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.
To auto inflate or not? The crew that became trapped inside and had to get out from beneath it once the boat turned turtle had a tough time getting out. They had to dive down and get through or below lifelines. None of them would’ve been able to do this had their lifejackets been set to automatically inflate. I’ve disarmed the auto-inflate feature on my lifejacket, and so too has everyone else on my PUMA Ocean Racing team. The Rambler crew was lucky they did, too. If any of them had their auto-inflate on, they would have been trapped or pinned under the boat with no way to get out. What if you’re knocked unconscious and go overboard with the auto-inflate feature disabled? The likelihood of survival isn’t good if you’re unconscious anyway. I’d rather have the ability to swim out from under something, and considering what happened with Rambler, I’ll definitely keep my auto-inflate disarmed.
A harness is only half the safety. A lot of people wear only harnesses without flotation, reasoning the key is to stay with the boat. But what happens if you get separated, as did five of Rambler’s crew? Webbing harnesses wouldn’t have been much good in this scenario. Modern inflatable lifejacket/harness combinations are comfortable and fit like vests. They’re far better than a harness alone. The fact that the safety rules for the Fastnet Race mandate lifejackets worn when reefed, when winds are over 25 knots, and at night, saved a bunch of lives.
You must be able to grab your grab bags. When Rambler capsized, I’m told, there was no way to get to the grab bags or survival suit bag. Why not? Nobody could find them. It was pitch black inside the boat, and there was no time. If the guys had retrieved the grab bag they would’ve been rescued hours earlier. On the Volvo Ocean Race boats, by rule, we have to store our grab bags in lockers with plastic locks on them to keep them secure. We always know where they are, but on the other hand, they’re locked and we need a knife to open them. I’d be sure to keep at least one grab bag near the companionway. In it should be an EPIRB, flares, medical equipment, and a satellite phone.