively directed the recovery effort using VHF radios and cell phones.

Courageous and effective efforts of the crew from another Star, Kevin Elterman of Milford CT, were made to assure Thorny's safe recovery. Kevin Elterman donned his own PDF and entered the water, swimming a short distance to Thorny to provide him with a 2nd PFD to provide flotation. That was necessary because they were unable to throw a life jacket to him into the wind. Kevin then remained in the water, floating with Thorny, until they were recovered by the Canadian National Team coach boat, helmed by Tommy Wharton from Toronto Canada. That is the real story here and Kevin deserves the highest commendation for his quick thinking and effective action which surely saved Thorny Cook's life after his PFD failed to inflate. Tommy Wharton's actions and vigilance on the water in his coach boat was also commendable.

At all times Kevin and Thorny were able to see the support boats arriving to assist and boats approaching the area from a distance from their floating position about 50 meters upwind of the two drifting Star boats. While Thorny and Kevin were not connected with the two Stars in the area, Kevin reported that he never felt that they would not be recovered by the assembling support boats and with the entire Star Fleet and coach boats coming upwind towards them as they floated in their life jackets.

Kevin Elterman and his skipper Lou Roberts had been dismasted as a result of burying their pole in a wave while sailing behind, but in proximity to, Thorny Cook's boat. As with most One Design Fleets, sailors of similar abilities tend to compete intensely with each other during an event. Their dismasted Star had drifted into the area and they saw Thorny Cook floating in the water. They immediately rendered emergency assistance when they realized Thorny's life jacket had not deployed and he was in serious distress.

These two Stars were well behind the rest of the Fleet which was proceeding to the downwind mark as the incident began, having each rounded the upwind mark in last and next to last place. While support boats were in the vicinity the Press Boat was the closest boat to the incident, making its way slowly upwind. The Windward Mark boat was the next closest boat, standing by on station at the windward mark. The International Judge's boat was also observing the fleet sailing downwind in connection with their Rule 42 responsibilities but was not in the vicinity of the incident which took place well behind them. Coach boats were positioned on the wings of the course, following the bulk of the fleet downwind in accordance with the restrictions included in the Sailing Instructions to remain 100 meters away from boats racing.

Club provided Support Boats, including the main RC Signal Boat and the Windward Mark Boat were dispatched to the scene immediately upon the initial VHF alert and arrived as quickly as practical given sea conditions. The Press Boat was approaching the vicinity before the emergency VHF call and had actually reported a dismasting and a 2nd disabled boat to the main RC Signal Boat while proceeding slowly towards them to render assistance. After the emergency VHF call a full emergency response was triggered by the main RC Signal Boat. The Press Boat arrived on scene and amended their original report to indicate two people in the water, as yet unlocated and unrecovered. Shortly after the Press Boat was joined by the Windward Mark boat, the approaching main RC Signal Boat and coach boats began to arrive in the area.

Given conditions on the water, VHF communications were difficult, intermittent and not very effective. Facts found indicate that not all coach boats on the race course were monitoring the correct VHF channel or were generally unable to hear communications via handheld VHF radios. All Race Committee boats were fully informed of the alert by VHF radio and cell phones and responded in a coordinated fashion to the emergency alert.

Despite Thorny Cook's comments to the contrary a designated RC official on the main RC Signal Boat was assigned primary communication responsibility and effectively managed cell phone and VHF contacts, within the limitations of VHF. RC officials were also assigned responsibility for managing the number of boats racing and those that had retired. Sailing Instructions required check-in with the main RC Signal Boat before the first race of each day and there were specific "check out" instructions if leaving the Race Course for any reason. Following a series of black flag starts, all boats were sailing by the main RC Signal Boat to see the notice board and some departed the race course after being black flagged. Those boats that sailed the next race after being black flagged were protested by the Race Committee under the Racing Rules of Sailing.

Facts found are that the Race Committee was effectively accounting for all boats and that they maintained a correct list of boats racing or retired at all times. Ashore, the Club Manager was continuously notifying the main RC Signal boat by cell phone as to boats that did not leave the dock or boats that returned to the harbor prior to the conclusion of racing during each day.

