Volvo Ocean Race: Struck by Tragedy Again

A veteran and highly respected sailor, John Fisher, was lost at sea on March 27 during the Volvo Ocean Race’s long, dangerous leg in the Southern Ocean.  He was knocked overboard by the mainsheet during an accidental jibe.  And, he was not tethered to the boat at the time.


This was the second overboard accident on the same boat, Scallywag, in this event.  The other sailor also wasn’t tethered, and was not wearing a life jacket.  The conditions were much calmer so they got him back aboard safely in 7 minutes.

Things often happen in twos in both the Volvo and Clipper Races.  And, the deaths are starting to pile up.


So, why wasn’t he clipped in?  Why couldn’t they rescue him?  Why do race organizers send the sailors on a long dangerous leg in the southern Ocean, where one of our own graduates at NY Sailing Center was washed overboard but pulled back by his tether during a Clipper Race?  Why do they go?

Well, we know that part.  People drawn to participate in such events are always going to go wherever the challenge occurs.  The other questions are all worth discussing.  And, I’m not seeing or hearing discussions on what I see as the prime issues raised by these accidents.

Scallywag sending up some serious water, which when it comes over the boat and at the sailors, can easily sweep them off their feet – and the boat if they’re not tethered in. Note the rudder coming out of the water: twin rudders like this are the norm for most ocean racing classes, including the Mini 6.5 meter. Our Beneteau First 21 sloops are remarkably similar in profile, and also have twin rudders.

First: Why are people not ALWAYS wearing PFD’s (life jackets) AND secured to the boat with a tether?  First one: duh.  Should require no discussion.   These boats are going fast, often, if not typically, over 20 knots.  They’re sailing in open ocean waters with waves and swells.  Even in relatively calm conditions, it takes time to turn around, and at speeds of 15-25 knots (and we’ve seen posts that they go over 30 but I’m not convinced as of yet), the boat gets away from the person in the water quickly.  The waters are often cold.  People should always have a PFD on.

Second: Why are people not ALWAYS secured to the boat with a tether?  It’s a critical last line of defense.  John Fisher wasn’t clipped in.  He unclipped to go forward to do some task that he or they felt was important enough at the time to go forward for.  He might have been about to clip back in to another jackline (security line or webbing that the personal tether attaches to).  If that was the case, why aren’t the boats rigged to allow “make before break,” as they say with combined battery switches?  Many boats have that when it’s not practical to rig a continuous jackline.  Perhaps this boat was and it was user error.  Wasn’t there; hasn’t been posted; don’t know.

If Mr. Fisher was tethered in, he probably would have survived.  Because he was not, he had little chance of being recovered at all, and even less alive.  I’m seeing arguments in different forums where one sailor will criticize decisions on board as well as the entire event as organized and ruled by race management.  The flip side sees sailors calling these shameless, bitter, angry rants that show that the first sailor doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and defends the personal liberties and sense of adventure of the people on the water.

And, the person who just died.

But the basics are patently obvious so I won’t further belabor them here.  I just wish that the defenders of the race and the participants  – and the dead – would get their head out of this perspective and see the bloody obvious, and discuss something they’re not, and should be given their experience with this kind of extreme sailing, to wit…

THIRD: Here’s something that’s less obvious.  The gear sometimes fails.  That wasn’t the case here.  However, in both the Volvo and Clipper races, and in other races and non-race passages, tethering systems have broken and sailors were in the water with the boat sailing away.  The faster these boats go, the more shock load is put on the connections when they come taught.  At 20-25 knots, I can’t even imagine what the PSI load would be based on the average weight of a sailor plus water resistance with safety and survival equipment.  Occasionally, it’s not enough.

I hear and read about different types of connections – which are stronger, which are more practical, how to balance the dual needs (including how to not flay ones knuckles on the gear aboard the boat).

