Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Some Notes About Safety

As mentioned previously, here are some pointers for safety on the water following Andy's bad experience a while ago.

Our sailing area is quite vast but most of us stick to an across-the-wind tack from the beach to a gybe area close to a headland about 2km away and back.  To the right of this zone is a huge expanse of water which we pay little attention to during normal sailing. In the distance is a steel terminal, a harbour and a huge sweeping coastline unfamiliar to most of us.  The Atlantic ocean enters our vast lagoon via this massive area.

Andy sailed to the normal gybe area on the far side and as he turned, his mast foot broke.  He was sailing close to Grant who may or may not have noticed him go down but who simply continued to sail back and forth.  An hour or so later the people on the beach and at the windsurfing centre started to notice that Andy was not around. The wind was almost gale force at this stage, with the sun dropping towards the horizon. To cut a long story short Andy was eventually rescued by the National Sea Rescue Institute quite close to the above-mentioned sweeping coastline.  He had spent several hours in the water.

We can all learn something from this event.  Firstly the things Andy should have done but did not do:

  • When he went down with broken UJ, he did not shout loudly to Grant to draw attention to his situation.  I believe that we should each carry a whistle.  This is such a small, easy thing and a whistle can be heard from a long way off.  It does not get hoarse either. 
  • Andy had recently modified his mast foot and assumed that it was strong.  He should have done a few short runs checking it after each run.  He did not do this and consequently did not notice that it was failing.
  • Apart from a short piece of rope, Andy had no safety equipment on him that day (cell phone in a pouch, flare, spare UJ etc)
  • His sail, helmet and wetsuit are all the usual drab colours - not easily seen against the backdrop of a wild ocean.  We should try for brighter colours.  Black, white, brown and silver are all invisible in a distant seascape.
  • Andy says that he should have been carrying a torch.  This would have been a huge asset if the search had gone into the night.  Torchlight is easily picked up by rescuers in the dark     

Here are the things that Andy did correctly:

  • When his UJ broke, separating his rig from the board, he swam furiously for the board and then back for the rig.  This is paramount since your equipment offers a means of flotation.  It allows you something to sit on, providing height and visibility.
  • Andy used his rope to tie rig to board.  He sat on the board facing the back, into the wind and positioned the rig over the footstraps (balanced with equal sail area to left and right I understand). This provided stability and also allowed him to steer a bit.  Remember, the wind was howling and the tide was running in the same direction so he was moving quickly.
  • Andy did not panic.  He assessed his situation, kept a constant check on his position using landmarks and developed a plan of action.
  • He did not fight against the tide, opting rather to save his energy for when he needed to swim for land.
  • His helmet, and the fact that he was sitting on the board, kept him relatively warm (not toasty but surviving at least)  

 There you have it.  Some lessons learned and a wake-up call for those of us who sail in wild conditions.  I generally sail with Gareth and we keep an eye on each other but once in a while we will do our own thing and go off alone.  Not good in wild conditions!

Talk to you soon  


  1. Here is an interesting post on mpora about UJ failure:

  2. I tried to comment this earlier but maybe it didn't come through.
    Here us a video from a guy showing how to fix the mastfoot with a rope like the downhaul or so under the deckplate. I have no idea how this would go in practice in heavy seas and wind but interesting anyway

  3. Thanks for this Anton. You can generally fix your rig to your board if you have some rope. If you do not, you can use your downhaul rope, thread it under your mast foot in the groove and tie it onto the bottom of the mast. You will damage your board however since the bottom of the mast extension is going to keep hammering down onto your deck. This will be intense in wild water but if your life is at stake, something you would do.

  4. A very good idea when sailing in open water is a VHF radio. Here in San Francisco we sail in similar conditions: currents, high winds, 2 to 4 miles out and many carry a radio. Fellow windsurfers can often give very little help even if they notice a sailor in distress, at most they can go back and ask for help.