Despite the difficulties with VHF communications, coach boats were an instrumental part of the recovery effort as they intersected the disabled boats on the return upwind leg. This was as was contemplated in the Sailing Instructions. The Canadian National Team Coach, Tommy Wharton, intersected Thorny and Kevin Elterman floating in the water, noticing the extended yellow sleeve on Kevin's foul weather gear as he waved to the approaching boat. Tommy quickly effected their recovery over the tubes of his RIB, advised the main RC Signal Boat of the recovery and transferred Thorny Cook to the waiting main RC Signal Boat. The coach boat then returned Kevin Elterman to his Star so that Kevin could assist in arranging the tow of the dismasted boat and Thorny's boat back to the harbor by Club support boats. Tommy's efforts were professional, effective, greatly appreciated and commendable.

Facts found indicate that Thorny Cook's successful rescue occurred despite the failure of his personal flotation device to be properly maintained (the CO2 cartridge was corroded and had leaked), his failure to understand that the PFD could be inflated with a blow tube and his failure to have a whistle or other sound signaling or strobe device attached to his PFD. Thorny fell into the water due to his failure to handle his boat in a seamanlike manner in conditions that were very raceable but challenging, with windspeeds of 14-18 knots and gusts into the lower 20's.

Personal judgment by each Skipper must consider each individuals sailing abilities and conditions on the Race Course. No Race Committee can assure total safety at sea as Thorny Cook suggests. Each competitor must draw their own conclusions as to whether they can safely handle their boat and whether or not they and their equipment are prepared for conditions encountered. To suggest otherwise is simply impractical. Despite these errors in judgment the emergency plan was effective and support boats and coach boats provided adequate on the water support throughout the regatta. Support boat resources were increased for the final two days of the regatta but were fortunately not called upon again in more normal racing conditions on Long Island Sound.

One fact is clear. The other competitors at the Event handled the challenging conditions effectively, were black flagged in earlier starts of the race or otherwise decided to retire. The PRO indicated that based on the conditions he observed on the Race Course and the competent manner in which the Star Fleet handled sailing conditions during a National Championship, no consideration was given to cancelling racing for the day, either before the day began or while either of the two races on Wednesday were in progress due to conditions. Given the successful recovery of Thorny Cook and Kevin Elterman, the PRO cancelled the emergency alert and did not abandon the 2nd race of the day in progress.

Following his recovery, Thorny was transferred to the waiting main RC Signal boat from the coach boat that recovered him. After his condition was evaluated by qualified EMT personnel on the main RC Signal Boat it was determined that Thorny's condition did not require additional medical attention. Thorny was changed into warm, dry clothes and he chose to remain on the main RC Signal boat until racing was concluded for the day rather than experiencing a wet trip in on a waiting Club Support Boat.

The RC Signal boat proceeded to the finish area and went back on station to take finishes for the race in progress. While the PRO considered abandoning the race, he allowed racing to continue after determining that those in the water had been recovered and that the emergency had ended. Finishing the race in progress was deemed to be best alternative since that resulted in all Stars proceeding to the finish line, assuring that the fleet would remain in an organized group for the sail back to shore.

This incident should be a reminder to all of us that we each have a responsibility to each other whenever we go to sea. It is our individual responsibility to assure that we are properly prepared and capable of handling the conditions present.

In summary, facts found are that Thorny Cook sailed in conditions that were beyond his personal and physical abilities. Thorny Cook's personal flotation equipment was not in good repair and lacked adequate signaling devices or a personal strobe light. Thorny Cook was not trained adequately in the use of his safety equipment being unaware that his inflatable PFD could be manually inflated. Thorny Cook's crew used the appropriate VHF Channel to signal an emergency and the Host Club and Race Committee responded effectively under an established emergency action plan.

Fortunately, established emergency procedures were effectively implemented by the Host Club's Club Manager and PRO. Those emergency procedures, combined with a courageous act by Kevin Elterman and the seamanship of Canadian National Coach Tommy Wharton returned Thorny Cook safely to shore.

For the actions of Mr. Elterman and Mr. Wharton we are all most appreciative. That appreciation was emotionally acknowledged by Thorny Cook at the Wednesday Night Mid-Week Awards Dinner. Both Mr. Cook and Mr. Elterman were provided new Inflatable Personal Flotation devices, by Bluestorm, one of our event sponsors. It is our hope that Thorny Cook will choose to wear his new PFD whenever he sails and also maintains and equips his PFD properly in the future.


Nelson Stephenson, Commodore
Cedar Point Yacht Club


Sep 24, 2009, 9:53 PM

Post #24 of 39 (88209 views)
Re: [N. Stephenson] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

N Stephenson,

Mr. CooK should be most grateful to Kevin Elterman for putting himself in harms way to literally save his life. Tommy Wharton is to be commended for working effectively with the race committee to find the men and pull them from the water. I find it sadly ironic Mr. Cook has chosen to criticize the race committee for enacting a dependable rescue procedure that resulted in a positive outcome for both those rescued and those who were not involved and continued to race.