What I’m not hearing about is this: shock absorption.  If the tethers were rigged with something elastic to gradually absorb the shock load, the load on the components would be less severe upon ultimate impact.  That could only help.  Of course, it might make the tether more awkward.  I suppose it could, indirectly, lead to a greater risk of fouling onboard and actually causing someone to get twisted, off balance, and go overboard in the first place.  I’m not going to pretend I’ve worked this all out.

But, it needs to be done.  I propose that either…

  1. The tech be improved with a method of shock absorption if feasible;
  2. The boats be mandated to stay below a specified top speed.  The faster they’re going, the more risk, as it’s caused by increasing wind (which, in open water, is soon accompanied by larger waves).  It’s easy to track; the boats are accurately tracked by satellite at all times.

The Southern Ocean is a brutal area to sail.  Perhaps the race should minimize time and distance spent sailing here, or avoid it altogether.  That’s been bandied about on various forums.  Regardless, the obvious safety measures of always wearing PFD’s and always being clipped in must be mandated (if not already), and observed.  And, as people WILL be tossed, knocked, or washed overboard anyway, the equipment must be improved or the boats slowed down.  Or, both.  We can have high quality racing and have much better safety as well.

But first: people are still not always wearing PFD’s or tethering themselves.

Who wouldn’t agree with the need for starting with that?


Here’s an article on the tragedy that has the most detail we’ve been able to find…

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/volvo-ocean-race-sailor-wasnt-tethered-when-he-was-knocked-overboard-timeline/article38353153/


Here’s the Volvo Ocean Race’s photo gallery of John Fisher…

https://www.volvooceanrace.com/en/photo/11417_John-Fisher.html

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We Started Sailing!

Well, yeah – we went out on that super warm day in February, but that doesn’t count.  We officially kicked off our 2018 sailing season on March 31 and Easter Sunday, April 1.  No foolin!  On both days we chose our Pearson 10M, Kilroy Was Here.  (Our Pearson 26, Second Wind, was an option as well.)

The Longest Season in the NortheastSM – another way we give you MORE.

Anywho, Saturday saw light and variable breezes to start out, including a little motionless hang time.  It’s all good in the Sound and its surrounding bays and harbors… there’s little current, and very predictable commercial traffic.  Soon, enough wind picks up to sail meaningfully, even as little as 5 knots.  (Don’t try that in NY Harbor and the Rivers.)

See the trimaran between the boys? It was our only sailing company the whole weekend. it seemed to appear from Manhasset Bay, a quick sail even for a monohull from City Island or vice versa. Kept photo bombing us!

Later, the southwesterly picked up just like a summer sea breeze, but cooler of course.  We made it to Stepping Stones Lighthouse, our modest goal, before that and rode it almost to Fort Totten off Little Neck Bay.

Sailing wing on wing up the Sound as we cruise back toward Stepping Stone Lighthouse on Saturday. Open Long Island Sound is behind and to the right.

We passed the light again, then decided that was plenty of fun and rode the building breeze back in to get docked up.  This was a Club sail with two members present- Adam (graduate of several of our courses who went on to bareboat in the BVI based on that), and Piers, a recent learn-to-sail graduate who’s going to take 105 next weekend and 103 & 104 as the season progresses.

The wind picked up nicely after reaching the light on Saturday and we flew back north before turning into Eastchester Bay to berth the boat.

Easter Sunday was a teen outing put together by a long-standing client and friend of the Sailing Center, Jim, who has a small daysailor of his own.  The young adults had a blast, all taking turns steering, and eventually letting Jim have a shot.

Teen trip on Easter Sunday! One more hiding out of sight somewhere, plus the Dad of two who put it together. Stepping Stones starting to look familiar back there?

We did the true City Island-style Lighthouse Loop!   Okay – technically, not – we didn’t go around Stepping Stones.  Not worth it; tricky passage and waste of distance and time.  But we went just past it and turned and looped alongside.  Good enough.  Then, we went very close to Gangway Rock, cutting between it and it’s very nearby gong buoy.  How  close?  THIS close…

Gangway Rock Light, off Manhasset Neck. Gorgeous picnic spot – there’s a deeply curved bight with a beach that locals call Half Moon Bay. That’s an osprey flying in the photo. Almost always a next on the lights near City Island, making for numerous birdwatching (and listening) options.

