Stuck in North Palm Beach

So here is a truism of boat ownership; New boats are no more reliable than well-maintained old boats. Not a very scientific analysis on my part, but we have owned a few old boats and now have a new one. Between the infant mortality of new equipment, and we are mostly beyond that now at the one year point, and systems complexity, the probability of failure is at least as high as for an older less complex boat. This new boat is significantly more complex than our prior boats, although the last sailboat was about the same size and had similar systems.

Start with our engines. The sailboat had a normally aspirated non-electronically controlled Westerbeake W100 diesel. It had 3000 hrs when we bought the boat and about 4000 when we sold her. Never stopped running other than for bad fuel or bad mistakes on my part. Our new engines, yes we have dual engines, are turbo charged, electronically controlled and have the latest in environmental protection systems.  You cant buy a simple diesel engine now, even if you wanted to. Our engines run fine but we spent the last three days here in NPB getting an all new engine ventilation system installed. All under warranty, and with great service, but still a pain to deal with. And if I ever do have an issue with the electronic controls, or the turbo charger, I am unlikely to have the parts or skills to repair them. I guess that is why I specified twins to begin with.

Our hydraulics system is a marvel of engineering. We have pumps on both main engines and a boost pump on the genset. The boost pump provides increased power to the thrusters while the main engines are at idle during docking maneuvers. The hydraulics also power the dual windlasses and the stabilizers. On the one hand, the powerful windlass is great, on the other hand, I need at least one of the three engines running to power it. The stabilizers are Lisa’s favorite system on the boat. With her tendency to seasickness, stabilizers are a game changer for us. So far, they have worked flawlessly. But they had better because in anything other than a mill pond the lack of stabilization can get miserable quickly. Other than the basic physics of how hydraulic systems operate, I have no idea how I would fix a failure. The Trac hydraulic training course is only available on the West coast, but I may go.

The challenge of complexity is not just from the increased probability of failure but the demands it puts on me to be able to repair anything when we are away from civilization. The hydraulics system is one example, our nav system is another. I could go on. So I tackle most any failure with the understanding that to be self-sufficient I need to be able to fix most anything on the boat, with assumption I can, or at worst, will do no harm. It doesn’t always work out that way.

The reason we are sitting here today instead of making progress to the islands is a case in point. I changed out the raw water pump on the genset and apparently got something wrong. One of the gears driving the pump is press fit on an eccentric shaft and I don’t have  a gear press on board. I should have stopped as soon as I saw the challenge, but then again, it was a challenge to my self-sufficiency credo… Anyway, the gear got loose and went haywire inside the housing. The pros will be here on Monday to repair my screw-up. Meanwhile, we sit. Next time I will just let the pump seep a little. They all do sooner or later.

As to our progress south, we will miss the window tomorrow. No idea when the next one will present itself. I hate time and schedule pressure but we have committed to meet the boys in Georgetown in two weeks, so lets hope another window opens. Even a crack will do. What Lisa might call a “least bad” window.

Radio procedure on the ICW

Let me say this, radio procedure on the ICW is terrible. I am sure everyone knows that Channel 16 is for initial hailing and emergency calls only. It is not for negotiating passing plans. Or chatting, or anything but initial hailing. So why do my fellow cruisers feel the need for such long winded Ch16 conversations about passing each other? Please, if anyone is out there reading this, call on Ch16 and go immediately to Ch17. Better yet, call on Ch16 using low power. Ch17 is low power by design.  And no, being on a remote portion of the ICW does not change the rules. Last week we were 20 miles offshore, listening to ICW passing discussions on Ch16.

Travelling on the ICW requires two VHF radios. Period. End of discussion. One on Ch 16 and one on the local bridge channel. North of Florida, the bridge channel is Ch13, which works out well because that is the channel the tows and barges use. In Florida the bridges use 9 but there is much less commercial traffic on 13, so maybe not so important to monitor 13 as well. Most radios will dual scan 16 and 13, leaving 9 available for bridge calls in Florida.

