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Boating accidents - a sign of the times
Team McLube


The Publisher

May 4, 2012, 5:15 PM

Post #1 of 17 (42672 views)
Boating accidents - a sign of the times Log-In to Post/Reply

By Rob Nye, nearly 50 years old
I believe that to understand the recent tragedies in California, we need to look at the entire sport of sailing and how the competitive side is managed and promoted.

As harsh as it may sound, both events are the result of a lack of good seamanship. Webster’s defines Seamanship as: the art or skill of handling, working, and navigating a ship. In modern times it appears that it is possible to be a professional sailor and not be a good seaman; it used to be that seamanship was a requirement to get invited in the first place. Now it’s what do you weigh, or how hard you can you hike. To navigate, it is to have superior computer skills.

Following these accidents, Gary Jobson, president of the U.S. Sailing, has said "we need to take a step back and take a deep breath with what we're doing. Something is going wrong here."

On one hand, I take offense at Gary's use of “we” as if all sailors bear some responsibility for a boat being caught inside the breaking surf or another apparently running into an island while motoring at night. Yet on the other, speaking as President of the governing body of our sport, perhaps US Sailing does share some blame for the lack of basic seamanship exhibited today. I hope the “what we’re doing” he refers to isn’t simply holding races; as if the event itself is to blame. It isn’t.

When I was growing up, the summer calendar was full of short, medium and long distance races that included sailing to fixed marks. Even day races used fixed marks, and once in a while, we’d put the kite up to get to the windward mark after drifting off the starting line. Once in a while, we even anchored. Navigation was more than “putting the pin in the box” and entering a range and bearing to the windward mark. On any given leg we might drift, beat to windward, reach, change sails and if we were lucky, even broach or at least enjoy a good knockdown.

It was during this era we learned to use harnesses, sail in the fog, keep an eye on each other and stay sharp when drifting around at 3am on Long Island Sound. Day races were sometimes another opportunity to practice seamanship as the decision to race was left with the skipper, not some government agency.

I remember leaving the dock for a fall series race with two reefs, the #4 jib and harnesses on for a “casual” race. Now race committees postpone if the line isn’t perfectly square, or the inflatable mark isn’t directly to windward, or they cancel the race if it’s blowing over 25 at the dock or worse, forecast to blow later in the day. Why get a crew that’s seen heavy weather when we don’t sail when it blows, and if we do all we’re going to do is sausages?

By definition if you won sailboat races you were a good seaman. Good seamen make the best sailors, however, recently it’s become apparent that you can be a good sailor without mastering the art of seamanship. I believe this is in part due to the overuse of the windward- leeward course. How can you become a world champion in an “offshore one-design” without ever sailing offshore, sailing at night, reefing the mainsail (do Farr 40’s even have reef points?), changing headsails and all the other aspects of sailing offshore, not to mention cancelling races when it’s windy?

One can be the US Sailing Offshore Champion by winning eight day races in Annapolis with one of them being a “long” day race. With no offense meant, I wonder how many members of the winning crew could step onboard a strange boat for the Fastnet Race and contribute to a good safe passage. Rarely do we read about seamanship in the popular magazines; all the instructional information is about rules, tactics and speed.

Sadly, recent events have proven that most modern sailboat racing should be confined to protected waters while we wait for an explanation from the President of US Sailing, and a list of who is to blame.

I hate the idea of people getting killed on a sailboat race; just about every tragedy is a result of a chain of events with one link usually being a lack of preparation or competence. I hate that these accidents happen, and it pains me that they can be used for more regulations, intervention by non-sailors into our sport or the change from sailing offshore to protected waters.

I long for the days when it was the skipper’s responsibility to go or not, and you could look at the guy next to you and know that if the sh#t hit the fan, he’d be a good guy to be with because your skipper used the same standards to invite him as he did you.

It’s disappointing that the President of US Sailing would accept any responsibility for either event; in each case it lies with the people on the boats and no one else.

The Publisher

May 4, 2012, 5:17 PM

Post #2 of 17 (42666 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Boating accidents - a sign of the times [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

One year I was lambasted by a local organizer for saying that the sport starts simply, with two people agreeing to "race to the buoy and back. Set your watches and start in 20 minutes." No chase boats. No waivers. No judges.

Inherent in that simple idea are all the considerations and consequences of going offshore: Are we ready? Do we know how? What if we screw up? What's our lifeline? How will we help each other?