I framed my (limited) negative comments about the regatta organizers in a disclaimer related to the information I was able to review to date. Your recent post provides information not previously available. If the situation happened as you have written, and I have no current reason to doubt your account based on multiple witness to the events as they happened, then I offer my most sincere apology for taking the word of the OP and an early poster who claims to have observed a disjointed rescue effort.

Thorny Cook may be somewhat forgiven? He went through a harrowing ordeal and such circumstances can easily cloud the judgment of some. Thankfully all came out with no lasting physical damage. Still Mr. Cook could be more gracious. Itís patently obvious the crisis was of his own making. Further, his bad acts and poor judgment put others in danger. He also seriously needs a refresher course in USCG safety equipment requirements for the craft he is sailing, a practicum on how to use his safety equipment while under duress, and to enact a rigorous regime of safety equipment inspection with replacement of worn/defective equipment in a timely manner.
Itís time for Mr. Cook to face up to his short comings on the course that day, his response to the near miss, and to apologize to all those to whom he leveled criticism.


Sep 25, 2009, 7:27 AM

Post #25 of 39 (87441 views)
Re: [Curmudgeon] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

While I was not at this year's NA Champs, I was in Weymouth competing in the Sail for Gold Regatta where we had multiple days of 25+ knots and two days of 30+ knots. On the windy days (30+) the regatta organizer reduced the racing circles from 6 to 3 and doubled the number of safety boats on each course. A great idea that allowed racing to continue safely.

The Star Class has recently made an attempt to ban assistance from support boats from the time each competitor leaves the dock until the finish of the last race of the day. The result is fewer boats on the water. While this is favorable from a "fairness" perspective as well as environmental and boat wake perspective, it is certainly not safer. Maybe the class should rethink this new rule in light of recent events.

Glenn McCarthy

Sep 25, 2009, 9:03 AM

Post #26 of 39 (87243 views)
Re: [02jbn] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I sail Stars.
I was on the US SAILING Safety at Sea Committee for years and hand typed almost all of the rescue stories on their website
I have been involved in 5 overboard rescues (two off of Stars) - none with me in the water!

Cleary the rescued is looking for a better risk management solution to better prepare everyone for a better outcome. His thought to include contact information in the event of need of local rescue services is healthy, not only for big events like the Silver Star, but would be good for club races too. Just make it part of the regular SOP of all yacht clubs. How many of us have the contact information for on-the-water local law enforcement or rescue services on board?

After writing those 100+ stories and being in contact with most of them, long ago I came up with these thoughts -
Anyone on the boat can go overboard (including the skipper even on offshore boats).
Most involved: person goes in, person pulled out.
But sometimes things go wrong, terribly wrong resulting in injury, or even fatalities.

When the person goes into the water, no one knows at that point how it will turn out. Once it is over the picture in the rear-view mirror is crystal clear. I have suggested that the steps involved in a successful rescue should include the step of calling in outside rescue services as soon as possible when someone goes into the drink. If it is as simple as person goes in, and person pulled out, a simple call back to the rescue services to give them the waive off before they arrive is the final step. The rescue services will appreciate it to turn around and go home. But if the person developed hypothermia, or has an injury that couldn't be seen while they were in the water, the rescue boat is already that much closer to you. And worse yet, if the rescue is just going wrong (mast broken blowing away from the victim, rope wrapped around the propeller, victim weighs too much to haul up the topsides, etc.), professionals are that much closer.

Would you be fined for calling in a real rescue that was waived off? Would the rescue authorities board you and check for safety equipment? Would the rescue services desire to complete a report or investigation?

Let me ask this, who cares if they did? The critical point is to assure that your crew comes home safely which is of the utmost importance. Dealing with bureaucracy afterwards is cheap.


Sep 25, 2009, 9:08 AM

Post #27 of 39 (87233 views)
Re: [02jbn] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

The one thing I don't understand based on the competitors note:
>>Mike then grabbed our VHF and tried to call the RC, but to no avail. They did not answer. He asked me to verify what channel they were on and I said 78<<

Why didn't they get an answer hail? Sounds like they got so nervous, because they never received any response from anyone. Forgive my ignorance, but shouldn't the radio work within a few miles? Am I missing something?