Way too often we are unable to hail a boat because the skipper forgot to change back to Ch16 after a bridge call. Often there is a lot of close quarters maneuvering as multiple boats wait on a bridge and communications can be importatnt. If a boat has only one radio and it is tuned to Ch09 or 13, then they are missing calls on Ch16 and it is inappropriate to call them on the active bridge channel.

To close this rant, let me say that there is no need, nor is it proper radio procedure, to convert a radio call into a polite conversation. Please, if you can’t get off Ch16, at least do not fill the airwaves with useless banter. Comments like, “have a nice trip”, “nice pass” and even “please” or “thank you” have no place in marine VHF. If you feel the need to be polite, do it on Ch17. Or better yet, save it for happy hour at the bar later. Practice getting your message across in the fewest words possible.

Thanks for listening.

 

Vero to North Palm Beach

We went to bed assuming the next day would be a lay day as the forecast was for thunderstorms. Not my favorite. But when I checked weather at 6 am, the worst forecast I could find was for 25% chance of showers. That’s about as good as it gets for the central Florida coast, so we launched. As it turned out, the weather was beautiful for the entire trip. How we go from a forecast only 24 hours old calling for a 90% chance of thunderstorms to clear and dry I have no idea.

The trip was easy, no shoals, just a few bridges and initially, not too much traffic. But by mid-day, it became more and more of a zoo as we got near Jupiter Beach. Anyone and everyone who owned a fast runabout was buzzing around us, surely paying little attention to other boats around them, and probably drunk. I dont think they realize how long it takes to stop or turn an 80,000 lb vessel.

We have a rule that we never travel on the ICW on the weekend. We will add the Friday after thanksgiving to that lay day rule.

North Palm Beach is our designated re-provisioning and Bahamas jump-off spot. The marina is great and we are surrounded by good stores and restaurants. I have a fair amount of deferred maintenance to deal with and the John Deere folks need to come by and trade out yet another set of leaking raw water pumps. Very exasperating.

From here we have a few choices of routes to the Exumas. An overnight would get us to Shroud Cay or thereabouts. Or a long day plus a few hours could get us to a spot on the banks to anchor and get some sleep. If crossing the stream does not look good, we will move south to Miami, either in the ICW (yuck, 22 bridges) or outside along the coast (much nicer if the seas accommodate)

 

Vero Beach Thanksgiving

We have been dodging weather for the last few days so were happy to snag a couple of days at Vero Bech City Marina. We got there just in time for the cruiser pot luck thanksgiving dinner. We knew little about this event but it is apparently a big deal among the ICW cruisers. Must have been more than a hundred people at the dinner. Cruisers w land houses near by brought main dishes and those of us on boats brought sides and dessert. A great feast for all. We ran into some old friends, made a few new ones and attached faces to boats we had been crossing paths with for the last month coming south.

Florida and warm again

Sitting in Vero Beach at the City Marina. Nice place, full of cruising boats getting ready for the cruiser thanksgiving feast. We have never been to this but it looks to be a big deal. Apparently lots of boats plan their trip south around being here at thanksgiving. We shall see.

We sat in Morehead City for 5 days waiting for a window to go outside. What we ended up with would be what Lisa would describe as “least bad” of our options. WInd and seas predicted to be mostly behind us, but a weak cold front was scheduled to pass over us that night. Unsettled weather means there is a good chance that “weak” could become “strong” once we got out there. I assured Lisa that would not happen. What else could I say?

Anyway, the weather was fine, the cold front came through at midnight with some gusty winds out of the North for a few hours, but that was about it. By the time we got to Charleston (30 hrs later) everything had calmed down. Plenty of current at the City marina, but a very long face dock that paralleled the current so no big deal.

Charleston is a very pretty city with some great restaurants. On our first night we ate at “Husk” which was excellent. Somehow Lisa snagged a space for two at “R Kitchen” the second night. Since this is the No 1 rated restaurant in Charleston that was quite a feat. Patrons mostly sit at the counter facing the open kitchen and the chef cooks whatever he wants to. Take it or leave it. We took all of a very nice 5 course meal. With a bottle of wine the bill was $99. Quite a bargain for such a good place.

