‘Tis that time again. After losing the 2020 race to COVID, the Cruising Club of America’s Newport Bermuda Race is on for 2022. Many Safety at Sea certificates have lapsed and considering this year’s race has roughly 220 entries, the demand for new, current certificates is high. The Annapolis to Bermuda Race, aka The Bermuda Ocean Race, is on again too. They have at this writing 37 entries, so when summed to 220, there are close to 260 boats, possibly pushing 3,000 sailors, perhaps half of whom need to take SAS courses.
Consequently, US Sailing, CCA and others have been offering SAS courses on an almost weekly timetable. I am not sailing either event this year, but all this SAS buzz has sparked my memories and thinking process on the various elements of such instruction and musing on just how to put such instruction to use in case we ever need to.
The study of the topics these courses cover is a worthy activity, in particular for non-racing sailors. This latter group generally does not have a collection of personnel to help out in times of stress. Most of the other aspects of sailing can be learned, from books and by application without really getting into too much trouble. Most of the time. Considerations and actions to be taken when it hits the fan, however, can only be practiced to a limited degree. Fortunately, thinking can be operated anywhere anytime.
Several years ago, a client of mine graciously loaned me (with said owner as the second adult) his 45-footer to load up with eight high school sailors to compete in the Ida Lewis Distance Race. At the time I was producing the Storm Trysail Foundation’s Junior Safety-at-Sea Seminar in Newport. These are a version of the SAS but re-calibrated for high school-age sailors. That was all well and good, but I wondered what would happen if, well something happened. This got me to thinking on just what “events” might trigger action, prompt and appropriate, to meet the event. I got to eight.
In no particular order: broken mast, damage to the steering, damage to the rudder (sounds the same but it is not) MOB, fire, medical emergency, holing, and abandon ship. Geez, none of this is going to happen on a 150-mile lap around Block Island Sound. I know, but professionally designed and built boats sailed by highly skilled and vastly experienced sailors do not simply fold in half and sink in the middle of the Southern Ocean either. Maybe. What’s a high school coach to do? What anyone going in the ocean ought to do: PLAN. After I had arrived at the eight things, I constructed a spreadsheet. The events were in the columns and the number of crew, ten in this case down the left, in the rows.
This spreadsheet is not remotely gospel, but is I suggest a starting point for each owner, P.I.C., sailing master, or someone in a leadership position on every boat going to sea to contemplate. One picture of the seminars that sticks in my mind is the absolute need for planning.
Several years ago, I was conducting the inflate life raft and jump in the pool portion of a CCA seminar at Roger Williams University in Bristol. The apparent lack of planning and foresight demonstrated by the attendees gave me pause. Imagine the scene – six or eight students in a group, clad in slickers and inflatable PFD/harnesses, waiting to get wet. But first, a word from Cooper.
I asked them to contemplate the following. I painted a picture of a 50-foot fast cruising boat, with seven crew, mid-Atlantic, sailing fast in hard weather but not too extreme, 35-40 knots, with appropriate sea state, two reefs in the main, small staysail. The boat is sailing comfortably on a broad reach. You have come off watch at 0200, gotten out of your slickers, slithered into your berth and are just falling off to sleep, when BANG!!! I clap my hands together and raise my voice at BANG!!!, which is amplified by the echoes around the indoor pool. I continue: There is a sudden jolt, you slide forward in your berth, and you hear all manner of yelling on deck. You swing out of your berth into knee-deep water. I say, “You have something like 90 seconds to execute a number of tasks, in the correct order, in a collaborative fashion, under severe distress. The success or not of your actions in these 90 seconds will determine if you fly home from Hamburg in a seat in the plane, or in a coffin in the cargo hold, or frankly if you fly anywhere again.” I pause, for ten seconds maybe.
“What is the first thing you are going to do?” I ask. Now here is the scary part. Dead silence. Not a peep. “Thoughts?” I ask. A tentative squeak from a youngish woman: “Make a plan?” “OK, good. Anything else?” “Turn on the EPIRB?” another voice almost whispers. “Yup, good.” Otherwise, crickets.