Mike Hobson

Sep 25, 2009, 9:40 AM

Post #28 of 39 (87184 views)
Re: [bk1] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Apart from all the, whos fault issues and cell phones lifejackets etc, I think the most important point has been missed, and is missed every time in a MOB situation.

Here is his quote ďI only saw Mike trying to sail back upwind to me and he did reach me, but I could not hang on or get into the boat.Ē

Because he could not hang on, he is now dependant on outside assistance

Had he had some way of hanging on and getting back on board he would have saved himself. Try climbing a Star or any other small keelboat like a J24 from the water. Its almost impossible especially if you're exhausted. There is nothing to hang onto and no ladder.

I have long though it would be prudent for the USCG and other organizations to ask skippers to prove they can get back into their boat if they fall overboard. This would be a very simple safety procedure. Small dinghies are easy because of the lack of freeboard, larger yachts tend to have a swim platforms, but the small keelboats have too much freeboard.

wrote this article a while ago and describes various boarding ladders. This is an important topic which needs addressing.

Austin Sperry

Sep 25, 2009, 10:57 AM

Post #29 of 39 (87066 views)
Re: [Mike Hobson] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

As a recent competitor in the 2009 Star North American Championships I'd like to chime in what I experienced during a great week of Star sailing.

I am a big believer that one should know his/her own limitations. Mr. Cook is over 70 years old, and I am unsure what he felt he still needed to prove by sailing in what he deemed as unsafe conditions? I competed in both the windy races that day; this was by far the best day of racing during the entire event. Good breeze, 15-18 kts with maybe a puff touching 20kts every so often. During the last beat I was sitting on deck (not droop hiking), ie, the breeze dropped under 8kts. I have sailed quite a few Star events in my time, during the event I never felt "unsafe" once, I never felt the R/C made a bad call by sending the fleet out to the race course and I am sure nearly all the competitors share my view.

The RC did a great job, and it was absolutely without a doubt the right call to sail that day. There would have been plenty of unhappy sailors had the RC decided to stay ashore. There were however a few competitors that decided to stay ashore that day, and for them it was the right call. I respect the fact that Thorny Cook wanted to compete, but when he fell out of his boat he was nearly a leg behind the fleet. I saw a few photos of him sailing downwind before the eject button was hit and it was very obvious to me why he had a problem. The Main was so far out with no vang tension, in 15-18kts of breeze in a Star boat (or most boats); this isnít a good combination.

Not a big surprise he had a situation, and I believe this was the THIRD time in his career of sailing Star boats that he has fallen overboard. I am extremely happy that Mr. Cook was rescued, but to blame everyone else and to blame the regatta organizers who put on a fantastic regatta (both on shore and on the water) is completely backwards.

The story line from the regatta should have read how Andy Horton and Steve Erickson sailed a fantastic regatta. Truly a perfect regatta - it was impressive to witness, it was also great to see Richard Clarke (new to the Star boat) sail so well, hanging till the end with his crew Tyler Byjorn, or the 2009 WORLD Champions George Szabo/Rick Peters sailing very well as usual,

Itís great to have the USA back on top in the Star class; this is a great story. These were the big stories of the week, not some old guy who fell out of his boat, this isnít a story - itís a waste of ink. Letís focus on the great event held by CPYC and its members, the fantastic conditions, the dock side dinner/parties the amount of great people it took to put on a regatta of this size, these people should be applauded. Letís not cloud a great week for many, because one person didnít have the fortitude to make the right call by staying shoreside in conditions he deemed to be too "rough" for himself and his crew.

J. B. Luscomb

Sep 25, 2009, 11:04 AM

Post #30 of 39 (87053 views)
Re: [Austin Sperry] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I am very glad the episode turned out the way it did and I am glad that Mr. Cook "lived to tell about it", but I think Mr. Cook is off base with his shifting of responsibilities/liabilities of his well being on the Race Committee and its volunteers. He made the decision to sail. He knew the conditions when he splashed his boat. He also made the decision to have an inflatable PFD rather than a life vest. Was it the conditions that warranted him to think that he should wear a PFD at all? What made him choose the inflator type? Is a PFD it part of his normal sailing attire?