Our next hop was from Charleston to St Augustine, via the St Johns river inlet at Jacksonville. I was a little concerned with coming in at St Augustine because it a moving target for the pass through the reef. I am sure it would have been fine, but the route through Jacksonville to St Augustine worked out fine.

Comanche Cove Marina, our destination, has a somewhat challenging entrance as the current goes from 2+ knots to zero as you pass through their break wall. I cam in too slow, requiring too much crab, and got thrown up on the sand bar just inside the break wall. Looking back, no big deal, but a few tense moments at the time. I would go back, but use better technique next time.

St Augustine may be one of the more beautiful cities in the US. Maybe. But not the way we did it. Having only one day, we opted for the local troly tour. Driver took us from one tourist trap to another. And there are plenty. You wont go wanting for a Tee shirt saying “I visited St Augustine”. Meanwhile, we barely got a comment or two regarding Flagler college or some of the other more interesting sites. We did get off and tour the old Spanish fort and that was interesting. We will have to come back and approach the city from a different perspective and not through the lens of “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” museum.

From St Augustine we were pretty much committed to the ICW as the outside weather was ugly. Stops in Daytona (Halifax City Marina) Cocoa (Cocoa Village Marina), with a lay day to let some serious thunderstorms pass through, and now Vero Beach. Thunderstorms scheduled for today and tomorrow, so may extend a day. But today is turkey day so we will worry about the weather in the morning

 

Making progress south-until now

Lisa finished her hand therapy last week and we left Baltimore with beautiful fall weather on the Bay. I really wanted to get south quickly before we encountered any really cold weather. Normally we try and travel every other day, enjoying a day at each stop. But the cold fronts were marching east so it was time to go.

First stop, Solomons. We like Mill Creek. We go back as far as we can and usually have the spot all to ourselves. Totally protected, 12′ deep and thick mud bottom. Nice homes on shore. We left the next morning, only to turn around after facing 3-5′ chop kicked up by winds on the nose much stronger than predicted. Back to Mill Creek.

Next day was much better. We like the bay just south of the entrance into Deltaville. Good holding, no crowds and no shallow entrance to negotiate. Another quiet night on the bay. From there, Norfolk and Waterside Marina. We arrived about the same time as a Navy war ship so slowed down to let her in ahead of us, mindful of the 500 yard separation requirement. As it turned out the war ship, some sort of missile cruiser, dint object to any of the cruiser traffic around her. We had lost a half hour waiting for nothing, apparently. This is quite different from our prior experiences with these ships, often escorted by patrol boats and the USCG pushing everyone out of the channel. Later that evening we listened on the radio as an aircraft carrier came in and had the cruisers scrambling to get out of its way and out of the exclusion zone. Maybe it is the size or type of ship that generates different handling of nearby private vessels?

Anyway, got off the boat for dinner at Waterside then headed to Coinjock the next evening. As we approached Great Bridge lock, the tender announced a closing due to high water. Luckily just a higher than normal high tide so after two hours of holding in place we were on our way, arriving at Coinjock by 5pm or so.  Our first time here, I knew they liked to pack them in tight but was still apprehensive.

Following the dock master’s instructions I approached our parking space, which looked a bit short for our 57′ LOA. But the dock master said he had measured 62′ so I inched into the space. To make it into the slip my swim platform had to slide under the bow anchor of the boat behind me and my bow sprit hung over the cockpit of the boat in front. Not sure how they measured the 62′ unless they included the air space above and below the other boats. They say you pay for the dock space you occupy. I should have paid for 53′, not 57′. Regardless, the dock hands at Coinjock know what they are doing and will get you in. Precise handling is still required!

Lots of AC comments abouth the quality of the prime rib. Mine was excellent.

From Coinjock we cleared the Alligator river on the last day of normal opening. For the next two weeks the bridge will supposedly be closed to ICW traffic. Some openings, maybe. As we passed, another boat asked the bridge tender about the upcoming schedule and he said he didnt know. So good luck to those behind us.

We anchored that night on the Pungo river just south of the Dowry Creek marina. Open to all directions but South, but forecast was for L/V and it was. Perfect conditions for morning fog.

