|The Clipper Round the World Race is one of the safest global sailing events.
|I recently read the MAIB (Marine Accident Investigation Branch) report on their findings regarding the deaths of two sailors in the last Clipper Round the World Race. It’s always a tragedy when someone dies at sea (if that’s not stating the obvious then I don’t know what obvious is…:), but life at sea is a little like life on land; there are risks and potential dangers everywhere. I used to be of the mind that screw it, things are going to happen, sometimes people die so let’s just get on with it. I never was one for too much analysis and introspection, but I think I have changed. I think it adds a valuable element to the overall safety – read enjoyment – of our sport.
The report looked into the circumstances that surrounded the death’s of Sarah Young and Andrew Ashman. Ashman died when he was hit by the mainsheet as he was stepping over the traveler. It’s believed that he died instantly of a “high impact neck injury.” Young was working the deck in rough conditions when she was hit by a wave, washed into the scuppers and then overboard by a second wave. The Clipper Race had developed their own special two-tether life jackets which are custom manufactured for each race, but two tethers or no tethers are the same when they are not used. Now I know that I have often been on my high horse about the use of tethers and life jackets when sailing offshore – I am not a fan of either – but when someone dies so unexpectedly one has to come down off the horse and recognize that had she been tethered, she may well still be alive.
The MAIB report pretty much exonerated the event organizers from any kind of blame and they were right to do so. Clipper makes their crew members undergo rigorous training before the they can join a boat and their safety standards for each boat and crewmember are very high. Clearly a death is bad PR so they work hard to ensure that they don’t lose anyone. I think what I liked about this report was that it was not a witch hunt to place blame on someone or some entity. Instead it highlighted the fact that Clipper had done everything right, but sometimes you can’t account for human error.
I did the ’79 Fastnet Race, the one where all those people died. I was on a brand new Swan 57 and we had trouble but not like some of the other boats. It was a massive tragedy and there was a very lengthy and detailed report complied on what needed to be done to make boats safer. Two things really stood out from that report, at least that I remember. One was mandating that there be shut-off valves for gas stoves. Many boats had been knocked down or capsized and with the stove swinging around the gas lines had been yanked off leaving propane to spill into the boat. Can you imagine a time before gas shut off valves? The other thing that the report found was that on many life rafts the tethers were on the opposite side of the life raft to the entrance meaning that people had to jump into the water and swim around to the other side of the raft in order to board it. Crazy huh?
So yes, reports and investigations are necessary and they have made sailing much safer. One thing a report can’t do, however, it to account for human stupidity and human error. That’s up to us and Darwin to sort out.
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This article was syndicated from Great Circle Sails Blog