I pose some questions: “Who is looking for the source of what is obviously a hole? Who has done a head count? Who is at the VHF firing off the red button? Who is preparing the raft? Who is getting the grab bag and the yellow container with the flares in it? Who is getting food from the galley that can be eaten without cooking? Who is IN CHARGE, directing traffic?”
I pull out a chart I have made from data provided by the Edson Company. It shows the amount of water, in gallons, that enters the boat thru an X-sized hole Y feet below the waterline, per minute. I have added a corresponding value of the weight in pounds onto the chart. I hold this chart up and mention a range of data points, aiming at the speed with which water enters a hole. I remark, “If, in the time between the bang and you swinging your feet out of the berth into knee-deep water is, let’s call it ten seconds, you have a lot of water in the boat and unless the hole is blocked, in the next ten seconds, you are in deep doodoo.” I suggest that a good time to make a plan, even for yourself, is tonight when all the information from today is fresh in your minds.
There used to be a meme concerning the best bilge pump. It suggested that it was a scared man with a bucket. Will Keene from Edson and I meet at the boat show every year and exchange gossip. His role as a vendor of bilge pumps notwithstanding, he continues to shake his head in disbelief that such concepts are still around. “Not possible,” says he.
Sometime later I was conducting a seminar on various subjects to do with the Bermuda 1-2, including the bilge pump topic. As Kevin Escoffier* can attest, things get a bit more complicated when you are alone. I arrived at this water in the boat topic in due course and asked for a volunteer. A Bermuda 1-2 repeat offender presented himself. I pulled out a 10-pound barbell from under the table and placed it at his feet. I spoke on the amount of water issue and the scared man with the bucket proposition. I spoke on the math of a 2-gallon bucket in the hands of said scared man. I outlined the probability of getting a full two gallons out every time, and settled at one gallon, roughly 8 pounds in round figures. I wanted to demonstrate the idea of someone moving a gallon of water from the floor and up and out the hatch, over time. I demonstrated the move I asked David, my volunteer, to undertake. From the standing position, I wanted him to bend down, pick up the weight, and lift it in a bucket throwing-like motion for one minute. I gave him a demo and couple of practice moves to fine tune his style. “1, 2, 3, Go!” and I hit the stopwatch and counted his bucket tosses.
Now, David is pretty much in the 9.5 ring of the bullseye circle of the kinds of Corinthian sailors who sail offshore either solo or crewed. In his 50s, reasonably healthy, a keen consumer of things sailing, and he enjoys his offshore sailing. At one minute I called, “Time.” He had managed 45 tosses. Times 8 means he has moved something on the order of 360 lbs. of water. I ask him how he feels. “OK,” says he, “but I don’t want to do it again.” I return to the graph. Turns out 45 gallons is a small hole at the waterline, more or less. The faces in the audience are suitably shocked. Food for thought, I suggest.
The military spends, I am told by reliable sources, a huge amount of their “normal working day” practicing and planning for every imaginable contingency. One need not be in the military or even a professional sailor like Kevin Escoffier, and his team, to plan for the incidents that befall mariners of every stripe. But as a read of the nice article by Pete Goss in Yachting Monthly covering Escoffier’s rescue will attest, planning plays a mighty part in any of the eight things, particularly when the boat is sinking. Bon Courage indeed. ■
Australian born, Joe ‘Coop’ Cooper stayed in the U.S. after the 1980 America’s Cup where he was the boat captain and sailed as Grinder/Sewer-man on Australia. His whole career has focused on sailing, especially the short-handed aspects of it. He lives in Middletown, RI where he coaches, consults and writes on his blog, joecoopersailing.com, when not paying attention to his wife, dog and several, mainly small, boats.
* The “No Joke” reference in the title is from a text Escoffier sent: “I need assistance. I am sinking. This is not a joke.”