When Things Go Bad
When Things Go Bad
Rambler 100’s capsize, and the rescue of all 21 crew, provides a few lessons in safety, even for this seasoned offshore racer. "Gaining Bearing" from our October 2011 issue.
Rambler 100 is the most state-of-the-art monohull on the water today. That’s the same Rambler 100 that shaved the Caribbean 600 race record, and then, this past summer beat the Transatlantic Race record, too. It’s the same Rambler 100 that found itself upside down after its keel snapped off during the Rolex Fastnet Race in August.
The boat didn’t hit anything as far as we know. The keel and bulb just snapped off and sank to the bottom of the Irish Sea. Maybe the fin wasn’t engineered strong enough, or there was a flaw in the material. We may never find out, but, regardless, when it failed, the crew went from race mode to survival mode in 30 harrowing seconds. The outcome could’ve been bad—really bad, which is why the incident hits home. Rambler’s capsize was a terrifying experience for the people on board, and it was a major wake up call for me. Why? Because I race offshore for a living, and I’m about to start an around-the-world race on a canting-keel boat a lot like Rambler 100.
There were five people inside the boat when it went turtle; three were nearly trapped. On deck, five of the crew were washed clear of the boat, couldn’t get back, and were in the water for nearly three hours. It was an unforgettable experience by all accounts, but because of the seamanship and experience of those involved, the story has a happy ending and a few lessons that we can all take to sea. I know I will.
Have your lifejacket in reach at all times. The boat’s project manager, Mick Harvey, was in his bunk at the time of the capsize. He had on his boots and foul weather gear pants, but he wasn’t wearing a jacket or lifejacket. He immediately knew the keel had snapped; he said it was the sound of a cannon shot. When he jumped from his bunk, the mast was already in the water. His lifejacket was 20 feet to leeward, hanging on his hook. He decided to leave the lifejacket and get out before the boat turned turtle. He thought he made the right call at the time, but almost drowned because his pants filled with water as he swam out from beneath the hull. If it weren’t for Jerry Kirby and Jan Dekker, who pulled him to the surface, he probably would have drowned.
What we learn here is that when you’re in your bunk, in heavy conditions, keep your lifejacket and gear within arm’s reach. Without a lifejacket your likelihood of survival is substantially reduced. If you have hooks or cubbies for individual lifejackets and harnesses on your boat, think about how accessible they’d be in the most extreme circumstances.