Sure enough, we were fogged in that morning. Four hors later we were still in it.Mostly 1/4 mile vis or better so not too bad. Only felt the need to slow down once, but did add to the tension till the fog cleared at noon.

Now we are at Morehead City Yacht Basin. An industrial setting but a very nice marina catering to sport fishermen. Our plan was to lay over one day then go overnight to Charleston. Not going to happen. As I write this a cold front is overhead, with rain and wind. Two lows will follow over the next two days so we will sit a bit. Bunch of other southbound cruisers here as well so the marina is full.

Friday we will leave here, with options for ICW, a day trip to Masonboro inlet or an overnight to Charleston. Just now it looks like the ditch for us unless the forecast improves.

Baltimore – waiting

We are at Anchorage Marina in Baltimore harbor. Not quite the inner harbor but a local community called Canton. We ended up here as Lisa needs a few more weeks of OT for her tendon injury to her hand. Looks like she will be released on 1 Nov. so we will head south soon thereafter. Meanwhile, we are enjoying Baltimore.

Before this trip we knew little of Baltimore, but from what we have seen so far, a great city. Some time back in the city’s history, somebody must have come up with a master development plan. It is working. First, a comment about the marina. Anchorage Marina is all privately owned slips with slips rented out to transients as available. Decent condition, friendly and helpful management ( apparently a significant improvement from prior management, we are told), and an excellent location. Also a great deal if staying for a month or so. Much cheaper than inner harbor marinas and arguably better located. Canton is an up and coming neighborhood, with Safeway, West marine and many restaurants within walking distance of the marina. Fells Point, also a nice neighborhood is also a short walk.

As tourists, we did the inner harbor rounds of the old ships and submarine, rode the water taxi, toured Fort McHenry, etc. All very interesting. Working our way through the local restaurants now.

While Lisa does her OT, I get to spend playing with the boat. New zincs all around, waxing, polishing, etc. Evening happy our is on the fly bridge, watching the boats in the harbor. Pride of Baltimore II just return last evening. Quite a sight.

Weather has been fantastic. I feel that it is wasted on us as we sit in a marina. Should be on the move. I am sure the weather will be every bit as nice in early November when we re-start our trip south.

Risk Management for offshore sailing

This is an article I wrote that was published in Blue Water Sailing a while back. Mostly sailing oriented, but offshore trawler folks might enjoy:

November is not the best month for sailing from the US east coast to the Caribbean, but for lots of reasons, that’s when most of us sail down. Between the frequent gales coming out of the northeast,  opposing gulf stream current, and squally weather north of the islands, there are often plenty opportunities for boat damage, gear failure, crew injury and the like. It was this subject, things that go wrong at sea, that was the topic of discussion for a number of us at a local BVI watering hole not too many days after a recent passage south.

One captain recounted how a squall had come up out of nowhere and the microburst blew out his jib. Another described how a crew person had slipped on the companionway steps and broken his wrist. And still another, me, recounted how a crash jibe had led to a bent vang. The ensuing conversation suggested that these were the typical, and almost expected, mishaps associated with a challenging ocean passage. Weather gods act out, people make mistakes, hardware fails, and despite extensive safety precautions, some amount of “stuff” happens. It is the offshore sailor’s fate. Or is it?

Regardless of the level of preparation, we all take on some level of risk when we head offshore. And let’s face it, we can’t expect to complete every voyage with zero equipment failures or injuries. Or can we? Aren’t at least some accidents inevitable in risky endeavors such as ours, or are we setting our standards too low? Is it possible that a paradigm shift in our thinking, to one of zero tolerance for accidents, coupled with a proactive approach to reducing the risk of those accidents, could significantly change outcomes?

Over the last 10-15 years, industry has embraced proactive Risk Management. My personal experience in the manufacturing industry taught me that a change in attitude from the pragmatic, “some level of accidents are inevitable”, to the proactive, “all accidents can be eliminated”, made for a significant reduction in accidents. Offshore sailing is no different than manufacturing in this sense. They both can be inherently dangerous environments. But that does not mean that accidents are inevitable. In both environments, a proactive approach to identifying and mitigating risks, that is, removing the potential for accidents, can significantly reduce sailing injuries and equipment failures. For offshore sailing captains, making the paradigm shift from, “…some accidents are inevitable” to, “…zero tolerance for injuries or equipment failures” is long overdue.