Organizers, meanwhile, tend to assume that we are not ready, and that they must be, by default, the judge of readiness.

So here is the question: if we don't apply personal responsibility principles, how do we expect to have a culture that lives them?

Rob is right. The fault is either with the skippers and crews that made bad decisions, or, perhaps, there is no fault at all, and these were simply accidents. Sailing needn't rethink anything accept how much we want to be organized.



Nicholas Hayes

Solent Sailor

May 6, 2012, 7:37 PM

Post #3 of 17 (42508 views)
Re: [The Publisher] Boating accidents - a sign of the times [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I agree with this about "racing". I wanted to organise a two handed race a few years back and I said he same thing. Be at such and such a location on an agreed date and we run a gate start and all head off. No need for ANYTHING except competitors. Same applies to one-designs and fully crewed handicap racing. We are over organised not under organised.

Solent Sailor

May 6, 2012, 7:42 PM

Post #4 of 17 (42504 views)
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Hi Rob, 100% agree with this. I just started solo "offshore" sailing (at the age of 51) - it's day and one-night races, not really offshore, but despite having done all the big offshores and been a part of the system for 35 years it's not until you take responsibility for yourself that you are really taking the issue seriously. Once you are alone on board and your decisions are the only ones that can look after you it's amazing how the brain starts thinking differently. I speak for personal experiences over 40 years of sailing. The world is over regulated and people think nasty things are being eliminated from the world. A dangerous assumption for us all.

William Burtis

May 7, 2012, 12:15 AM

Post #5 of 17 (42365 views)
Re: [Solent Sailor] Boating accidents - a sign of the times [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Rob is exactly on target, but it is not only offshore that the lack of seamanship is prevalent, but in small boat sailing as well. Just simple things like knowing how to coil, separate, and throw a 50' towline and tie a bowline around a mast and tie the next towline into your bowline is lost on most of todays sailors. But the worst is seeing what happens at a one design event when a squall hits. Everyone sails under full canvas towards the dock, thinking they can beat the weather and get on the hoist before it hits. Invariably, the boats that do make it to the dock will get the crap beaten out of them from the other boats and the pilings and the dock itself. The ones that don't make it capsize and cannot be righted until the squall goes by. Many times I have taken my sails off and rolled them up while the wind is still beginning to build, and sailed bare poles in the thunderstorm, rain and hail coming down but otherwise no drama or damage, only to pass the capsized and damaged boats and arrive at the hoist after all the carnage and haul out when the wind dies and the people who ran for cover are still inside the clubhouse. The last place I want my boat in a 60 mph blow is tied to a dock or float. I would rather grab a mooring and sit it out until the dock carnage clears.


May 7, 2012, 12:49 PM

Post #6 of 17 (41883 views)
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As a sailor a decade older than you, I share your experiences of the changes in our sport from out here in California.

My personal opinion, having read everything I can find and talked to everyone I can, is that both accidents off our coast in the last month could be attributed to poor judgement, poor seamanship and a lack of luck. Luck can carry a sailor around a rock or over a shoal that they hadn't noticed, but it's seamanship and judgement that vastly reduces the number of times one needs the help of Lady Luck.

Many who hear of the two accidents in the last month have called for a crisp answer to exactly what could be done to prevent them ever happening again. What rule could be made? This demonstrates a serious lack of understanding of what racing a sailboat in the ocean entails. The competition we love can't be made completely safe. Rather, good judgement and seamanships can significantly reduce the risk of additional accidents. No crisp rule can deal with the thousands of variables and situations in which competitors can find themselves.

Just as a NASCAR driver learns that the bumpy track at Darlington can lead to a crash and that they must leave a little extra speed behind to build up a margin of safety, sailors need to learn that they must leave a little more water to leeward or a few more hours of sleep for the crew to build up their margin of safety. Sailing, exactly like almost ever other physically dangerous sport, requires that the competitors learn the size of the safety margin required to return home safely.

Yet, they also need to understand when to reduce those margins to the absolute minimum to win races. No one who races cars, motorcycles or airplanes would ever dream of claiming that they are entirely safe, nor that any rule or regulation can make them so. The smaller they make the safety margin, the closer they get to winning and the more dangerous their sport becomes. Sailing is exactly the same and should come as no surprise. Yet, many are acting as if they don't understand this simple fact.

