The following is a letter to the editor which I thought might be of interest. Dick
An article like this (https://www.bwsailing.com/anatomy-of-a-tragedy-at-sea/)
presents a conflict: the tragedy needs to be fully appreciated while at the same time it is an opportunity to make suggestions as to safer practices. There a few areas where an additional comment might be in order beyond those you contributed in the article,
In the article, it was written:
Similar to most sailboats, Escape had to be turned into the wind to raise or furl the mainsail.
Part of the need for that statement was that it had a roller-furling mainsail, but the above statement is undoubtably true for the majority of mainsails of all types. For conventional mains I would want your readers to know that the above does not have to be true and that with the addition of some gear, their boat could be much safer.
There are certain equipment decisions that are so important to the boat being safety operated that they could be considered poorly equipped if they went to sea without them. For widely wandering vessels, AIS may be in that realm as might having a new generation anchor: a new gen anchor is just that much superior and AIS speaks for itself.
Having what I call “slippery track” for the mainsail (mine is Antal, but Harken has a version) on a passage making boat is, for me, also in the realm of a safety issue. It is not only just very nice to have all sail handling be far easier with the slippery track, but being able to reef one’s mainsail going downwind is more than a convenience, it is also a safety issue.
Reefing downwind used to require rounding up: and rounding up, in wind and seas, seemed to me always rife with the promise of damage to the boat, sails or to crew. Or, in the case of Escape in the article, all three. I know I always breathed a sigh of relief when the maneuver was accomplished and nothing bad happened.
Contrast this to reefing and dousing the main with slippery track. Reefing and dousing can be accomplished while remaining going dead-down-wind (NO rounding up with the huge increase in apparent wind, slatting sails, and the tumult of banging into big waves). This is because the work is accomplished on a relatively stable platform where boat movement is predictable and there is no rush at all: just take your time. I have done so frequently and once in gale conditions that snuck up on us.
Each boat differs in the execution details, but the gist is to center the boom and allow a few feet slack in the halyard and then work the sail down, usually standing at the gooseneck. Repeat until reefed or doused. Using the reef outhaul lines to pull the sail aft and out of the way can be helpful. This may sound like it takes effort and time but is, actually, surprisingly easy, and more important, safe, as it is done on a relatively stable and flat platform with no rushing necessary.
Another issue is the use, by many cruising sailboats, of the indiscriminate use of high modulus lines. I would contend they are over-used and quite often contra-indicated on cruising boats. What HM lines give in strength and low-stretch they give up in forgiveness: and most cruising boats, certainly mine, benefit from lots of forgiveness. It may not have been good judgement to use HM line for a preventer.
I consider the boom the most dangerous object on the boat. On Alchemy, the mainsheet is augmented by lines to the side-deck controlled in the cockpit (these serve as a boom vang and preventer when the boom remains over the deck). In this way, the boom is always stabilized and, were the mainsheet or its attachments to fail, would still allow complete control of the boom.
It was also written:
Specifically, they (rescue helicopters) carry enough fuel to go 250 miles offshore, hover for about 30 minutes for a rescue, then return the 250 miles. Beyond this limit, one should understand that they (meaning the vessel and crew) are on their own, unless part of a rally.
I would also take issue with the above statement. It implies that rallies are safe (or safer) which, I would suggest (with some well publicized exceptions), that the history of rallies belies. It also implies that, up to the 250-mile limit, that one need not consider that one is on one’s own. I think that is an un-wise suggestion. I would want every skipper to go to sea with the headset that he/she is on their own and that the boat is prepared accordingly and the crew has the requisite experience. If bad luck is experienced, then rescue services can be called on for help. Rescues can be dangerous for SAR crews and the more one prepares for and goes to sea with the headset that one is on one’s own, the less likely that SAR personnel will be put in danger with a call-out.
Random thoughts, My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy