Hearing slapping halyards can be annoying or even enraging. It’s an unnecessary noise, and the person who doesn’t tie off the halyards is being inconsiderate of others. It’s as annoying as a barking dog that yaps all the time, ignored by its owner. If you’re a sailboat operator tie, off the halyards away from the mast whenever the boat is at anchor, on a mooring, in a marina, or stored on land. Even the halyards on a small sailboat can make a racket. If you’re bothered by a noisy nearby sailboat and someone is aboard, it’s perfectly OK to ask that the halyards be tied off. I know some boaters who will go aboard an unoccupied sailboat in a marina with a length of heavy twine and tie the halyards off themselves. It’s probably not legal to go aboard, but they are annoyed enough to do it. There’s a story circulating about a woman who lived at Great Salt Pond in Block Island, Rhode Island, who rowed out to sailboats to request that they tie off their halyards because she could hear them from her house on the harbor. Be a good neighbor.
What happens to the water when the wind blows in opposition to a current? (The word “tide” is often used as a synonym for current, as in “wind against tide”). If you’ve never encountered this in your travels you may not know. If you’ve been in a wind against current situation, you probably remember. A strong current flowing against a strong wind can produce waves that may be dangerous to vessels of all sizes, and in some places only a moderate wind against a current can produce uncomfortable or even dangerous conditions.
When the wind opposes the current, the wave height increases and the wave length (distance between wave crests) decreases. You get short, steep seas. Fortunately, most cruising guides and some charts indicate locations where these conditions may occur. Wind with current decreases the wave height and increases the wave length, so it’s not as dangerous, but the conditions could still be challenging to navigate.
Long, well-written, detailed analysis by Thom Patterson on CNN.com about the sinking of the tall ship Bounty. http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2013/03/us/bounty/?hpt=hp_c1
As Hurricane Sandy drove northward along the U.S. east coast, the 52-year old wooden replica tall ship, Bounty, departed New London, CT on October 25, sailing southward. Five days later, the two met off Cape Hatteras, and Sandy won. Bounty sank and two lives were lost; a crewmember and the captain. Heroic efforts by Coast Guard helicopter crews rescued the other 14 crewmembers who had abandoned ship during the storm.
What does the loss of a 120 ft. wooden tall ship and movie prop (Mutiny on the Bounty, 1962) have to do with you if you operate or crew on a recreational sail or power vessel?
This tragedy is a story about human action, inaction, decision-making, and choices. These are part of our daily lives, too, at home and when we venture out on the water.
Mario Vittone, retired U.S. Coast Guard and Navy veteran, and a maritime safety authority, wrote an excellent series of articles summarizing each of the eight days of testimony at the Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board Bounty hearings, Feb. 12 – 25, 2013.
These articles are available at http://gcaptain.com. They are not overly-technical, and they are gripping, fascinating reading. You don’t even have to know what a tall ship is to understand what happened, and to take away valuable lessons that apply to all boaters.
While it will be months before the official conclusions are drawn about the accident, Mr. Vittone’s reports reveal the record of action, inaction, decision-making and choices aboard Bounty.
1. The captain disregarded weather forecasts before and during the voyage. Sandy was very well tracked and reported by official government weather sources. There were 50 other tall ships situated on the U.S. east coast at this time and not one went to sea in the face of Sandy.
2. The captain ignored three opportunities during the voyage to divert to a safe harbor as the storm forecasts worsened. Available to Bounty in the prevailing wind and sea conditions were New York Harbor/ Hudson River, Delaware Bay and the C&D Canal, Chesapeake Bay at the southern entrance.
3. The crew failed to test essential systems before departure: engines, generators, bilge pumps, long-distance HF radio and Inmarsat-C communication equipment, and electrical systems. Apparently, the captain did not insist that tests be conducted.
4. No one kept maintenance records for engines, generators or bilge pumping systems. The engineer did not know the basics about diesel engines and could not describe the bilge pumping systems.
5. The captain decided to delay recommended repairs discovered in boatyard inspections prior to departure “until the next yard period.”
6. Critical hull maintenance was done by inexperienced crew who used methods and products for maintenance and repair recommended by the captain, some of which were not standard practice or recommended for marine use on wooden ships.
7. New crew was taught by inexperienced existing crew. For example, “Bosun A” had been aboard 16 months before he taught new person (“Bosun B”) the job of hull maintenance. Bosun B took over after 16 months of experience on Bounty’s hull.