In the most recent two accidents her in California there was little if any reason for the two competitors involved to reduce safety margins. The Aegean, racing in the Ensenada Race, was in the Cruising Class and appears to have been under power with most (if not all) of her crew asleep. This is hardly a high pressure, win at any cost behavior. The Low Speed Chase, racing in the fully crewed Farallon Islands Race, had started about an hour after their competitors and fully understood that they were "out of the competition". Again, there was no reason to reduce safety margins to gain competitive advantage. We are, therefore, left wondering why were those safety margins were reduced?

It is answering this simple question: Why would a competitor, with little or no chance of winning, put themselves and their shipmates at risk? That it starts to become clear that many of your points are on target. Sailing in "controlled" environments with others looking out for the size of your personal safety margin, be it PFDs, Jack Lines, EPRIBs, Life Rafts or abandoning a race in foul weather has lead to an abdication of responsibility. Not having ever been exposed to making these safety decisions, competitors are untrained and unprepared to make them.

This leads us to the question: How do we train competitors to use better judgement and learn better seamanship? I would strongly suggest that it is only done in the manner it has always been done, through apprenticeship. An unpopular concept in many parts of modern culture, it is painfully clear to me that one can't learn to read the waves passing over a shoal by reading forums on the Internet, reading magazines or books, or through following regulations provided by even the most enlightened source. It takes hundreds of waves over many different weather patterns under the guidance of someone who knows how it's done. For centuries sailors went to sea under the watchful eyes of an experienced skipper, this is the only way to learn judgement and seamanship.

As a very young man, I had the privilege to race for some tremendous racers and seaman, and they made sure I got an ear full about the perils of racing. I have distinct memories of rounding Richardson's Rock off of Pt. Conceptions in the Channel Island Race and having the skipper ask me how many MILES off of the rock we should be to insure our safety in the dark. It was a test, it was apprenticeship, I learned.

Let's get back to taking our younger sailors out and talking to them about judgement and seamanship. Let's leave the discussions of Rule 18 and mark rounding to Coaches and focus on keeping our young people safe at sea. We are the old farts that can make this happen, if we care enough to take on the task.



May 7, 2012, 1:11 PM

Post #7 of 17 (41872 views)
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* From Ray Tostado, HGYC:
Any inquiry into the event of the Aegean is worth the bother of reading and listening to differing offers of speculation as to what occurred that middle of the night on April 29th. Even if by later disclosure the speculations prove un supportable, the conversation and alertness aroused by the event will do some good to persons otherwise disinterested in boating safety.

To date there is no talk as to locating and salvaging the vessel's remains. Only the accumulated debris might hold any evidence as to what caused the impact. Either a ship to ship collision, or an impact upon the vertical cliffs of North Island, Coronados.

The choice of imagining the vessel was dragged along by a larger ship has lost support and it is the general consensus that a vertical cliff was the point of impact. If this can be resolved by the salvage of Aegean's remains, and possibly the missing victim, will close that view of the tragedy. Whatever comes later, the impact trauma is without question was a very energy driven event. The strewn debris and the body trauma of the recovered victims can only conclude that this event went on beyond the first point of impact. Perhaps grinding along the island's vertical wall for hundreds of yards. At perhaps 7 knots, until the motor failed.

What remains, is to reconstruct the time period prior to impact.

The only evidence during this period is the SPOT tract record of Aegean's course prior to reaching the point of impact. This will remain the only real fact of this event. The transponder path is irrefutable evidence of the course Aegean was demonstrating prior to the islands. (The SPOT TRACK HAS BEEN REMOVED FROM THE WEB PAGE).

Up until the skipper decided to go into motoring mode, around an abeam position northerly of Mission Bay, the SPOT tract specifically shows what must be a human hand at the helm. The slight side steps in the plot is obvious. Then, about frame 27, the course suddenly becomes straight, and presumed to be aimed to the Todos Santos Harbor entrance as a lay line. What is very obvious at this point is that the selection of that course put Aegean directly into a collision course to the North Island.

From frame 27 the speed increased noticeably, indicating the motor was engaged. The speed likely went from around 1-2 knots to around 7. After furling the headsail, it can be assumed the crew went into a non-combat mode and the helmsman was the only assignment on duty.
It would not have been an error in judgment for crew members to have gone below to their convenience.

A time portrait now would have one man, with life jacket, on deck and on watch as the helmsman; although the vessel was in an autopilot mode. [?] It is not known if the A/P was interfaced with any GPS logic, or operating only with a gyro compass correction. That is, was the GPS if engaged to monitor the A/P course capable of issuing a warning, or course correction, to the land mass printed on all navigation charts.