I had an episode where I was very close to drowning. It certainly changed the way I think when I am sailing/boating/free-diving. Mr. Cook had the life scared out of him for sure, as did I, but a lesson could be learned here. Star sailors and all competitive sailors spend endless hours working on the boat preparing for and reducing the chances of failure, but do they spend the time working on safety. Do they think about "what could happen"? He mentioned that his inflatable PFD failed when he tried to use the inflator, but "forgot" that there was a manual inflator. Did he check the functionality of his PFD before launching the boat? Race committee could not have. If he were more familiar with his safety equipment, or serviced it at regular intervals, say like a certified scuba diver, he could have easily blown up his vest and waited for rescue. I hope going forward that Mr. Cook takes his cause to his fellow sailors and junior sailors using his hair raising experience as a model to help others rather than to ask that the safety net he asks for be cast by untrained volunteers.

Peter Hale

Sep 25, 2009, 11:50 AM

Post #31 of 39 (86991 views)
Re: [Curmudgeon] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I am disturbed by several of the early responses to Thorny Cook's initial message. Yes, the RRS makes it clear that "the responsibility for a boat's decision to participate in a race or continue racing is hers alone". But does not the Race Committee (and the organizing authority) when it prepares to start a race also assume a responsibility to the competitors to have appropriate concerns for the safety of the competitors -- keeping track of all boats racing, assisting disabled competitors, etc.?

Certainly the Cedar Point YC Race Committee for the Star NAs thought so -- and I applaud Commodore Stephenson for his extensive comments earlier in the thread which clearly demonstrate that his club supports this view.


Sep 25, 2009, 12:01 PM

Post #32 of 39 (86979 views)
Re: [Austin Sperry] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Austin, one of the great things about the Star is that old salts can still sail them and have fun, (like me, but I'm a lot less than 70 - LOL) however I agree with everything in your post. His own post indicates he had issues with rounding the windward mark i.e. unprepared with the vang and the mainsheet in a fustercluck as he rounded.

This fella simply should not have been out there. To criticize anyone else for his many failings is doing the Star class and the Race management team and volunteers a dis-service.

- no functioning PFD?? Did he not do a normal safety inspection of his own gear? How many owners of inflatable PFD's don't know that they can be manually inflated? Makes you wonder as the skipper, if he checked that his crew's safety gear was working as properly too.

- the class rules for an anchor rode are a bit shy on length for an anchor to actually be usable in water deeper than 10ft, but they are MINIMUM standards and nothing says he could not make a seaman-like judgment to ADD rode as the conditions warrant for the area. e.g. adding 2lbs of thin, light, line with the right load capability to the existing nylon rode should be easy for anyone thinking rationally about ever having to deploy an anchor. To point fingers at the class is not taking responsibility for his own bad judgment.

- as we all know, the RRS lay the decision to race squarely on the skipper's shoulders. Nuff said on that one.

- he had clearly not adequately familiarized his crew with operating the handheld VHF. At least he took one but it makes you wonder why if it's only use is for safety and he hadn't bothered to make sure his crew could use it. Him being the age he is, his crew may have needed to make a mayday call for the skipper, for reasons other than an MOB

- non-compliance with minimum coastguard safety requirements and no whistle?? Whatever happened to his floating heaving line, let alone a small flare pack???? He says he sails a 50ft boat in the Caribbean... based on this performance, one wonders how well that is prepped and inspected for safety of his crew and guests and how well they are instructed for emergencies.

- why didn't he have the presence of mind to hang on to the mainsheet as he slid down the deck?? Even if he had dropped it in the cockpit, one wonders if he made any effort to grab the sheet at the block on the transom.

- he complains about not being able to duck the boom and wearing bulky offshore sailing gear. DOH... it's not designed for effective use on a Star, let alone the right competitive gear at a national championship. Again this was his decision and an unwise one. Did he not think there could be a possibility of a capsize, and/or loss of rig given his skills and the conditions? Yes the Star is supposed to float when filled, but his gear was not likely to keep him warm. Perhaps he should have invested in a good dinghy sailing smock, wet suit, or light-weight kayaking drysuit if going out in wet and potentially cold conditions.

Everything about his post points to his inadequate ability to equip himself, train his crew, or sail the boat in the conditions.

Had he have posted that he accepts total responsibility for his actions and in-actions, and listed what HE did wrong, that may have been a greater contribution for other sailors to consider. Blaming anyone else seems to be a growing sickness in our society.

The Star Class has produced some of the worlds best sailors. The last thing it needs is for the class or any class, to be sullied by this kind of whining, and unprepared sailor.

R. G. Newbury

Sep 25, 2009, 1:38 PM

Post #33 of 39 (86890 views)
Re: [WHL] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Once you are over-board, getting back on-board can be difficult. The Canadian Small Vessel Regulations require that any pleasure craft over 6 metres in length carry a 're-boarding device' where the freeboard is greater than 500 mm.