Then, on to Execution if the wind held and the teens steered well.  And both did their duty.  So, we went all the way around Execution and its red nun on the far side, and then tacked to head back to City Island Harbor and then around into our off-season slip for Kilroy on the Eastchester Bay side.  Lovely ride.

Approaching Execution Rock Lighthouse, Easter Sunday. Fun, easy and safe itinerary – out around the light and back! Have to look at the chart and see what marks the safe passage, but if you bother, it’s easy.

Did we mention the fun?..

Post faux-Titanico fun on Easter Sunday aboard Kilroy Was Here.

Want to get in on it?

Our Sailing Club has Skipper memberships for those of you who are ready to just go.  We also have Social/Crew memberships for those who are not.  Want to bridge the gap?  Of course, as a school, we have courses, clinics and even private instruction.  We have what you might need not just to skipper a day sailor in Long Island Sound, but to cruise the whole thing or charter a Bareboat yacht in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, or anywhere else charter companies exist for that.

Want to see some clips?  Here are two on Insta…

Saturday’s Club Sail

Easter Sunday Teen Sail

Want to learn more?  Here you go…

Sailing Club Memberships

Sailing Courses, Clinics & Privates

Instructional Sailing Vacations

 

 

 

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Kids Trip, BVI: it’s a Wrap

Our inaugural Kid/Parent trip is in the books, and it was a resounding success. We’d been planning to do this for awhile.  It’s always nice when a trip exceeds your expectations, and that’s what happened. Now, we’re thinking of an annual Kid/Parent flotilla during the Presidents’ Week.

Meet the First Families… (Note: click any pic for full size/res – can click twice on lap/desktops)

The afternoon sun had us all squinting but it’s all good. Just about to depart!

Both Moms were graduates of our adult learn-to-sail program and continued sailing with us.  One had already gone on to get her own 27 footer locally in the northeast.  All the kids had some exposure to sailing, and were mostly the same age, so it was a good fit.  We scheduled a slightly shorter week than normal for logistical reasons and at the end of it, we were hearing,.. ” I don’t want to leave.”  That’s a good trip.

While it was mostly oriented at the kids, in this case aged 10-12, the difference between a kids’ itinerary and one for adults is mostly details. The allure of the watery and warm environment, swimming and snorkeling, and some hiking and sight seeing works for all.

Grins are good. Running along the north shore of Tortola en route to Jost Van Dyke.

We managed to get in a fairly typical itinerary of islands and anchorages, even including Anegada as the winds were relatively calm. Jumping in from the swim platform seemed to rank highest in customer satisfaction.  Snorkeling and running around like banshees on the beach placed and showed respectably.  One medium hike and one that was arguably a little too long went over surprisingly well.

Marine sightings included one dolphin, several large sea turtles, more large tarpon than usual, a spotted eagle ray that came flying out of the water like a bat out of hell chasing bait fish, a fairly curious ‘cuda (just for the Captain who was off on a snorkeling flyer), and numerous colorful and oddly shaped reef fish found by several of the kids and adults

Winds were light this time, and we didn’t have to reef once.  We saw others with reduced sail plans on occasion but we didn’t see the need, even with kids.  The boat just didn’t heel much.  When it was ‘sailing for the sake of sailing,’ the kids were fond of pointing out when the boat speed dipped below a few knots, and when it made more sense, we occasionally motor sailed to keep it moving.


Day One: mid-afternoon departure, after receiving the boat at noon, so lucky to get to an anchorage at all and happy to punch it under power.   Went to Marina Cay, a good jumping off point for other anchorages. Great shake-down snorkel for all, all of whom were brand new to it with one exception.

Captain Casual, trying to not be Captain Obvious (as in not over coaching, as she got it right away). First leg of trip, less than half an hour out.