It is necessary to comment at this time that it seems unusual for a course to be entered into an auto pilot and no one noticing the collision course which resulted. One can imagine various situation dramas during the decision to enter motoring mode as how it essentially becomes part of the entire race strategy. To not have visually traced the selected course and not noticed the islands seems very unusual. But the unusual is what usually occurs.

Someone at the helm, ready to set an A/P course calls down below for a compass bearing to the "finish line". This mark and it's coordinates would have overlooked the entrance mark to Todos Santos Bay which is used in order to steer clear of the headlands below Sal Si Puedes. This outside turning mark is very likely the lay line course which Aegean was using when under sail.
It is not currently known where Aegean maintained the GPS console and screen monitor. Where it was located would bear significantly at this time. Were it below then it would require a crew member to make the mark calibration and course. If it was at the helm station then very likely the helmsman would have done this determination himself. (Viewing a current photo of Aegean at the start of the race one can conclude that some manner of chart screen was mounted at the helm.)

At that time period, still under sail, where Aegean's course was set to pass the islands on the west side, adjusting to a new lay line, should have indicated a course which would have shown a heading directly towards the islands. If the person making the course determination had a specific awareness to their proximity. At the time of initiating the motor mode course correction it should have been determined whether to pass to the west or the east. Instead the course remains directly aimed at the North Island. Perhaps an option was made to wait until the islands came into view before making that choice.

Then again, if a crew member below had been asked for a course to the "finish line", that person may not have realized that the finish line cannot be followed directly as how it is inside the bay. It can only be approached from a seaward position, or a sharp left turn if following the Sal Si Puedes headlands. Race marks entered into a GPS course overlay would include an arbitrary turning mark 15 miles outside the Bay and a finish line mark inside the Bay; determined by wind conditions at that time if under sail.

But if that person responding to a new course selection was not experienced and familiar to the area, then this may have been the moment when the event's conclusion became inevitable. That person may have called back the finish line mark and inadvertently directed the vessel's path into the Islands instead of westerly in a parallel pass.

Any person on watch is traditionally responsible for visual surveillance. Having communicated with persons who have long term experience with the area state that the islands are very often very obscure at the dead of night to tired eyes. There are no navigation beacons when approaching from the NNW . It also seems that the closer one gets to the islands the less discernable they are apart from the night sky. In an overcast moonless night the islands are virtually invisible.

A calendar reference as to the moon phase note of it being a waxing phase around the 1/3 return. But the exact time of it's presence in the sky is to be further referenced. It is quite possible that Aegean had no moonlight at the time they reached the islands.
Returning to the time frame after the Aegean had committed to a lay line under power, it is necessary to consider a scenario involving the activities of the crew prior to impact. And also to the mechanical characteristic of the vessel under power, as to it's ventilation protocol.
The crew most likely adopted a responsible procedure of rest, nutrition and checking the deck items as to sheets, lines and sails ready for the time when sailing would resume.

Very likely there would be a designated rest period scheduled. Perhaps the crew had been designed as a 2/2 with the off watch taking a full rest break, and the on watch having a helmsman at a duty station and his co-crew sitting as company in the cockpit. Or, it may have been arranged for the co-watch to also take a rest break below leaving only one man on deck. If this were so, then it would be a fact that only one crew member had the responsibility of lookout.

Now enters a conjecture where there was an ominous event in progress in the cabin area. The engine powering Aegean at 7 knots most likely was churning up around 2800 rpm.
Unless one were to do a scientific analysis of the various wind flow angles over a Hunter 37 design form, it would not be possible to model an exhaust gas flow capable of entering the cabin. Often referred to as the "station wagon effect".

Diesel exhaust has a distinct odor not similar to gasoline's invisible signature. Or does it?
Would it be possible that as the helmsman was not aware of exhaust gases entering the cabin?
Surrounding air flow currents are in constant turbulence as the hull form vortex swirls; and possibly into the cabin; where 3 crew members lay in deep sleep. Such random flow can easily take control of exhaust gases as they condense at the transom area and direct them to the cabin hatch area, where the weight of the exhaust fumes would settle down into the cabin.
It is reasonable that the helmsman determined the end of his watch period had arrived and called below for relief.

At that time a tragic event was in the making.