Many initiatives aimed at improving safety at sea are ongoing and surely have helped reduce injuries and deaths. But these efforts tend to be generic approaches to physical safety based on lessons learned and do not provide a systematic approach to evaluating and mitigating the risks being faced by a particular crew on a particular vessel preparing to embark on a specific passage. The Risk Management process provides a proactive approach that each captain and crew can apply to significantly reduce injury or accident at sea. So what is Risk Management?

Paraphrasing from ISO (International Organization for Standardization) definition, Risk Management is the identification, assessment, and prioritization of risks followed by the application of resources to mitigate the probability of occurrence and severity of impact of unfortunate events or maximize the likelihood of achieving an objective. Risk Management transforms the intangible appreciation that in any complex and hazardous endeavor some things will likely go wrong to a set of specific, tangible and actionable steps that can reduce both the likelihood and severity of those events actually happening. Risk Management encompasses the spectrum of equipment, technology, human factors and the environment to generate an inclusive and comprehensive plan to accomplish a goal with the minimum disruption due to unforeseen negative events. A simplified flow diagram looks like this:

  1. Identify any risks to the safe and efficient completion of the voyage, to include injuries, equipment failures, environmental factors, etc. Consider Risk Multipliers.
  2. Assess the vulnerability of crew and ship to these risks and score the Probability of Occurrence (Po) and Severity (Si) of impact should the risk be realized. Prepare a Risk Matrix and determine initial overall risk.
  3. Mitigate both the Po and the Si with specific actions and then prioritize and implement those actions based on resources and time available. Update Risk Matrix and determine resultant overall risk.
  4. Manage the resultant and accepted remaining risks

 

Step 1: Identify Risks

Begin by preparing a simple Mission Description. A short statement of your objectives for the voyage that everyone can agree with. For example: “…to safely and efficiently sail (boat name) from (origin) to (destination) while incurring zero injuries and no equipment damage. We will depart as closely as possible to (date) and expect to spend (X) days en route. Our emphasis will be on crew comfort and safety over speed so we will accept delays on both departure and arrival dates.” Alternatively, the last sentence might read, “…weather permitting, we intend to sail fast and exploit the performance characteristics of our boat in order to minimize our time at sea.” Without suggesting which approach might be safer, each will create different demands on crew and equipment, potentially leading to different risks being identified.

The next step is to develop the list of risks. This can be done in a variety of ways and can include a sit-down brainstorming session, above and below deck walk arounds, and practice sails. The objective is to exercise as many functions as possible while constantly looking for anything that might go wrong. A few examples of identified risks might look like this:

  • There is a risk that a crew member might trip on the reefing line as the line crosses the deck
  • There is a risk that the GENSET might fail and we will be unable to re-charge the batteries

Next we brainstorm any possible risk multipliers. These are factors that are capable of increasing either the Po or the Si across the board. In our notional case, we have chosen four risk multipliers:

  • Crew experience – we have two crew with limited offshore experience
  • Crew age and health – we have two crew in their late 60’s
  • Sleep deprivation – tired crew make mistakes
  • Weather – the North Atlantic in November can be unpredictable

At the completion of the Identify process we have built a list of maybe 15-20 risks and the list looks like this:

Assess

 

During the assessment phase, each risk is discussed and assigned both a Probability of Occurrence (Po) and a Severity of Impact (Si) score. While this is a distinct phase in the process, it is practical to combine the Identify and Assess processes so the Po and Si are discussed among the crew as they are identified. This can speed up the process as it will eliminate low level risks before they get on the list.