Day Two: off to Anegada.  Forecast seemed to favor it, and once we poked our nose out past the main islands, it was confirmed in real time. This was one of the best sails of the trip, never needing to motor to keep up a good cruising speed.  All who wanted to steer got plenty of time. Some ocean swells, but nothing we couldn’t handle from a comfort standpoint.

Made lunch and then took an open-air taxi ride to Loblolly Bay and Beach on the north shore, one of several great spots.  Across the inland pond we were able to see part of the resident pink flamingo colony of the island.  Far away, but they were there.  Snorkeling, scrubbing energy on the beach, tightrope and hammock games, and a little ice cream didn’t hurt.

Apres snorkel ice cream. Loblolly Beach, Anegada.

Day Three: Virgin Gorda.  not enough wind to justify trying to sail back so we motored and made the time pass with games and snacks. Moored up at Saba Rock, then the kids did what they do best: jump off the boat for awhile.  The Captain organized a day trip for the group to The Baths, the famous boulder formations at the other end of Virgin Gorda.  They had a blast while the Captain caught up on correspondence, scoped out a new snorkeling spot, and shot some pool with pepperoni pizza for sustenance.

Not a typical scene anywhere – except at The Baths on Virgin Gorda. This is just one of many spectacular pools amongst the boulders.

Day Four: on to Jost Van Dyke.  Combo of sailing and motoring to get the miles under the keel, but it was a fun ride.  Gentle ocean swells at times and otherwise flat.  First, we moored off Sandy Cay and did a dinghy drop of passengers to play and explore the small island, which was donated by Rockefeller in 2008.  It’s a delightful swim over a sandy bottom to get ashore, then one can take a short scenic hike to the top and back down the other side for great vistas and getting the wiggles out.  Huge hermit crabs are scattered around the trail here.

Much taller than it looks, little Sandy Cay is a great day stop. Swim in from your moored or well anchored yacht; hike up the trail to the top and back around the other side.

We anchored off Little Jost Van Dyke for the evening, affording more diving maneuvers (mostly cannonballs) off the swim platform before we did a group trip to he Bubbly Pool, a moderate walk from the dinghy dock.  This is a small beach almost completely enclosed with lava formations and rocks, through which the open Caribbean surf rolls in from time to time making a foamy whirlpool of things.  Very fun and relaxing; well worth the walk.

The Bubbly Pool, Jost Van Dyke. Waves break through the rocks and tumble in, creating a foamy, refreshing bubble bath.

Day Five: more snorkeling and swimming before weighing anchor and setting sail for Norman Island, our last anchorage of the trip.  We sailed most of the way, furling up before negotiating Thatch Cut at the west end of Tortola, and then enjoying our first real beat of the trip with several tacks thrown in as we zig-zagged along St. John.

After mooring in the Bight at Norman, we dinghied in for the long hike to Money Bay towards the other end of Norman.  One kid/parent turned back after making a good show of it and played at the main beach, including a kayak rental.  The rest of us trudged on and made it to Money Bay for a secluded snorkeling expedition followed by lunch and a more downhill return.  Followed, of course, by ice cream and virgin daiquiris…

One of the scenic overlooks on the Norman Island hike.

Next up: snorkeling at the Caves off the headland of the Bight.  Excellent visibility this time; not many schools of fish but plenty of large parrot fish, a few trumpets, and other individual and paired sightings.  Followed, of course, but scores of jumps off the back of the boat once we returned.

Rinse & repeat. And repeat. This never got old for them.

What didn’t we do?  The Willy T, appropriately.  There’s always the March 18-25 trip (still room for two more people…).


Kids & Parents in the BVI.  it was meant to be, and will be again next year.  Many of you have asked about this; we’ve been preparing for it; and now it’s a reality that we’ll keep exploring with you in the BVI and elsewhere.

See some more pics and clips from this and other trips on our Instagram!

