Founder and Chairman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston has prepared the following safety update for all Clipper 2017-18 Race crew
Ocean yacht racing has its risks. But by far the best way to minimise those risks is a culture of safety and constant vigilance amongst all ocean yachtsmen, including Clipper Race Crews. Staying safe must be a paranoia. We train people to a high level, but if they forget the rules accidents will happen. So our crew, as with all sailors, must ultimately take responsibility for their own safety.
The best way to avoid going overboard, from which a live recovery cannot be guaranteed, is to always clip on. It is equally important to be alert and avoid being in any place where highly loaded lines and fittings may fail and injure you, whether that be near the mainsheet, outside a foresail sheet or standing within the loop of a lazy line.
However, as a consequence of the two fatal accidents in the 2015-16 race, the first in our 20-year history, we have had consultations with all of the skippers and the experts within the Clipper Race team and this is where we are at the moment.
Boom and Track
On account of the fatality of a crew member stepping over the main boom track in breach of our standard procedures and being struck by the main boom, or sheet block, in an uncontrolled gybe, we are putting some high visibility stripes in the way of the main track as a further reminder, beyond the obvious position of the track and attendant winches themselves.
The rule for some time, when not close hauled, has been that everyone is to go under the track to avoid injury. However, a culture of avoiding the area around the main sheet track is by far the most important factor in reducing such accidents, which is a message that will continue to be emphasised in our training.
Main boom foreguys have been used in all our races and have been successfully used on yachts and sailing vessels for hundreds of years. They are mistakenly called Preventers, but this is a misnomer as they cannot prevent an uncontrolled gybe, only the helmsman can, which is the reason we give learning to steer so much emphasis. The strains on these foreguys is considerable when the mainsail is backed and they may part.
We have been experimenting with some form of dampening to reduce the slamming across of the main boom in these situations to something a bit more controlled but so far have not come up with a workable solution. We continue to work on this.
A small change we will be making is that we are not going to stow water bottles or large items in the pockets in front of the helm positions. The reasons are two-fold: Firstly it cuts down the traffic past the main track, and secondly it will reduce the blockages to the protective matting.
Lifejackets and MOB Recovery
The Lifejackets we use are specially made for the Clipper Race based on experience. They are robust, include the safety harness, have had metal instead of plastic clips for the past ten years as we found plastic clips could fail some years ago. The becket (lifting strap) that was fitted for the 2015-16 race works to speed recovery in an MOB situation.
We do not intend to change our method of recovery of someone in the water as the present system works, but we feel the special large hook we now provide, that is attached to a halyard and can be speedily clipped into the new lifejacket becket, is the fastest solution at the moment for hauling someone out of the water. It avoids the difficulties we have experienced trying to get a strop over the casualty.
The boats will continue to be equipped with the MOB practice dummies as a part of their equipment, that, when immersed, weigh 75 Kgs, so crews continue to have realistic practice of a recovery.
After the skipper of a Reflex 38 was drowned whilst still tethered to the boat, and it was unclear as to why, we decided to check what exactly happens when a person is still attached to a moving boat. The results were a surprise. The 75Kg weight dummy did not float on its back as expected, but on its face, which meant water inhalation was inevitable followed quickly by drowning. This is when we ruled two races ago that in the event of someone tethered going overside, the boat has to be flung into the wind and put aback to stop the casualty being dragged forward.
As a result of lessons learned during the successful MOB recovery in the 2013-14 race we immediately fitted AIS beacons to the Dan Buoys on the whole fleet so that we could get back to the vicinity of a person in the water more quickly, which is essential for a safe recovery. However we feel that to be really safe we should have these beacons in all the crew lifejackets as well and this will be introduced for the 2017-18 race. We will continue to fit the Dan Buoys with a beacon as an additional safety feature, but are looking for a system that will activate this beacon automatically. This is work in progress.
As we have explained, PLB’s transmit to a satellite, and that signal then has to be passed to an MRCC. The Coastguard have told us that by the time they get the message out an hour can have passed during which a casualty will suffer life-threatening hypothermia. So we have chosen the AIS system as it gives a signal to the nearest source of rescue, the boat someone and fallen from. The answer is, and always will be of course, don’t go overside in the first place.
Sea Survival Training
The regulations do not require us to send crews on the Sea Survival course. However we feel it improves safety and the crews benefit from the experience. So we shall continue to send crews on selected Sea Survival courses that are approved by the MCA for the fishing industry, the RYA and World Sailing (formally ISAF) that represent the current industry best practice, and we share with these providers our experiences.
No one knows for certain how we lost a crew member overside in April 2016, although we do know that the cause was that they omitted to clip on their safety harness. Because of this uncertainty and because they could have slipped beneath the guard rails, we laced these up as a temporary measure in Seattle. During this current refit (2016-17) we are putting two additional guard wires through the stanchions to provide four guard wires all round so that the gap between will not be large enough to allow a body through.
Clipper Race Coxswain Certificate
Quite a few crew are taking the MCA approved Coxswain Course designed to provide someone with the knowledge on board to get the boat to the nearest port in the event of the skipper being indisposed. The system worked well during Leg 3 of the last race when one skipper was incapacitated and the Coxswain took over. This course consists of the full RYA Yachtmaster Offshore theory syllabus followed by the tailored practical training aboard our much larger and heavier yachts and adapted especially for ocean sailing. It has been designed in conjunction with and approved by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
So in conclusion I return to my opening remarks and the essence of good seamanship is Safety, Safety, Safety.
RKJ Clipper Race Chairman