Safety At Sea Starts at the Dock
26 May 2010
Spring time always brings a rash of rigging surveys. People scurry around in rush to ready their vessels for spring and trips to turquoise water. It's a time of rigging surveys.
I enjoy sailing in heavy weather. I always tell people that if you trust your boat (ie, it's in good condition and all systems are in good order) and you trust your crew (they're experienced and up to the task), then you have little to fear. Safety at sea starts at the dock.
Every time I step aboard my boat, I usually come aboard at the shrouds, I automatically run my hands down the shroud wires, feeling for a wire strand standing proud. I look down at the turnbuckles and visually check the turnbuckle, stud and the cotter pins. My mid is actively and passively searching for signs that signal me to give something a closer look. I walk the boat and check the standing rigging, the headsail furler and the furling line. Am I extreme in my vigilance? No, I've seen too many things on the boats of others.
Checking the boat should be as normal as checking the furl level when you get behind the wheel, and it's more important.
Recent a long time client of mine had a near dis-masting that could have and should have been avoided. We had priced and proposed replacing a headstay and old furling system for years. It is a larger boat so the cost was significant to the owner. The furling system and stay replacement was in the $4k range. Flash forward to spring of 2010 now and the owners son and a friend had sailed to the islands and were returning.
RULE ONE: You can't always pick your own weather. Sometimes it picks you.
The guys left in a breeze that was soon met with a storm of 50-60 knots just as they cleared out to sea. The owner's son was smart. He anticipated the storm and took down the mainsail ( a roachy, big & powerful mainsail that could have been reefed - but read on). After the mainsail was down he went to shorten the genoa's sail by furling. He had needed to add some line to the drum, noting this the evening before. In the freshening breeze approaching a gale he was going to be left with an appreciable amount of sail area still presented to the wind. So he unfurled and tried to roll it in again. BANG! It happens. In that split second the bobstay turnbuckle, that turnbuckle chain that connects the chain that goes from the tip of the bow sprit to the connection near the waterline at the bow gives up the ghost. The sea water, years of shock loads, fatigue and time had worked their magic against the hard surfaces of the good quality stainless turnbuckle and T-toggle causing a crack in the T-toggle that would go un-seen unless visually inspected. At that moment the T-toggle head separate from the turnbuckle, the force of the 60 knot storm transferred great loads that were now pulling against an aluminum 3 inch diameter sprit that now had a tremendously reduced ability to resist the load. The owner's son said it sounded like paper tearing away. The sprit was torn away and went flying skyward, taking with it the bow pulpit that was attached to it and 15 feet of lifeline and stanchions port and starboard. It must have seemed that the all hell had broken loose. The pulpit and sprit finally came to rest after what must have seemed an eternity, wrapping themselves around the port cap shroud, near the deck.
Amazingly, no one was seriously injured or killed. The boats designer in later conversations was amazed that the crew had not lost the deck-stepped mast. They would have - had the owner's son not lowered the mainsail first thing!
All this arguably could have been avoided for the cost of replacing a turnbuckle T-Toggle. In reality it would have been a $4k furling system replacement that would have included the turnbuckle and T-toggle, but that pales in comparison to the repairs now that must be made. The cost for replacing the sprit & bow pulpit alone are that!
Start your day of sailing with a visual check or rigging and hull every time. It does not take long. It can even be done with an adult beverage in hand, if you so choose (just not after many!)
1. Run your hands down each shroud for several feet. Feel anything unusual?
2. Watch for signs of running rust. Investigate the source if you find any. Rust on chainplates requires further investigation.
3. Do the shrouds seem much looser than normal? Investigate the mast step, if so.
4. Did you find a cotter pin or ring on deck and wonder where it came from? Tiem to go aloft or call a trusted rigger.
As a manager in a brokerage firm long ago, my bosses would encourage me to spread work to my employees. "It's good for them to build skills", they would say. They also said, "Delegate the authority, but remember, you cannot delegate the responsibility." Similarly, an owner of a vessel should check their vessel regularly...and have a rigging survey yearly or before significant forays into the deep blue.
Safety at sea starts at the dock.
Many happy sea miles!