Clipper Fatality Highlights Adventure Sail Risks

Posted by Ralph Naranjo at 03:29PM - Comments: (5)

Copyright Clipper Around the World Race
Copyright Clipper Around the World Race

IchorCoal is one of a fleet of 75-footers designed by Tony Castro competing in a pay-per-berth race around the world.

Most conclude that football is a contact sport and sailing takes the other tack.†But after the amateur crew aboard the 75-foot ocean racer IchorCoal suffered its second fatality in six months, many have suggested that itís time to take a closer look at just what went wrong and whatís really at stake in pay-to-play big boat ocean racing.

During the very first leg of the current 2015-16 Clipper Race, disaster struck when 49-year-old Andrew Ashman was hit in the head by the mainsheet tackle, knocked unconscious, and died shortly thereafter. Six months later the same crew and boat was heading east on leg number 6, a non-stop 3,000-plus-mile leg stretching from Qingdao, China to Seattle when a breaking sea washed 40-year-old Sarah Young from the cockpit on April 1.†The man-overboard recovery effort was impeded by strong winds and heavy seas, but one hour and 17 minutes later the crew finally honed in on Young;s AIS beacon and retrieved her body. After radio consultation with the family and race organizers, the crew carried out a grief-ridden burial at sea.†IchorCoal continued eastward toward Seattle and will eventually return to England in July.

Copyright Clipper Around the World Race
Copyright Clipper Around the World Race

A wave washed 40-year-old Sarah Young overboard while the boat was en route to Seattle. Her body was recovered and she was given a burial at sea.

This adventure sail event was concieved by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston in 1995, and over the next two decades the race has been run under the auspices of Clipper Ventures with William Ward and Jeremy Knight joining Knox-Johnston as directors.† The race was originally a "wrong-way-around" grueling eastward beat to weather in Southern Ocean sailed in stout Pedrick designed Clipper 60s.†Next came a fleet of Dubois-designed 68-footers, and this the third fleet of masthead cutters are 75 feet in length and have been designed by Tony Castro.

Over the years, the Clipper fleet has become more performance capable, and with greater speed and an increased sail-area-to-displacement ratio comes additional challenges. Add to this the route reversal and opportunity for powered up off-the-wind sailing in the roaring 40s and one can see the need for able hands on deck. The big controversy however has been the purchase-your-berth format driving the event. Some question whether the participants have the requisite skill to respond to heavy-weather sailing in cold conditions and to the demands of a powerful ocean racer.

Without question, the Clipper Racer should be considered a grueling challenge, but up until now, the stories of drop-outs and discontentment have been downplayed and the multi-stop race around the world might be categorized as an aquatic Everest ascent. But the deaths of Andrews and Young have tipped the scale and itís time to at least take a closer look at the risks and rewards of these races.

Comments (5)

Ms. Young was not tethered to the boat, despite clear instructions in the guest racer manual about always being clipped on, along with a sidebar from Knox-Johnston reminding that the small inconveniences of a tether are outweighed by benefits, encouraging crew to clip always.

Of course we'll hear about the edge cases, like we do with seatbelts. "I might be trapped." That's the strange way human cognition works; statistics are trumped by anecdote.

The manual itself reads like half travel brochure, half instruction manual for nearly complete neophytes. Surely there's a qualifying process more stringent than what the manual would suggest, other than AMEX black?

Posted by: dbostrom | April 15, 2016 6:46 PM    Report this comment

Comparing it to guided climbing seems fair. As a long time climber, comfortable on rock, ice, and high in the mountains, I always felt that you needed to develop the skill to climb your own mountain, since it is not always within the guide's capabilities to control nature and keep you safe. With years of experience you also hear of and witness enough accidents to better judge whether this is for you and whether you are really ready. Like sailing, it takes time to really understand what you are getting into.

Posted by: Drew Frye | April 8, 2016 11:39 PM    Report this comment

2 deaths, both on the same boat. It doesn't sound so much like the race format is the issue, but that there's a leadership problem on IchorCoal.

Posted by: GregKirk | April 8, 2016 1:37 PM    Report this comment

Too few professionel crew onboard. But of course this would be bad economics...

Posted by: Jbchrist | April 7, 2016 2:04 PM    Report this comment

From the description of the accident it sounds as if Ms.Young was not tethered to the boat.That should have been a minimum requirement for all sailors when above decks

Posted by: EdSpa | April 6, 2016 11:41 AM    Report this comment

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