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Skipper’s Tips

Staying Afloat (Sure Beats the Alternative)  –  Two things that sailors might try to avoid when sailing in reef-strewn windy places are a) putting their boat onto a reef or rocks and thereby shortening their vacation; and b) sinking the vessel completely, as this too will have a negative effect upon the extent of the holiday and might result in the loss of passports, wallets, credit cards, clean underwear, iPods and other useful chattels.

The fact that both of these instances came to pass in recent weeks in and around the Sir Francis Drake Channel should surprise no one, although likely they shocked the belaying pins out of the sailors concerned.  That all lived to tell the tale was a wonderful result, but (without judging the actions of the sailors concerned) it shouldn't distract from the serious issues of seamanship and appropriate response to adverse conditions these events evoke.


In our first example, a charter yacht ended up on Prospect Reef, fortunately close by VISAR headquarters as well as the RBVIYC and other charter operators, all of whom got involved in assisting the unfortunate survivors.  The skipper was quoted in reports as saying he had experienced problems with his mainsail and had been unable to control the vessel.  Photographs from the scene show the main to be still dropped in the stack pack and the genoa still furled about the forestay.  One suggestion much repeated is that, in similar circumstances, get the genoa unfurled and either sail off, tack or gybe away from danger.  Even in tight quarters it is often possible to crash-gybe the boat and sail away from shallow waters under just the genoa.  The quickness of the response is what matters.

In our second example, a charter yacht from the same company got knocked down in a squall somewhere between Norman and Peter Islands and never recovered.  While nobody knows for sure what happened—the keel might have fallen off—general opinion seems to be that the vessel took in water through open hatches and the subsequent down-flooding took the yacht to the bottom.  Now, it takes a lot to lay a Beneteau over on its side—particularly so that it won't come back up.  Often if the main is sheeted in and fills with water when the sail is under the sea surface, the added weight of water makes it impossible for the boat to roll back up on its lines.  The only cure is to release the main sheet and allow the boom some freedom of movement—which will result in the vessel being released from the burden of trying to lift many thousands of pounds of seawater as it struggles to come upright.  In practical terms this means having crew designated for certain duties—mainsheet trimmer for example.

Oh, and keep the hatches closed when under way.  But you knew that already, didn't you? 

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