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safety dance redux

“The sailing community might want to know what we could have done differently that day. It all really centers on a broader commitment to safety – preparation that happens before you get on the boat to race. “

That quote is from Bryan Chong in his post accident de-brief. In the aftermath of the Low Speed Chase tragedy the resulting commentary and reports have appropriately brought the issues of safety, equipment, and seamanship to the fore among sailors in San Francisco Bay. US Sailing did an exhaustive report on the accident and recommended the following (excepted from here).

The San Francisco Yacht Racing Association and the NorCal Offshore Racing Council should offer yearly seminars that include training specifically related to:

* Breaking wave development in shoal waters and how to calculate reasonably safe water depth for given forecast wave heights. These groups should also publish and make available reference information on this subject.
* Training should comply with Category 2 requirements
* Radio protocol for communicating distress events and avoiding equipment problems…
* Training in the rigging of jacklines and a discussion of conditions when tether use is recommended.

In addition, the OYRA should change the wording of its current Minimum Equipment Requirements to…”personal flotation required by US Sailing’s prescription to 5.0.1 will be worn at all times while on deck…fitted with usable thigh/crotch straps.”

And finally:
“It is not clear whether …skippers were unaware of the requirements or simply ignored them….The Organizing Authority should perform either spot or entire fleet inspections of boats, either pre- or post-race…”

Over the years in San Francisco Bay, the offshore requirements have been revised, as with races around the world, after an accident or series of accidents. BAMA (Bay Area Multihull Association) has been vigilant in maintaining stories of these events and if you have an hour or twelve to peruse this page, it’s worth a look. It details numerous losses, not including Larry Klein, who’s death heralded mandatory PFD’s in most Bay races. In addition to documenting the stories of those lost at sea and why, BAMA representative Bob Nabor, continually bangs the drum of the importance of required skippers meetings before each race. The Double Handed Farallones, is his example, in which they present an important aspect of safety each year, as well as a review of the SIs.

While that would seem rudimentary, the yacht clubs and marinas that feed racing in San Francisco Bay and beyond to the Pacific are scattered about the Bay. It would take the better part of a day to drive to all of these marinas and clubs, and this distance has broken up the communication that the US Sailing investigation deems vital to safe racing. Not surprisingly, they don’t all manage their races the same way.

To reform and streamline the diverse racing organizations and requirements for competitors who race in the Pacific outside of the Gate, the relevant clubs formed a new association, the Northern California Ocean Racing Council (NCORC)

In an effort of transparency the NCORC published their draft of Minimum Equipment Requirements and asked for commentary. They sure got it. The most daunting of comments in the thread to me is that there is any argument over whether one should have lifelines offshore. In particular the Moore 24s who have a hearty racing fleet in San Francisco Bay feel there must be alternatives to a masthead VHF and life lines, which the majority don’t have. Instead they are reaching for options like a stern pulpit mounted antenna that is easily removable and required tethering for the crew.

The Ed recently received this email from a concerned Moore 24 sailor: “Throughout the 1980’s I and many other Moore owners raced our boats in the ocean and one design. Sometimes in the ocean on a Saturday and in the bay on a Sunday. The level of equipment and preparation that is being proposed to allow the Moores to include the 2HFR [Double Handed Farallones Race] or another odd short ocean race in our annual schedule would most likely end if the proposed rules are put in effect. The days of getting 20 Moores on the starting line for the 2HFR would be over. Seems sad.”

The argument seems sound for those of us who want to see more boats out racing, but in my opinion, not without lifelines. I asked Ronnie Simpson what he thought about that.

“One year ago I bitched and moaned about having to add “double lifelines”, as required by SHTP rules. After racing to Hawaii, I think they were a blessing and a good requirement. Also, I used to be part of the “anti-lfeline” crowd as well. After racing the 2HF race this year, as well as 2 light buckets, a 400 mile solo qualifier and a solo transpac, I think lifelines should absolutely be mandatory on any offshore boat. Wearing a tether is not comfortable. It sucks. As a result, I only wear it “when I deem it’s necessary” and I think that any real ocean racer is probably the same way. When you spend upwards of 60 days a year sailing offshore, you become very comfortable, whether right or wrong, and don’t wear a tether very much, in the cockpit, that is. Lifelines at least offer SOME type of protection.

And the days of 20 Moores in the 2HF is long gone. This year, 2 signed up and one bailed due to weather. Only one Moore even sailed the course: my boat….And in 2H light bucket, there were only 2 Moores, and I was one of them. and oyra light bucket I was only moore…. Moores stopped racing offshore for the most part, so the dude’s argument is not valid at all.

Bottom line, the more I sail the more I gain a respect for the sea, and I have no problem with lifeline and VHF masthead requirements. For Transpac, I used a “shakespeare racing antenna” that was about 50 bucks, weight 4 ounces and installed easily with little windage. Go aloft and unscrew the antenna in 10 seconds. It’s not hard. i mean seriously, doing a headsail change at the Farallones on your little open transom Moore with no life lines that is a total dinghy. Nah…. If you want to race offshore, you should at least have a basically well set up boat for that purpose.”

Preparation as Bryan mentioned above is key. A part of that is figuring out what you need to make your boat safe. That the NCORC wants to initiate a conversation about this is interesting. But ocean racer Ashley Perrin who’s been busy coordinating classes for ISAF’s version of Safety at Sea which includes wave science, and the other US Sailing recommendations, wonders this:

I don’t want anyone to get pissed off with me and be unpopular but I think you need to all honestly ask yourself the following questions:

Ask yourself why rules that have been created by sailors all over the world don’t apply to SF offshore racing? Some of the OSR were created by Stan Honey – a local sailor – MOB button at the helm, Coax cable having less than a 40% power loss. These aren’t rules that are created by a group of idiots they are rules that are created by some very experienced people who investigate accidents and come up with some very relevant ideas to help stop similar incidents in the future….

Do you know the genesis of each of the rules that have been put into place in the OSR’s? Have you bothered to understand why each one was created before you discount one of them out of hand because you believe it is to hard/expensive to comply with? A great book is Alan Green’s The Offshore Special Regulations Handbook for explaining the reasoning for a rule and suggests ways to comply….Don’t create a new format when a format exists which is battle hardened the world over. By all means take those rules and waive a section here or there which you don’t feel is relevant but don’t create a completely new format.

You either buy into the OSRs or you don’t…Is it a percieved threat that these rules are being dictated from afar? Doesn’t the vast experience of sailors worldwide who have endured their own LSC event opinion count for anything? These rules were created because people died in Fastnet and Sydney Hobart. Water is water and the California coast is not a forgiving place….

“Good judgement is not only a mindset but is built from experience.”

It takes time to build that experience and what we have here is a group of experienced sailors trying to mentor another group of experienced sailors. The NCORC team will continue to hone in on an appropriate set of rules, and in the mean time those interested can chime into the lively discussion in the thread.

Story and photo byPaige Brooks. It is Ronnie Simpson’s Moore 24 in the Double Handed Farallones 2012.