An easy to carry, and easy to use re-boarding device is a climbers aid or etrier such as this one, made by Black Diamond, and available from Mountain Equipment Co-op, REI and similar stores for under $40.00. It makes a good swim ladder too.


Sep 25, 2009, 7:41 PM

Post #34 of 39 (86706 views)
Re: [Austin Sperry] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I'm with you man! The regatta absolutely rocked! Hull 68 (my and skipper Lou Roberts) were probably out of our element but never felt out of control. Being in the company of greatness and witnessing true artists at their craft probably played into why we decided to stay out there after the first race...but that aside lets leave the man overboard drill smack alone. It's nice to do a "post-mortem" of lessons learnt so that newbies to the Stars like Lou and myself can be better prepared in the future. I've had the opportunity to talk to both Nelson Stephenson and Bill Allen regarding the incident and all should be confident that whatever take-aways came out of their reviews will be employed in future events as well. So yes the celebration on Friday for Horton/Ericson, Clarke/Bjorne and Szabo/Peters made no reference to Wednesday's events...nor should it have... it was about their achievements which are also being celebrated in many many other forums.
Kevin Elterman
Fleet Captain/Secretary/Lifeguard
MYC/Mid-CT Star Fleet

Bruce Thompson

Sep 28, 2009, 7:22 AM

Post #35 of 39 (86073 views)
Re: [Curmudgeon] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I'd like to add some comments regarding VHF communications.

Just because you aren't receiving anything doesn't mean nothing is going on. The principal responsibility of someone in distress is to keep yourself alive until help can arrive. The best way to do that is to wear an effective PFD. And make sure everyone knows you are in distress by displaying your visual signals, you never know where help may materialize.

Typically race committees will choose one of the non-commercial ship-to-ship channels for RC communications. These are Channels 68, 69, 71 or 72. All of these are simplex channels meaning they transmit and receive on the same frequency. You can hear two-way communications no matter where you've set your U/I/C switch (United States/International/Canada). The USCG private emergency channel is VHF 22A, which is a duplex channel. If you are set to either US or Canada, you'll have effective two-way communication. If you are set to International, and your display reads 22, not 22A, they can hear you but you can't hear them.

When I had the experience mentioned previously, I learned how stressful VHF communications can become in an emergency. I got the call for help on the RC channel. I had to switch to VHF 16 to make the Mayday call. I got the USCG, who instructed me to go to their Channel 22A. I then became the air traffic controller for the professional and non-professional help which was responding. I was not on the RC channel.

I got asked questions, such as "What is the color of your deck?". Why someone wanted to know was not obvious to me but I answered the question. It turns out is was a probably the TV news helicopter. We ended up with three helicopters en route, the Fire Department, the USCG and the TV news. We also had at least three police boats, the USCG and the life guards, all of us on VHF 22A.

In the event, the boat with the MOB having gotten my acknowledgement of their Mayday went to work trying to recover their MOB. He had gotten flipped overboard while doiing a spinnaker takedown when the sail suddenly re-filled while the sheet was between his feet. He hit his head on the way down and was most likely unconcious as he hit the water.

So his crewmates blew the spinnaker sheets and halyard letting the spinnaker go overboard as they turned back to get him, made their radio call to me and then approached him. As he was non-responsive, another man jumped in to help. The crew lifeslinged them both. It was then that Murphy's Law came into action. The lifesling was secured to the boat at the stern and the drag of the two men turned it into a drogue and prevented the helmsman from steering the boat head-to-wind to slow down. The bow fell off and the boat began to pick up speed. The drag was too much for the swimmer to resist and he lost his grip. Now there were two MOBs rapidly becoming separated.

The crew managed to pull the swimmer alongside, but he almost slipped out as they tried to hoist him because he had not secured the clip inside the lifesling. This is not surprising as the printed instructions on the lifesliing don't mention the clip!! In an effort to slow down, the boat tried to use the engine in reverse but in the waves, the line became fouled in the propellor.

It was about then that the help arrived. The swimmer dropped out of the sling. The helicopter dropped its diver next to him, the life guard boat promptly came alongside them and rescued him and took him to shore for treatment of hypothermia.

Meanwhile one of the police boats got to the original MOB but they just missed getting him as his body lost buoyancy and sank before their eyes.

All of this took less than fifteen minutes.

Losing a man really, really sucks!

Give us a fighting chance to rescue you. Wear a functional PFD.