8. Survey recommendations from one surveyor were not carried out, while another surveyor appears to have provided inadequate or incomplete vessel surveys.
9. The crew operated under “the illusion of experience.” Only two individuals (the captain and chief mate) had prior tall ship experience. The captain, with his 17 years of experience aboard Bounty, was revered as the expert, and no one else aboard (except, perhaps, the chief mate) had the knowledge or experience to question his decisions about the management, maintenance, or operation of the vessel. For six of the 14 survivors, Bounty was their first tall ship. One crewmember had five seasons aboard Bounty. The cook had 45 hours aboard Bounty before she abandoned ship with the others.
10. The hiring of inexperienced crew by the captain and the chief mate created a “system of incompetence” aboard the vessel. Mario Vittone says: “[Incompetence] was the unaccounted for 17th passenger that ended the life of the ship, of her captain, and of [crewmember] Claudene Christian.”
11. The crew was not trained in the use of the bilge pumps or the backup emergency pumps.
12. Design changes were made to Bounty in prior years that may have affected her stability.
13. The captain delayed the decision to abandon ship until the situation was grave. This delay forced the crew to abandon at night, with no time to prepare for an orderly evacuation of the vessel. Crewmembers were injured, and it is remarkable that more lives were not lost.
14. No Pan Pan radio call was made to the Coast Guard early in the crisis before the situation became a Mayday emergency. Bounty was taking on water fast when the weather worsened on Oct. 27, and early in the morning of the 28th the pumps couldn’t keep up. They abandoned ship on the 29th. Only the timely response and skill of the Coast Guard prevented more loss of life.
15. When the time for a Mayday came, the untested HF radio and the Inmarsat-C communication equipment was inoperable.
The lessons should be obvious:
1. Pay attention to the weather. You don’t need a storm forecast to tell you it’s better to stay in port. A forecast may turn out to be wrong, but sometimes it’s even worse out there.
2. When you plan a trip on the water, make notes about alternate harbors and routes, in case bad weather makes it uncomfortable or unsafe to proceed to your destination. Don’t hesitate to turn back or go to an alternate safe harbor.
3. Regularly maintain and test all critical systems aboard your boat: engine, bilge pumps, electrical system, communication equipment, emergency and safety equipment. This is basic seamanship.
4. Keep maintenance records for all boat systems.
5. Practice safety drills aboard your vessel and make sure everyone knows what to do and how to operate necessary equipment in an emergency.
6. Don’t hesitate to make a Pan Pan radio call in a difficult situation. The Coast Guard would like to be notified that you may need help BEFORE it turns into a Mayday. They can prepare to assist you if needed, and they may be able to assist on the radio to stabilize the situation.
7. Don’t assume that someone who has more experience than you knows everything. If you lack experience you are not in a position to judge. Yes, you have to rely on professionals and persons with experience, but sometimes it may be important to seek a second or third opinion about a person’s competence or decision-making, particularly where matters of vessel or personal safety are involved. Also, if something doesn’t seem right, maybe it isn’t. Use your intuition to question and seek answers.
Being a responsible skipper or crewmember involves educating yourself and learning as much as possible about the operation and maintenance of boats that you own or use. You don’t have to know how to do everything, but you need to understand what should be done, and then check that it is done properly to accepted standards of marine practice. When you are the person in charge of a vessel, you make decisions and choices that can affect the lives of other people.
(quotes are from Mr. Vittone’s articles. The interpretation of the information contained in his articles is mine.)
Before beginning a maneuver that requires the crew to participate (such as docking, anchoring, reefing or changing a sail, tacking or jibing, coming alongside another boat, etc.), brief everyone who will be involved about what you plan to do and what each person is expected to do. Explain things well in advance of the maneuver so people don’t have to rush around at the last minute to get ready. After completing the maneuver, review what each of you did well and what might have been done better. It’s good for learning and for crew cohesiveness. It’s even good to brief and debrief yourself if you’re single-handing.
DO WE HAVE ENOUGH FENDERS?
We’ve all put on a show for the bystanders at one time or another when we come alongside a dock or pier. No matter how careful we are something may go wrong. As we gain experience we do better, but all docking circumstances are different, keeping us on our toes. Remind your crewmembers that they should let the boat hit rather than stick out an arm or leg – it’s not worth risking an injury. Even a small boat can hit with surprising force if it comes alongside too fast or a wave pushes it against the pier.
