On November 18, 2017, Simon Speirs, an experienced sailor, went overboard while at the bow assisting with a headsail change on a Clipper Round the World Boat CV30. It was blustery, with sustained winds of 20 knots, gusting to 40 knots. Shortly after he went overboard, his safety tether detached and he was separated from his boat. His body was recovered 34 minutes later. The cause of death has not been determined but drowning is the suspected cause. While such accidents are tragic, they offer a chance to re-evaluate equipment standards within a real-world context.
Like a car seatbelt, the snap hook on a sailors safety tether has only one essential job to do. It must support the dynamic loads of a human body should a sailor fall overboard or get thrown across the deck to the end of his tether (about six feet). But late last year, when British sailor Simon Speirs was swept overboard during the Clipper Ventures Round the World Race, the resulting load bent and opened the stainless-steel snap hook that connected him to the 70-foot racing yacht CV-30.
Safety at sea has become more than a noteworthy slogan. Many feel it defines the right game plan and gear choice to ensure a favorable outcome in challenging conditions. But at Practical Sailor, we also recognize its role in incident prevention, and we understand why ones boat handling ability, navigation competency, weather awareness, and sound decision-making are just as important as the gear in the grab bag-perhaps even more so.
Just as we were wrapping up the report in our December issue describing how to make your own safety tether, 60-year-old British sailor Simon Speirs went overboard and died during the Clipper Around the World Race in an accident linked to tether failure. The race, which charges non-professional sailors to race with pro skippers, was already under scrutiny after two deaths in the previous running.
Most offshore sailors are familiar with jacklines, those long lines-typically made of high-strength, low-stretch webbing-that run along the deck, offering a convenient way for sailors to clip in with their safety tethers and still move about. They provide peace of mind when going forward, and security in the event of a misstep. In previous articles, we reviewed the use of tethers and jacklines . In this report, we take a closer look at the ideal jackline material, with particular focus on elasticity and how the best material is not the same for big boats as it is for smaller boats.
The International Sailing Federation (ISAF), the world governing body for the sport of sailing, has established clear guidelines for ISAF-sanctioned events, and these are generally applied to offshore racing-ISAF-sanctioned, or not-around the world. Among the recommendations are the following:
Two years ago, I purchased a Water Witch bilge pump switch. When it developed a glitch, I called Kathleen at Water Witch Inc.s San Diego office (www.waterwitchinc.com). She asked me a couple of questions, then assured me the replacement part would be shipped the following day. It was, followed by an email saying it had shipped. It arrived 10 days later (international), complete with a personal note. Does it better than this? I think not.
For this test, we rounded up seven flotation aids from four manufacturers: Float Tech, Gill, Spinlock, and Stohlquist. The test field included an inflatable rash guard, foam racing-style life vests, inflatable PFD-harness combinations, and PFDs designed specifically for women. Only the Stohlquist PFDs meet U.S. Coast Guard standards, but all have innovative features and offer increased comfort and mobility over many Type I and Type II PFDs.
About this time of year, sailors creeping southward are either accelerating their migration or looking for inexpensive ways to warm the cabin. You don't have to install an expensive, built-in heating system just to get you south of the Mason-Dixon line, but when opting for one of the less-expensive options, you do have to use commonsense.