Words of Wisdom from Past Commodore Tom Stokes

Life Sling, Don’t Leave Home Without It!

I found the Review Committee Report on the fatal accident on TP 52 IMEDI Feb 29 2019 in the Mackinaw race.  The report states that the boat practiced the man overboard (MOB) in the harbor by throwing a hat in the water and motoring back to pick it up with a boat hook.  This is the exact same procedure they tried to do in a 25-knot storm with 5 to 8 foot breaking waves.  Here is my understanding of what happened. 

Paragraph 6.8 The crew should be wearing harnesses in 20 to 25 knot winds and hooked in to jack lines.  No harnesses and no jack lines were ever deployed.  There are also no hand holds in the cockpit for the crew to hold on to in high seas and healing 20 degrees.  After MOB occurred, the helmsman did not start the engine which is necessary to control the boat and to get the sails down.  The helmsman chose to sail the boat back to the MOB.  The boat’s design does not enable fast sail control by the crew.  No reef lines for the main.  6.10 First Pass:  The Helmsman expected the MOB to swim with his foul weather gear on the 15 feet to the boat as the boat sailed by.  The MOB inflatable life vest did not inflate.  6.11 Second Pass:  With breaking waves hitting the boat and the engine on, the helmsman maneuvered the boat to come up along side the MOB and throw jib trims to the MOB.  This procedure should never be attempted in high winds.  The seas picked the boat up and rolled it over the MOB which left the MOB to port and the boat drifting away.  No MOB life vest inflated.  6.17 Third Pass:  MOB is 6 feet from the boat amid ship with crew members reaching under the life lines to grab the MOB’s hand and throw jib trims.  The MOB becomes hypothermic, exhausted, unable to function and sinks.  Rescue of the MOB was not successful. 

In the last sentence of this paragraph 6.16.2 “…one crew member noticed the MOM-8, Life Sling and Throw rope were all still on IMEDI’s aft rail, UNDEPLOYED.”  During a race all the crew will helm the boat, therefore all the crew must know what to do in a MOB which is vital for a successful rescue.  This particular helmsman followed the instruction that he observed during the harbor drill.  The MOM-8 (Man Overboard Module) marks the spot where the crew left the boat and the crew member was lost.  Another safety device, the throw sock would never make it to the MOB in high winds and he or she will never be able to swim to the line.  Therefore, the only functional MOB piece of safety equipment on a boat is the Life Sling! 

When the Life Sling was first invented and marketed, I brought it to the attention of the GYA Offshore Committee Chairman who was young and immortal.  He told me, “if he fell off the boat he could swim back and jump back aboard”.  I thanked him for his advice and bought one immediately to place it on whichever boat I would be crewing for in the effort to be prepared for any unexpected incident involving a man overboard.  All crew members should be trained in the use of a Life Sling as the person at the helm will ultimately determine the success or failure of a rescue and you will never know for sure which crew person will be on the helm during a MOB.

Ole Tom

ARE YOU 90/10 OR 10/90?

The evolution of sailing skills, during a person’s lifetime, could be described as beginners spend 90% of their time and effort learning how to trim the sails and rig the boat with 10% of their time learning navigation as they follow the fleet around the race course. Eventually there is a moment in time when 90/10 will become 10/90 as your boat will be leading the fleet to the windward mark and your navigational skill to tack the boat on a proper lay line will determine the winner of the race. This very event occurred in the LBYC Fall Series with Free Spirit and Doc Darlins tied for first place going into the fourth race of the Fall Series. Doc Darlins used the magnetic bearing to tack to the weather mark and not the tracking bearing. This error of not hitting the lay line on the boat’s tracking bearing cost a skilled sailing crew a First Overall for the Fall Series. I feel sure Doc Darlins will have a designated navigator for the next race, who will have tracking, mark bearing, speed and distance to the windward mark properly displayed and communicated to the crew of Doc Darlins. – Tom Stokes

Life Vests are my Friend

A picture is worth a thousand words (www.youtube.com 2015 Dauphin Island Race).  I can only give a personal opinion of what took place, but the Coast Guard Report had three main issues.  One:  Everybody needed to wear a life jacket or at least know where they were located on the boat.  Hence all races should start with the crew wearing life jackets.  Two:  Races have to have a crew list to know if all participants have been found in the event of an accident.  Third:  Have a VHF radio on to monitor weather forecast.  They had other issues, but remember this race was started in blue skies with a forecast of afternoon showers and none of the deaths that occurred were caused by trauma, all drowned (NO LIFE JACKET!).  I personally lost situational awareness (Total White Out) when the storm hit because I had not changed my GPS from racing data to Map display and could not see where S/V Free Spirit was in the Dauphin Island Harbor channel.  Within ten seconds, Free Spirit was blown out of the channel and was aground.  I did not know which side of the channel I was on until the GPS map display came up.  Then Free Spirit got back in the channel and had to motor hard to hold position until after Cat’s Paw had passed, some thirty minutes later.  Finally we were on to the harbor where you can observe in the videos all of the early arrivals being wrecked because their anchors were too small for 70 knot winds.  Look at a few of the videos and you can certainly see the error of our ways. 

Ole Tom

Three Points Make a Straight Line

Low tech methods of navigation often give instant results on the success of the crews’ efforts to sail the proper course. A good example is the approach to a mark of the course with lights or land behind the mark. Have the crew or navigator observe the movement of the land behind the mark. For a starboard tacked boat going to weather on its lay line, the movement of objects beyond the mark to the right indicates you are overlaying the mark; this is a good thing. Objects moving to the left of the mark means you are not going to lay the mark and need to start preparing to tack the boat. The opposite movement would be true on port tack boats. So just remember simple is always better. – Tom Stokes