The end of the helmsman's watch was in co-incidence to nearing the North Island, and he had not made visual contact. Going below to spark some response from the sleeping crew left the helm unattended, and no watch to realize the impending collision with North Island. (But, returning to the pre-start photo, shouldn't the map chart noticed at the helm have shown the immanent approach of North Island?)

This is all logical and reasonable. If it were functioning. Upon entering the the cabin he would have realized the other crew members had been affected by the exhaust fumes. His natural course would have been to try and revive them with shouts and shakes. At this moment he would have been the only one wearing a life jacket. At this moment Aegean could have collided upon the sheer wall cliffs of North Island.

The recovered victims were not wearing life jackets. Only one of the three was presumed to have drowned. The other two were defined as being the victims of "blunt force trauma". Not from drowning.
But suppose the trauma deaths were a misdiagnosis? Suppose the two victims were already dead when the impact occurred? Then there would be only two live crew members below when the collision occurred. The helmsman and the recovered drowning victim. The one who must have been near death but still breathing. And he would have downed. (The one clad in a T shirt?)
The deaths from blunt force trauma, likely were dead prior to the moment of impact as the ship broke up and their bodies were ejected into the sea already having died from monoxide poisoning.

The helmsman would have been trapped below, by the life jacket he was wearing.
If the impact was sever enough to break the hull so traumatically that the total flood period was a matter of mere seconds, he could have been pinned to the cabin overhead by the floatation of his vest as the vessel sank.

With the engine engaged at 7 kts the hull could have scrapped along the cliff wall until entering sea water smothered it's operation. This may have all occurred in under 60 seconds. During that time the hull would have continued to disintegrate and sink.

There is another option still possible.

It could be that the helmsman was also incapacitated and unable to make any course correction that would have avoided the collision. Add to that possibility, would he have also been attached with his safety harness as a normal act of protocol when on deck at night? Only the recovery, minimally the viewing, of the vessel's remains can settle any of these conjectures.


May 7, 2012, 1:11 PM

Post #8 of 17 (41871 views)
Re: [ms] Boating accidents - a sign of the times [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

* From John Riise:
Enough already with the armchair experts who can instantly analyze and solve every tragedy that befalls the rest of us ignorant proles. While on the face of it, the loss of life in the Ensenada Race appears to be the worst-case-scenario of a rookie seamanship mistake, we don’t know for sure. And may never know. As for Low Speed Chase and the horrible accident at the Farallones, that was an experienced crew and — from what I’ve read — that boat was not unusually close to the island. They were just in the wrong place at the mother of all wrong times.

Like it or not, folks, there but for fortune go all of us.

Mistakes are a necessary part of the learning curve in any endeavor. Fortunately, in most cases, there is plenty of room for error and planty of time to laugh about it later. When I used to cover racing in the Bay Area, I recall in the early Costal Cup races — pre-GPS, of course — that some boats actually missed Catalina!

And sometimes, even with the best modern navigation equipment and weather forecasts, there is no room for error and lives are lost.

I think it’s a bit much to expect everyone who sails into the ocean on a boat to be experts on everything from meteorology to wave dynamics to underwater topography to, yes, every nuance of seamanship. Hey, even Captain Smith of the Titanic made perhaps the most infamous ‘bad’ seamanship call in history: not slowing down for ice. And this was a highly decorated captain with more than 30 years of seagoing experience in numerous ships, many of which he commanded.

I applaud the Coast Guard for suspending racing in the ocean off San Francisco temporarily and look forward to what the esteemed panel of experts has to say, and what recommendations they might have to make things better in the future.

As far as establishing a safety zone, or waypoint or even a buoy offshore of the west side of Southeast Farallone Island, with all due respect might I suggest that could all be made moot with the placement of a buoy on the East side of the island. Future racers would get the same thrill of sailing to ‘The Rockpile’, but instead of rounding the island, they’d simply round a buoy in front of it before heading home. This practice is already used inside the Bay in races such as the Three Bridge Fiasco, where boats round buoys near the three big bridges.

It would not eliminate the danger completely. You can never do that when you venture into the ocean. But it would at least eliminate the potential for another tragedy like that that befell Low Speed Chase.

And for what it's worth, LSC is not the only race boat that has ever been driven ashore by waves in that cove. About 15 years ago, an F-31 trimaran was pummeled to bits on the rocks. Fortunately, her doublehanded crew were rescued by other racers.