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A Folkboat Joins the Fleet

We tried her out last weekend, and liked her… so we got her.  Say hello to the newest acquisition in our fleet…

folkboat-and-cc
“Silent Reach,” our International Folkboat.   To the left is a C&C 34.  Very good – but very different – boat.

We’ve seen these boats around for a few years – and by around, we mean the world.  Or at least the hemisphere.  But these boats get around, literally and figuratively.  “Silent Reach” was built in Sweden by the preeminent manufacturer of this class, Marieholm.  We first saw them in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) at Biras Creek Resort.  Then, back at the ranch on City Island, we saw the very one you see pictured above and learned what they were.  And now she’s ours.

So, what’s the deal with Folkboats?

  • Born of a design contest in Sweden in the 1940’s
  • Over 5,000 have been built (prolific)
  • Over 4,000 are probably still sailing (whoah)
  • They started out as wood but became fiberglass in 60’s and onward
  • Traditional design with full keel
  • Point very well and are super seaworthy (circumnavigation-so)
  • Popular all over

We sailed Silent Reach on a light wind weekend day with some motorboat chop.  The wind was a little stronger when we were rigging, so we used the working (small) jib.  Despite the smaller sailplan in light wind, and a dirty bottom, the boat pointed well, sailed fairly fast, and was maneuverable for a full keel design.

The next time out, after closing on her, we had more wind.  So what did we do?  We used the larger jib (genoa)!  This is one stiff boat.  Yet, she’s lively and fun to sail.  Can’t wait to see her true pedigree when we clean her bottom.

International Folkboats are also known as Swedish Folkboats.  They’re popular in Scandinavia of course, but they get around the world.  We’ve seen references to a Transatlantic and a circumnavigation so far.  That means these are ocean-capable boats, yet, they are fun on inland waters too for both daysailing and pocket cruising.  The previous owner of Silent Reach sailed her to Block Island a few times.

Here’s a sister ship with the same color cabin top/deck and similar hull color (Silent Reach was the same red originally but had recently been repainted professionally)…

follkboat-sister-swedish-red
A Marieholm Folkboat, apparently in Sweden, that’s basically identical to ours. (This one sports a dodger over the companionway.)

The one above is sailing with its working jib.  Here’s one under genoa:

folkboat-blue-genoa
This one appears to be in a race, almost at the layline for the next mark. She’s spinnaker equipped so might be about to pop the chute.

The boats were originally wood with wooden spars (masts and booms). The Marieholm ones that are prevalent are all glass outside except for the tiller.  This makes them lower on maintenance yet still appearing quite traditional.  The interiors have a lot of wood.

Engines could be inboard or outboard apparently.  Ours is o/b.  They were designed to have the engine in a well in the transom (see the hatch under the tiller in the shot above).  Some put them on the transom too, as shown with the red sister ship further up.

What will we use her for?  The sheer joy of sailing.  She’ll predominately be a daysailer.  She can be overnighted as well, although space is a little tight belowdecks.  Ours has an Origo 2-burner stove and a porta potti. Nothing fancy, but with the V-berth and two settees, there are places to sleep.  And being very stable, she won’t rock around as much as a lighter fin-keel design.

folkboat-blueprint
Plan of the International Folkboat. Elegant, traditional design.

Despite being a more classic design with traditional transom and full keel, there are performance elements to the Folkboat.  Note the fractional rig. The boats have adjustable backstays, for crying out loud!  Plus, sliding gooseneck for the ultimate in shaping ability, and a cunningham for tweaking that shape.  Large mainsails with manageable headsail choices make for performance and ease of handling.

“Silent Reach” will be available to our graduates (and well qualified outsiders) to rent as well as to our Sailing Club members.  Come see, and sail, an example of sailing history that won’t go out of style!

Two articles on Folkboats…

Good Old Boat (The Folkboat: Little Beauty with a Big Heart)

Yachting World (‘Did you sail that thing here?’ – solo across the Atlantic in a Folkboat)

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