Stan Honey’s recent article about the 2006 Volvo Ocean Race in Cruising Club News puts the focus on harnesses.
The Cruising Club of America should feel indebted to Stan Honey. His compelling account in the recent Cruising Club News about the 2006 Volvo Ocean Race, and the circumstances surrounding the loss of a crew member overboard from ABN AMRO TWO, outlines in detail why it is so important to stay on board the boat. While my own priority is Stan's discussion of safety and the man over board (beginning on page 19), the article is broad in scope and addresses many issues of safety and seamanship under the most trying of conditions. It should be required reading for anyone planning an offshore trip. (Read Stan's article here. PDF)
The Volvo 70s can routinely sail in excess of 20 knots, and can reach speeds considerably higher. Because of their large sail area and canting keel the crews do not use a 'quick stop' maneuver when running in heavy wind. When ABN AMRO TWO lost a crewmember at night in a north Atlantic gale, the crew doused the chute and turned the boat around in just five minutes. If they were going 20+ knots, by the time they turned back they were in excess of one mile away from the MOB point in their GPS. Assuming they could make 5 knots into the wind under power it would have taken 20 minutes to get back to the MOB position. When they did, locating the man in the water was extremely difficult even though he was wearing a strobe. It took ABN AMRO TWO”s team of highly skilled, professional athletes 15 minutes and four attempts to get their unconscious mate back aboard.
Autopsy, Stan Honey informed me recently, showed a head injury and drowning. Surely hypothermia was also a factor after at least 45 minutes in the water. Attempts to revive the crew member with mouth to mouth resuscitation and slow warming might have been theoretically worth trying but his head injury, details of which are lacking, could also have precluded success. In any case, managing someone seriously injured in the confused, wet, unheated interior of the Volvo 70 by a team subjected to chronic fatigue, hunger and hypothermia, as Honey describes and which is common among yachts in heavy weather, would be a near impossibility, no matter how intense the pre-race training or how skilful the participants.
ISAF has strict specifications for harnesses but does not recommend their 24/7 use. Honey describes a reluctance of the crew to wear the prescribed harnesses, in any event, because of their bulk and inconvenience. Some sailors, he says, fashion harnesses out of Spectra . They are more comfortable and more likely to be worn. Such a better harness would be a good and relatively small, investment for everyone to have and to wear all the time. Finally, the opinion of by many Volvo Race sailors, described by Honey that a PFD offers marginal additional benefit in this kind of situation, is a conviction of professionals that focuses additional attention on the importance of a harness.
In the 2004 Newport Bermuda Race there were several sailors overboard from professionally crewed boats. They were recovered uninjured, fortunate not to have been sailing in the conditions met by ABN AMRO TWO.
It is the responsibility of race organizers, yacht captains, boat owners and crew to establish the optimum safety environment for their endeavors. The professionals are telling us something about harnesses: what is needed are harnesses that are easy to wear and that are worn all the time.
I am grateful to Stan Honey for his excellent article.
Edwin G. Fischer, MD, Fleet Surgeon, Cruising Club of America