The Publisher

May 9, 2012, 10:46 AM

Post #9 of 17 (41662 views)
Re: [ms] Boating accidents - a sign of the times [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

From Gerard Wolf:
WOW! Rob Nye has done a wonderful job of putting into words my exact sentiments concerning the recent west coast incidents. Above all else, when going sailing (on any body of water), seamanship is the prime responsibility of the skipper, but also the crew. When venturing offshore, navigation becomes a critical job. Have I been lucky at times in the past to escape navigational lapses? Yes. Have I learned from those events? YES! The government is trying to remove individual responsibility from our lexicon, let us please not do the same to sailing.

From Tom Wheatley (83 years old), Long Beach, CA:

Rob Nye's comments in Scuttlebutt 3585, unfortunately, are correct and right to the point. I've been ocean racing for over 60 years on both the Atlantic and now the Pacific side. Every accident that I can remember, similar to the recent ones out here, has been the result of poor seamanship, bad navigation or alcohol. US Sailing, the sponsoring yacht club or any other governing body should not accept responsibility for these tragic events. Crews should be competent in all areas to race their boat in all conditions. Unfortunately, some of them aren't, and as long as this situation exists, these tragic accidents will happen.

The Publisher

May 10, 2012, 6:06 AM

Post #10 of 17 (41626 views)
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From Scott Kaufman:
Rob Nye lays out the obvious. You can't gain experience and seamanship unless you are actually out there and doing it. I grew up racing at the Cruising Yacht Club in Sydney and if I remember correctly in the 60's there were nine ocean races between 100 and 680 miles in the annual sailing program. In addition there was a shorter summer and winter series. The longer races started on a Friday evening at 5:00 pm and finished one or two days later.

Clearly lifestyles have changed and the desire to spend several days at sea in less than desirable conditions have changed. However it begs the question about how you gain the basics of seamanship and how important it is when things go wrong. The best professionals are clearly out there doing it and have lots of experience. The question is how does the average sailor get enough experience to be safe at sea?

The Publisher

May 11, 2012, 7:01 AM

Post #11 of 17 (41575 views)
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In Reply To
From Scott Kaufman:
Rob Nye lays out the obvious. You can't gain experience and seamanship unless you are actually out there and doing it. I grew up racing at the Cruising Yacht Club in Sydney and if I remember correctly in the 60's there were nine ocean races between 100 and 680 miles in the annual sailing program. In addition there was a shorter summer and winter series. The longer races started on a Friday evening at 5:00 pm and finished one or two days later.

Clearly lifestyles have changed and the desire to spend several days at sea in less than desirable conditions have changed. However it begs the question about how you gain the basics of seamanship and how important it is when things go wrong. The best professionals are clearly out there doing it and have lots of experience. The question is how does the average sailor get enough experience to be safe at sea?

From Brad Avery, Orange Coast College School of Sailing and Seamanship:
Scott Kaufman's question "how does the average sailor get enough experience to be safe at sea?" is a loaded one.

We are never safe at sea, whether we are professionals or amateurs. We are always one bad decision away from disaster. My goal is to sail error-free on each cruise or race, but I know this is impossible to achieve. The quest for a voyage free of mistakes goes on.

Time on the water, training, humility, and constant vigilance are the keys to being "safer." Knowing you're never safe also helps.

The Publisher

May 13, 2012, 1:02 PM

Post #12 of 17 (41461 views)
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From Rob Wallace, Laguna Niguel, CA:
Just a footnote to Brad Avery's excellent comments regarding safety at sea and also my associated comment about the recent Ensenada race tragedy. Truly a tragedy it was, but we all wonder how in the world someone could just simply smack right into a well charted island on a well traveled route with all of today's GPS plotters and electronic navigation devices? Well charted island? Let me explain.

I just arrived last week from bringing a yacht up from Panama and we heard about the horrible news halfway up. My Mate had this new plotter program by Nobeltec on his laptop, called Odyssey, described as an entry level program. We zoomed in on the Coronado Islands and we couldn't believe our eyes! The Satellite Photo overlay was enabled and the Coronados were completely obscured by clouds, evidently in that area when the satellite photo was taken! You have to look real close to make out anything that looks like an island! This program uses what are called MapMedia mm3d charts. Check it out if you have it.

Now obviously, I have no idea what navigation methods were being used aboard the Aegean, but my point is that these new plotters, not just Odyssey, are being designed now with such slick and eye popping graphics and colors and 3D, surely just to sell product at boat shows! The displays spin and zoom in slickly and in Night Mode the ocean is black with depth contour colors everywhere and it's hard to tell the 20fm curve from the beach! It's all very cool indeed but even with my 40 years of experience, I have to look real close when in Night Mode. It can be unsafe to the untrained eye.