In our case, the crew decided to drop the GENSET failure from the risk list as the main engine is capable of charging the batteries and there is a stand-alone battery bank capable of maintaining the navigation lights, radios and basic GPS capability. At the completion of the Identify and Assess steps, it may be helpful to lay out the risks on a grid and see where the combine risk index falls for the trip:

 

Composite Risk Index = Impact of Risk event x Probability of Occurrence

 

Mitigate

This is the action oriented step. Here is where we come up with specific actions that will either reduce the Po or Si or preferably both. We look at the context of the risk and then develop mitigation actions. For example if the general risk is “Falls” and the specific context is the companionway ladder, then we come up with physical changes, procedures or Standing Orders to reduce or eliminate the risk. In the case of the Falling risk at the companionway ladder, a new Standing Order to always use the companionway as a ladder (facing the steps) rather than stairs, reduced the falling risk from Medium to Low.

 

So here are some examples of recent Identify, Assess and Mitigate steps prior to voyages south. For continuity I have combined the Identify, Assess and Mitigate steps for each risk:

MOB

We decided to evaluate the MOB risk first since it is often a hot topic among offshore sailors. Our initial score identified the risk as a Low Probability but Very High Severity. We discussed opportunities to reduce the probability of occurrence (Po), that is, the probability that someone would fall overboard, and our list of mitigation actions looked like this:

  • Jack Lines – already in place on deck and in the cockpit (PHOTO)
  • PFD/harness and Tethers – all crew were so equipped
  • Standing Orders – Available but could use update

It was agreed that the best approach to reducing the probability of a MOB incident was to strengthen the Standing Orders to require 24/7 wearing of the PFD/harness while on deck and use of tethers whenever outside the cockpit, at night or in inclement weather. We all agreed that mandatory use of a tether in the cockpit during calm, daylight conditions did not appreciably reduce the Po so we stopped short of requiring 24/7 use of tethers. We did stipulate that at any time there was only one person topside, that person must be tethered and must remain in the cockpit.  With these adjustments to the Standing Orders we agreed that the Po had moved from Low to Very Low.

Next we looked at the Severity of impact. That is, assuming there is a MOB event, how severe is the outcome. Our mitigation steps included first making sure the MOB stayed attached to the boat, and second, if not attached, then able to be found and recovered. Our list of actions looked like this:

  • PFD/Harness with crotch strap – not all crew had crotch straps and this was considered to be the greatest risk to a MOB becoming separated from the boat, assuming the Standing orders regarding use of tethers were followed
  • MOM -8 – installed. Deployment training required
  • Life Sling – installed. Deployment training required
  • Personal Locator Beacons – we have AIS type beacons for each watch member and some crew had their own Personal EPIRB’s
  • MOB recovery method – our Standing Orders described the Quick Stop maneuver and an MOB hoisting approach
  • Training – we had not practiced the quick stop maneuver with this crew on this boat, nor had we demonstrated how to recover a MOB from the water using a spinnaker halyard and winch. We also did not have a plan to deal with a comatose MOB.

We agreed that those without them would add crotch straps and we would rehearse MOB recovery on the water, to include plans for recovering a comatose victim, before we departed. While any MOB event is serious, we determined that with these steps we could reduce the Si from Very High to High since we now had greater confidence that an MOB could be recovered successfully.

Tripping and Falling

At an overall High Probability of occurrence and High Severity of impact, Trips and Falls are an all too common event on an ocean voyage and are often a step in the sequence of a MOB. Rough seas, common to the November run from New England to the Caribbean are often a contributing factor to the Po.

Our approach to first Identify and then Mitigate was a detailed walk-around the boat looking for potential hazards. After the walk around, our list looked like this:

  • Companionway ladder – on Chasseur the ladder is gradual enough to suggest one can take the four steps down to the saloon facing forward. But this puts one’s feet on the slippery forward edge of the varnished step and not on the non-skid tread. We all agreed that the steps would be treated as a ladder, with crew facing aft when using them. Admittedly, this rule required constant reinforcement by the captain! (2 photos, side by side)
  • Inner Staysail furling line – crosses forward deck at ankle level; too difficult to re-route so added reflective tape to the line (PHOTO)
  • Boom preventer attachment – the preventer attaches to the end of the boom which requires some extended reach beyond the safe confines of the cockpit and a bit of a balancing act to connect. We added a loop of line to reduce the reach and allow the furling line to be attached from the cockpit. (PHOTO)
  • Throttle/Gear shifter – Chasseur has a step-through cockpit combing that is often cluttered with sheets and furling lines during sail adjustments and a trip here often results in a reach to the binnacle and a grab for the nearest object, the throttle or gear shift. Bad news if the engine is running. We agreed that a hand would go to the grab bar on the top of the binnacle whenever traversing the step-through, whether needed or not. Thus conditioned, an off-balance crew would be most likely to grab the hand hold and not the throttle. (PHOTO)