Sep 28, 2009, 9:16 AM

Post #36 of 39 (86032 views)
Re: [Curmudgeon] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Tom, Craig and Buttheads-
The recent post in Issue #2936 by Thorny cook, titled "This is Not Acceptable", brings to light a number of issues that events, RCs and competitors have struggled with over the course of time. Notwithstanding the issues of who, what, why, where and issues of personal responsibility there are potential opportunities to help mitigate these problems in the future using today's "smart cell phones". However, before diving into the pro's and con's, I'll give you some perspective on the issues at hand based on personal experience.

After getting graduating from Tufts University (and its college sailing team) in 1980 I went to work as the Sailing Coach for the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT for three years. And, nearly concurrently, I started J/World Sailing School in 1981 with my brother Drake and cousin Jeff. During that time, I was exposed to and begin to appreciate the great cost and difficulties the USCG and its related Police/ Marine Patrol colleagues have in improving both response times and efficiencies in their SAR (Search & Rescue) missions. It's their mission- Semper Paratus- "Always Ready"-and Lord knows they do their level best to get the job done as best they can.

More to the point, I've been part of several "rescues" over the course of time ( I've been boating/ sailing for over 40+ years) and it's clear that standard methods and means of communication such as VHF or location-emitting devices such as EPIRBS have all evolved to better address the issue of "emergency notification" as well as "location discovery". However, they're imperfect in handling the issue of "location communication/ status" in real-time- -- as anyone would know who's been in involved in such SAR events.

This brings us to the next issue- one of the biggest issues of "usage" and "adoption" of any communication/location device is "relevance" and "cost" to the user. As a communication device, VHFs have not dropped in price like personal computers so there's no widespread adoption (particularly "mobile VHFs"). And, location "discovery" devices like personal EPIRBS haven't proliferated widely, either. In either case, the issues to buy/use them seem to be a trade-off between "safety", "cost", "practical use" and "relevance" to the type of boating and size of boat you're involved in (coastal vs. offshore).

Because of these and other dynamics at work (e.g. humans trying to communicate in difficult conditions) the single biggest "cost" and issue for any SAR event is "location communication". If you read the postings from Nelson Stephenson (CPYC Commodore) and Bruce Thompson ("we ended up with three helicopters en route, the Fire Department, the USCG and the TV news. We also had at least three police boats, the USCG and the life guards, all of us on VHF 22A")-- you'll recognize the problem immediately. From a single emergency VHF call and 911 call, a small navy was deployed to find ONE person in the water? That's an extraordinary waste of resources-- and the USCG will tell you that all day long. It's also a waste of taxpayer dollars. If you asked the USCG and Marine Police what the costs were in terms of fuel and human resources deployed to this particular "Star sailor rescue" I think you would be shocked. Can you imagine if rescue organizations started "billing" individual sailors or regatta/event organizers for each SAR mission?

What is a possible solution to help address this problem? Or, is there an opportunity for the sailing community in general to adopt a hybrid approach to help everyone mitigate the issue of not only looking after ourselves, but also eachother? After all, sailing is "social" and "friends", is it not? It's not just the "irresponsible" sailors themselves we should be concerned about, but also real-life emergencies that happen routinely each year. Perhaps, US Sailing and member clubs ought to re-think how we can take advantage of a simple device we use everyday in our lives-- the cell phone. It would be a good guess that sailors in general have nearly 100% adoption rates of cell phones in their daily routines. And, many of those are the newer "smart phones" (RIM Blackberry, Apple iPhone, Nokia, Motorola, etc) that have GPS built-in. As suggested in one of the postings, it would be quite simple as part of the regatta/event registration process for every individual sailing in the event (crew included) to register their cell phone number. From a pure logistics standpoint, regatta managers can use this to SMS text anyone on anything going on at the event (on or off the water). Perhaps better yet, you could request regatta participants to download the FREE Zhiing client (created by sailors for sailors and friends during the last America's Cup) (see and you would have instantaneous "regatta groups" to send/ receive "location-based messages" in real-time. Talk about accountability, safety and security! This Zhiing client created by ZOS (see has already been used by the Santa Barbara Fire Department to coordinate fire and police and rescue/first responder crews during the 2008/2009 fire season. The simple task of fire-fighting, finding fire hydrants/ water sources and coordinating disparate crews from multiple townships was dramatically improved- savings lives and property. And, Homeland Security is now running Zhiing for "Amber Alerts" (missing children) and it's also testing Zhiing for "reverse 9-1-1".