In all fairness, electronic navigation has certainly made navigating easier and thus safer in most regards. But I also think that the software designers need to step back and understand that they bear some responsibility in assuring that their customers can navigate as safely as possible, first and foremost.


May 14, 2012, 5:39 AM

Post #13 of 17 (41231 views)
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Years ago a couple of friends were transporting a 32' sailboat down the Potomac River to the bay and set as a waypoint a can at the mouth . In the fog on autopilot they hit the mark , literally . Maybe some such thing happened last month going south . Late at night ; a tired crew ( I have gotten sleepy to the point of steering 90 when I should have been steering 60 ) , the drone of the engine , an auto-pilot ........ZZZZZ


Jun 8, 2012, 12:49 PM

Post #14 of 17 (39828 views)
Re: [BeauVrolyk] Boating accidents - a sign of the times [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

I agree with beau here. Navigation charts should be unquestionably clear in this respect. Modern 'viewing modes' need to very clearly indicate that these modes are not for navigation. This is why I still use RNC's in Expedition when I'm using it for routing, but also rely on an increasingly large library of paper charts for all my real time navigation as I can make notations on the paper charts and they are trivially cheap to print at Fedex/Kinkos on the large format printer. I believe I pay ~$4 per sheet to print charts these days. With a paper chart and regulary plotted DR or fixes transferred from the GPS to paper you always have a fallback in the event of electronic failure.

But in the case of the Farallon Race, it seems there will always be some competitor that's willing to cut the corner closer than is prudent to get an advantage. I am not saying that this is what happened, but there are plenty of competitors out there who regularly make this choice. There is more than adequate depth around the Farallons to place offset buoys and I wonder why this hasn't been done. The nature of the race and the general lack of the very skills mentioned at the head of this thread intersect at a place I as a competitor don't ever want others to be in.

The RC bears some responsibility here because they should understand that among the competitors there will be certain individuals lacking the requisite experience in certain conditions who will choose unwisely. Knowing this, it seems that the only prudent course is to establish an exclusion zone around the islands and keep competitors in deeper water where the risk of encountering breaking waves that may founder a yacht is less present.

For my part, I simply wont participate in races where the course is such that competitors can gain significant advantage by taking these kinds of risks. It simply isn't a fair test of racing skill.



Jul 3, 2012, 5:25 PM

Post #15 of 17 (37603 views)
Re: [willsailforfood] Boating accidents - a sign of the times [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

To put things in a slightly different context: While I don't wish to judge the seamanship of the sailors in these accidents, it is true that every accident can be attributed to a failure of seamanship. However, let's not forget what kinds of sailors have made terrible mistakes. Some of the greatest names in the sport, starting with Slocum, have died at sea. Am I a better sailor than he is? I think I'd be more comfortable just saying that I whatever mistakes I've made, they didn't result in fatalities. I got away with them. When I start to believe I'm too good a seaman to make a mistake that kills me and my crew, I think I better swallow the anchor.
Tony Johnson


Jul 20, 2012, 7:08 PM

Post #16 of 17 (36568 views)
Re: [terrulian] Boating accidents - a sign of the times [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Just to add to Tony's response. When I was a young Air Force Fighter Pilot, I was invincible. Whenever one of my compatriots died, I chalked it up to poor airmanship, noting that it would never happen to one as skillful as myself.

Gradually I began to realized how deluded I was. After 17,000+ hours in the air, I understand that the accidents that I attribute to a lack of skill could just as easily happen to me if I didn't learn from them, stay alert, continue to sharpen my skills, admit my mistakes and limit them and their consequences.

Monday morning quarterbacking is an entertaining pastime but assigning blame simply to a lack of seamanship leading to a fatal mistake without learning from it or admitting that in some way, "there but for the grace of God go I", is a dangerous business.
Check Six .......Mal


Jul 20, 2012, 10:10 PM

Post #17 of 17 (36563 views)
Re: [Mal] Boating accidents - a sign of the times [In reply to] Log-In to Post/Reply

Interesting you mention pilots. In The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe reports that all the test pilots told themselves the same things when a buddy "augured in," which was that the unfortunate pilot was always a hot dog, didn't do his homework, etc....meaning, "it could never happen to me."
Tony Johnson

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