Re-scoring the Trip/Fall risk dropped all of the Po ratings and some of the Si evaluations, allowing us to revise the overall score from High/High to Low Medium

 

Equipment Failure

Our definition of a successful voyage includes not only a goal of zero injuries but also zero equipment failures and an on-time arrival. We approached equipment failure risk in a fashion similar to the others, with a walk around and then by taking notes during a familiarization sail prior to departure. Our list came out like this:

  • Main sail luff tape – easy to tear the tape during mainsail furling operations. We agreed only the captain would furl the main until watch captains were fully trained
  • Crash gibes – Preventer installed, but will not completely protect against an inadvertent gibe. Risk is greatest while running at night due to wind shifts and disorientation. Our mitigation included a number of procedures:
    • Crew members would hand steer at least 50%, both night and day to insure adequate helm experience
    • Downwind sailing angles limited to 145 degrees apparent at night to provide adequate control margin
    • Radar to be used at night to track and avoid squalls
  • Chafe to sails and running rigging – Mitigate with daily inspection. Each watch to insure furling lines are taught at all times.
  • Standing rigging failure – Chasseur has rod rigging with recent rig inspection. Daily visual and hands-on check of rig tension are specified in Standing Orders
  • Sail damage – risk was considered greatest at night with full sail in squally conditions. We decided that we would carry full sail at night unless the evening weather report forecast changed or radar identified squalls or convection in the area. Under these conditions, a preemptory reef would be tucked into the main.
  • GENSET or engine failure – we carry significant spares and a large battery bank. A separate bank backs up nav lights and radios. The risk of an engine failure we can’t fix is low and the severity also low.

Crew health, sea sickness, etc.

We shared each other’s health issues, prescription drug requirements, proclivity for sea sickness and the like. Most of the crew had extensive offshore experience and had proven techniques for dealing with sea sickness. For the two inexperienced crew we recommended Stugeron. We inventoried the ship’s first aid kit, antibiotics and pain meds and were comfortable we could treat most illnesses or injuries.

 

Risk Multipliers

Sleep deprivation can be a major contributory risk, imparting a negative impact to all other risk Probabilities, essentially a risk multiplier. With a crew of five, we scheduled two watch teams of two each, with me floating. I handled navigation, communication and systems and relieved individual crew members on a rotational basis to give each crew member a few hours extra sleep every few days. During periods of rough weather I would augment the on-watch team for sail adjustments. Otherwise, my job was to be fully rested should I be called upon to fill in for a disabled crew.

We treat weather as another risk multiplier. Everything becomes more challenging as the sea state increases. Reducing the risk of weather impacts brings the overall risk factor down. We do this by getting the best possible advice prior to leaving, and then insuring we have multiple sources and methods for getting updates en route. Sailing efficiently and maintaining our speed keeps us on schedule and reduces our exposure.

Our primary method of accessing weather products offshore is our SSB, backed up by our Iridium sat phone. Besides the NOAA products we employ contract weather routing services from Commander’s Weather and Chris Parker. We also have a weather FAX machine but rarely use it these days.

All that data isn’t of much use unless applied effectively to sailing plans. In our case, we schedule a morning and evening watch overlap where we share a meal and discuss the forecast and our options. I have found that the team often arrives at better decisions than I, especially if I am a bit tired. On a prior trip south, faced with betting on a predicted wind shift or sailing the best VMG at the time, the team voted to go for the wind shift, overruling my vote for the VMG now, and we were rewarded nicely.

 

 

Monitor

 

Every boat, crew and passage is unique, so your list of risks will surely look quite different than ours, as will your mitigation approach. All that matters is that the mitigation process results in a significant reduction in overall risk. Once you have done your best with your Mitigation process, then it is time to go sailing while evaluating the effectiveness of your plans and monitoring for new risks. On arrival, and before everyone disappears to the bars, it a good idea to plan a short lessons learned session to capture what worked and what did not.