I’m a big fan of a midships spring line for many docking situations, even on fairly small boats. If the bow line is given to a person on the dock first, the bow almost always hits the dock (unless the line handler knows not to pull on it). A midships spring is attached to a strong point at the middle of the boat (a cleat, or a chainplate on a sailboat if there’s no midships cleat). When someone pulls on a midships spring line the middle of the boat moves towards the dock, which is what you want. There are other advantages to using a midships spring line. Check out pp. 142-143 in the Mariner’s Guide for a discussion of docking, and pp. 385-386 for spring lines and techniques used to spring a vessel.
The highest spring tides occur on or near the dates of the equinoxes. If you go hard aground or strand on a high equinoctial tide the boat may be stuck there for six months, unless a crane or heavy-lift helicopter can be hired, or the boat is small enough to move by other less-expensive means. Watch the depths and the calendar where you operate!
Safety lessons. After boating accidents, investigations are conducted and reports are issued. Government authorities, such as the Coast Guard, the department of transportation marine division, and/or the police may be involved. Private groups, such as committees of boating experts, race committees, and organizations involved in sail and powerboat racing and cruising may also conduct investigations. Their reports give details and useful information, providing safety guidance for all boaters.
Reading about accidents may give the impression that boating is a particularly dangerous sport, but remember that safe days on the water usually are not reported in the press.
Thirty-eight foot sailboat Low Speed Chase capsized during the 58-mile Full Crew Farallon Islands Race, San Francisco, California, April 14, 2012. Five lives were lost, the first time for a fatality since this race series began in 1907.
During the race, Low Speed Chase sailed over a relatively shallow area (28 ft.) along a lee shore and was capsized by a series of large waves and driven on the rocks. Seven of the eight crew were thrown into the water and five persons died. The investigating panel held that the “failure of seamanship in negotiating shoal waters on a lee shore” was the direct cause of the incident. “If the crew of Low Speed Chase had sailed in deeper water, they could have prevented the tragedy.” In addition to the primary cause, there were other safety issues which “may have mitigated the outcome.”
1. "Inadequate personal safety gear in use for offshore conditions.”
2. “Communication difficulties and discipline among the entire fleet” [of racing sailboats]
3. “Race management protocol flaws creating uncertainty around search and rescue
[above quotes from pp. 4-5, Farallones Report]
Recommendations of the panel. There were four factors that may have increased the survival chances:
1. staying with the boat on the rocks
2. higher buoyancy lifejackets
3. water activated lifejackets
4. thigh or crotch straps on inflatable lifejackets
The use of harness tethers is also discussed extensively in the report.
Take the time to read the very comprehensive full report, the excellent footnotes, and the appendices. There are many details applicable to sail and power boats, whether cruising or racing. Especially note Appendix D, pp. 35–39, for very good information about the behavior of waves in shallow water. Appendix E has Capsize Incident Details from Survivors; Appendix G includes Medical Reports, Injuries to Crew, Survival (with analysis and recommendations); Appendix H discusses Vessel Damage, with photos; Appendix I covers Race Organization/Communications; Appendix K summarizes the responses from race participants to a post-race questionnaire. These appendices are very instructive and interesting.
Find the US Sailing summary of the accident and the link to full report at http://media.ussailing.org/Latest_News/2012/USS_Farallones_Report.htm
Sometimes this is a difficult decision because there’s a schedule to keep. The skipper may feel obliged to get to another location because a person aboard has a flight from there, friends are waiting, the boat must get back to the charter company, etc. The decision to turn back or stand on shouldn’t be primarily influenced by any schedule, real or imagined. It should be based on a careful assessment of the factors affecting safety first and comfort second. The more experience you have, the better you’ll be able to make an informed decision that’s right for your boat and its crew. Each situation is different, even in waters you’ve traveled before. Getting out of the harbor and into open water may be uncomfortable, but when the boat is out in deep water things may change for the better. In some cases, it may be more difficult or even dangerous to get back into the harbor if you turn around than it was getting out. If the weather turns unfavorable while you’re en route, the decision should consider what the conditions may be at the destination or at an alternate harbor, and how far you have to go. Have you determined a “point of no return” where a decision must be made? If everyone is seasick or someone is injured, that could be an important factor. If you’re not completely confident in the ability of the crew or the boat to cope with difficult conditions, that could affect your decision. Take the time to consider the options, but ultimately it’s the skipper’s choice and responsibility. There’s no shame in turning back – it’s often the most seamanlike decision to make.
Priscilla Travis spends more than 110 days each year on the water, takes photos, and writes about nautical topics.