Food for thought. It's about time we take advantage of a simple solution that helps everyone- sailors, regatta managers, race committees, rescue/coach boats and our beleaguered SAR "partners" (USCG, Marine Patrol, Life Guards and others).

Fair winds and fair sailing-
- Stuart Johnstone

Bruce Thompson

Sep 29, 2009, 6:34 AM

Post #37 of 39 (85911 views)
Re: [stuj24] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply


I agree that we should look at any new technologies that can improve our communications. But I think VHF will remain the primary method in preference to cell phones.

Texting has become quite popular, but I use two hands to do it, one to hold the phone and the other to hit the keys. I can use a VHF with one hand while driving with the other. On a pounding power boat racing to assist someone it would be awfully hard to hit the right key as you bounce over the waves. And they aren't very waterproof.

Cell phones require that you and the other party are both within line of sight of a tower. VHF will work ship-to-ship in the middle of the ocean. This is why the USCG uses VHF Channel 16. The ORC regulations require offshore boats to have 25 watt VHF radios and masthead antennas. Both greatly increase the effective range well beyond what you can get with a comparatively low power, small antenna just a few feet above water level using a cell phone. USCG regulations require vessels over 65 feet to have VHF and to monitor VHF 16. The more potential recipients of your distress call the better. The "open sourcing" of VHF communications allows you to embrace unexpected but useful help, such as the TV helicopter. The station probably was scanning the police channels and got wind of events and it was able to join in and be helpful. I'm sure the station brass was happy to bear the expense for some live action news visuals. Talking to the local USCG station on VHF also unwittingly put me in contact with the fire department. The USCG helicopter was based 90 NM away. The FD one about 3 NM. So the FD got there first. In fact, the Coast Guard was very surprised to get my report that a helicopter had dropped a diver in the water and the man had been recovered, well before any USCG assets were near the scene. even they did not expect the FD helicopter to intervene. You can't plan for every eventuality, but you've got to seize your opportunities when they present themselves.

Personal beacons are very short range locally, as they are intended to communicate through satellites. But you may have to wait for hours for a satellite to come overhead and send your call through to the Coast Guard. So the only potential rescuer in your immediate vicinity is the boat you fell off of. If it is disabled (e.g. dismasted) that may not be a lot of help.

So I would tend to keep it simple.

Don't fall overboard.
If that fails make sure you are wearing a reliable PFD.
Call for help ASAP, just like you teach your kids to dial 911 in an emergency.
Use whatever radio and visual communications you've got.
Anchor if possible, as the rescuers will start their search at your last known position. If you're still there you'll be found quicker.
Fight to survive.


Sep 30, 2009, 5:31 AM

Post #38 of 39 (85746 views)
Re: [R. G. Newbury] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

People don't enter races at their own risk alone. Good management and experienced safety officers are priority and foresight about racing conditions matters. Consider these:
  • Following a fleet up the course,
  • station crash boats in vulnerable areas such as the gybe mark,
  • count the rounding fleet,
  • sign in sign out procedure at dock,
  • carry a cell phone in a plastic bag tied to an accessible location,
  • punch in a speed dial to the onshore monitoring station
  • not racing 2 miles out in deep water
  • have a depth sounder onboard to avoid deep water
  • know the limitations of the class
  • no secret channels
  • all eyes on the water are part of the rescue, coaches and spectators alike
Star booms can knock you unconscious, they're fragile in severe weather and waves. Lastly, 2 guys should have stayed in the boat until, the one in the water was secured.

Glenn McCarthy

Oct 1, 2009, 2:31 PM

Post #39 of 39 (85434 views)
Re: [sailsmart] MOB at the Star North Americans [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

On reflection of what I wrote the other day, a better way to sum it up is that Mr. Cook should make a plea to the Racing Rules Committee of US SAILING to make a change in the format of sailing instructions in Appendix J, and simply include a line in there for the radio channel and phone numbers of rescue services available during the event. That would take care of his request.

And to Austin and other Star sailors and those who suggest ladders, eons ago a competitor who was very rotund went overboard. We sailed up to weather of him on our Star, tacked over without tacking the jib (hove to) and sailed sideways right down to him. As the edge of the boat was underwater, and water was 3/4 of the way up to the cockpit opening on the low side deck, I ducked under the boom and pulled the sailor in head first into the cockpit with incredible ease. This guy probably weighed 350 pounds and I was close to 200 pounds. I might make a comparison to a whaling ship, but then again, that sailor might be reading this!

If we can train everyone on this technique for Stars and similar boats, it eliminates the need for a ladder and is very easy to do.

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