Summary

The Risk Management process can only work with buy-in from the entire crew, especially if the mitigation involves changes to their normal sailing behavior. Some individuals might baulk at one mitigation action or another, such as how they are to take the companionway ladder, or when they must wear their PFD, but once they have bought into the process as a team, and see the positive effect on the Risk score, they are more likely to comply. And if they don’t then it may be time to look for more supportive crew.

It takes more than a safety-minded attitude to reduce risk of injury when engaged in inherently hazardous endeavors such as offshore sailing. A more proactive approach such as a Risk Management program can provide that added margin of safety to an otherwise safe boat.

Annapolis or Bust!

I know, trying to meet a schedule can get you in trouble. But we really wanted to make progress south from Newport. And we were committed to the Bay Bridge Trawlerfest in support of Kadey Krogen Yachts. Meanwhile, the weather sucked. We could leave just after the closing of the Newport boat show and drive through the remnants of Jose, still a hurricane, or wait a week and sail into the approaching face of Maria, still a hurricane. Two choices, wait two weeks for both Jose and Maria to pass, hoping nothing was behind them, or find a window between the two storms. And I wasn’t really seeing one.

For their part, the Kadey Krogen folks were putting no pressure on us at all. They are all boaters and appreciated the weather pattern. “If you don’t like the weather, don’t go. We will deal with it” was the response from KKY when we suggested we might not make it to T’fest. But we have made the trip from New England to the Chesapeake many times in the fall, and decent windows are hard to find. And the later in the season, the harder it gets to find decent weather.  So if there was a window, I wanted to go.

On 19 Sep I lloked at the forecast and the sea states from Jose overlapped Maria. And current buoy reports from half way between Block Island and Cape May had waves to 12 feet and steepness values of “very steep”. No window there.

This went on for the next four days. Meanwhile, Jose was slapping us around in our slip with gusts in the low Then the glimmer of hope. By Sunday, Jose would be sufficiently east and Maria sufficiently south to suggest a window. What made the window tenable was the wind forecast of <10 knots for the entire trip. Leaving Sunday we would make the turn at Cape May on Monday evening and the forecast was for 8-10′ swells from the SE at 12-15 seconds. And for once, most of the models were in close agreement. Winds were still out of the North, but at less than 10 knots, unable to generate a wind driven wave to oppose the swell. The biggest weather risk to the trip was that the winds would pick up sooner than expected. That would make the ride uncomfortable, but not impossible.

Two other Krogens were also considering going, Volunteer and Graditude, and we all agreed the door was open. When Chris Parker chimed in with a “go” we had some confirmation from a usually conservative forecaster.

We all left Sunday morning, facing calm winds and clear skies. After 3 days of Jose, this was quite welcome.. Our plan was to go non-stop, 7 knots and 48 hours. Any faster would get us there before daylight. The other two boats were hoping to stop at Schaefers in the canal so they moved out a little faster than we did.

As it turned out, conditions were even better than forecast. Some rollers, but so mild it mostly felt like we were in the marina. No wind, mostly great visibilty, albeit a little light fog now and then. The Jersey coast just doent get much better. And Delaware bay was a pussy cat. Yay!

I admit, I dont like running at night in congested areas. Offshore, no problem, but Delaware bay, the canal and the upper Chesapeake are a challenge for me at night. Lots of buoys, boats, and, of course, the ever present crab pots. But I really wanted to get where I was going before Maria changed her mind and headed up the peninsula. With a little assist by Brian, my very experienced crew, I got better at overlaying the radar and aligning the returns to line up with the buoys. Add a little MARPA acquisitions and I got pretty good at filling in the blanks. In the Delaware bay we ran just outside the channel, but in the Chesapeake we moved inside the channel because of all the crab pots in that area. That meant dealing with all the tug and barge traffic, and there was plenty of it.

So now we are at Bay Bridge Marina, the Jeresy coast is behind us, and we are looking at enjoying the Chesapeake in the fall.