Abandon Ship

Rail Meat

Super Anarchist
7,193
175
Mystic, CT
So I am putting this in SA rather than in Ocean Anarchy, as I think it has some lessons for any of us who choose to go sailing on the deep blue sea.

This past weekend, I was at the annual meeting for the Class 40. One of the agenda items was a debrief from a skipper whose boat was rolled on December 12th, in heavy seas during its delivery home from Mexico to France. The delivery skipper and two crew were rescued off the boat from where it sat 600 miles east northeast from Bermuda. The delivery skipper was also at the meeting and shared in the debrief.

This kind of situation is eye-opening when it happens to any boat, but even more so when it happens to a 40 foot Cat 1 boat that had already survived a bruising race in the Solidaire du Chocolat where the fleet was hammered by six different lows. There are some lessons to be learned for all of us. What follows is my best french-to-english interpretation of what was conveyed.

The Facts

  1. The boat was Axa Atout Couer, class number 70, recently built, owned by Erik Nigon, designed by Jacques Valeur and built by JPK in France. For pictures of a sister boat, check out the JPK website. While the site is in french, it is pretty easy to figure out how to get to the Class 40 design.
  2. The boat was built to Cat 1 standards
  3. The boat was being delivered home from competing in the Solidaire du Chocolat, the delivery starting in Progresso Mexico via the Bahamas and on to France.
  4. The delivery skipper was highly experienced, with numerous transatlantics. The additional 2 crew were also well experienced.
  5. The boat was in touch with the skipper and shore resources for routing through out its delivery.
  6. There was active tracking throughout the trip via Inmarsat Sat C. The crew also had access to email as well as satellite phone via Irridium.
  7. On December 10, north east of Bermuda, the forecasts showed a low coming off the US and heading out across the Atlantic. The crew shifted course to the south in an effort to dive below the expected track of the low.
  8. On December 12 the boat was fully in the low, having failed in an effort to dive below it. The delivery skipper reported winds of 40+ knots, and seas of 10 + meters (30 plus feet). Location was 600 miles east north east of Bermuda and 1200 miles west of Horta. It was their 13th day at sea.
  9. Given the storm conditions, the crew had taken steps to prepare. All were wearing survival suits both on deck and below decks. The ditch bag was prepared, and they were sailing under storm jib alone. They had contacted the shore side skipper who had informed CROSS (french maritime rescue) who in turn had sent out a notice to mariners of the location of the vessel.
  10. At 2120 hours (local) one person was on the helm and 2 were below. A single wave knocked the boat to 90 degrees. The boat did not immediately right, and a second wave that came quite quickly after the first wave rolled the boat to 180 degrees.
  11. The boat seemed, in the words of the skipper, quite comfortable at staying inverted. The cabin crew were standing inside the boat on the cabin top. Top sides, the helmsman was tethered and under the boat.
  12. The helmsman released his tether and swam to the back of the boat. The crew went out the open companion way and swam to the back of the boat.
  13. The life raft was lashed to the deck and was hanging in its lashings. Those had streched out, so the raft was actually down at the life line level. They released the raft and inflated it.
  14. The raft inflated upside down, and they had to turn the raft over which took approximately 10 minutes. The raft, with its drogue, did a good job of staying in place next to the boat.
  15. They did not have the ditch bag, nor EPIRB. Their only hope at this point was the the shore side skipper, who knew of the bad weather, would notice at the next scheduled Sat C update that their signal had dissapeared and then would mobilize the rescue authorties. They did not feel safe diving under the boat in the dark, swimming through the companion way and getting the EPIRB and ditch bag.
  16. About 10 minutes later, the boat righted itself. The delivery skipper speculates that once the mast broke underwater, the next wave shoved the boat over enough for the keel to go to work.
  17. Once the boat flipped back over, they got back on the boat. They secured the raft to the transom with several lines and went into the cabin.
  18. The boat had approximately 50 CM (1.5 feet) of water in the cabin.
  19. They were not able to get the engine started, even though it looked fine. The VHF was no longer operable (water damage) and the Irridium was not working. They fired off the EPIRB as well as the Sat C distress function, and then one person got to bailing while the two other guys worked to clear the mast. On the portside they had to unscrew the bottle screws to free the rod rigging, and on the starboard side they had to bang out the pins. They did not have sufficient cutting gear on board to cut the rod rigging.
  20. CROSS, the French rescue authorities called the shoreside skipper on his cell phone about 10 minutes after the EPIRB was fired off. His cell phone was the registered number with the authorities.
  21. The SATC C distress signal was picked up by the US MRCC center shortly after or coincident with the French authorities picking up the EPIRB signal. At this point, the crew could not speak to the outside world so the shoreside folks did not know if they were still in the boat or had taken to the raft. By comparing the two signals from EPIRB and from the Sat C, the shore side folks were able to confirm that they had the same location and that the crew was still in the boat.
  22. 3 hours after righting, the crew was able to get the Irridium phone working. They contacted the shore side skipper, and then contacted Norfolk MRCC.
  23. Norfolk MRCC coordinated the rescue.
  24. A Hercules was launched out of Elizabeth City to locate the vessel and stand on station.
  25. Two merchant vessels were diverted, with the Wellington Star ultimately arriving on station around 4 AM local on the 13th.
  26. The crew contacted MRCC every 30 minutes via Irridium calls to provide and receive status updates.
  27. Locating the boat was actually something of a problem for the ship. They had GPS coordinates, but the boat was low in the water with no mast and high wave state making radar contact challenging. On the boat, they had a hard time getting any of the SOLAS flares to fire as they had been water logged when the boat flipped. The parachute flares they did launch were so rapidly carried away by the wind as to be useless. Ultimately, it was their flashlights that allowed them to signal the ship.
  28. Coordination of the transfer was difficult, with no working VHF. The ship's ability to gently manouver along side the boat was quite limited given its size, inertia and the sea state. The dismasted boat was banging against the vessel violently, and with the sea state it was oscilating up and down the side of the boat in swings of as much as 40 feet. The delivery skipper recalls feeling as if the transfer from boat to ship was actually the most dangerous point in the entire incident. The actual transfer itself involved having to jump from the boat to the side of the ship where there was a boarding ladder made from rope and wooden steps. Had they fallen in the water during the effort, they would have been crushed between the boat and the ship.
  29. Once transfered, they proceeded to New Bedford.
  30. A link to the Coast Guard press release is here.
  31. A link to the Coast Guard infrared video of the transfer, taken from the Hercules, is here.


The Lessons

  • Make sure your delivery skipper knows the boat, and knows how to handle such situations.
  • If you expect bad weather, get in contact with a shore side party, let them know your plans and coordinate for extigent circumstances.
  • Make sure the rescue authorities have all your most recent numbers, and at least one of those contact numbers be for some one who is not going to be on the boat and also some one who knows your float plan
  • Any knife you have located near to your life raft to cut lashings needs to be located with the idea that you will be in the water at the transom. Ideally, it should be low on the stanchion, reachable by you in the water.
  • The raft should be easily accessible from in the water and at the transom. It won't do you any good kept below, or even on a deck location or locker that is farther forward in the cockpit.
  • A water proof VHF is critically important. And it should be kept charged and kept with the ditch bag.
  • Consideration should be given to locating an EPIRB at the stern, perhaps on a stanchion/
  • A stern transom escape hatch is critical. In this case it would have allowed them to reenter the inverted boat to go get the EPIRB had the boat never righted.
  • Having two forms of distress signaling was quite helpful. In this case, that was the Inmarsat Sat C as well as the EPIRB.
  • A handheld Irridium, kept in a sealed bag and in the ditch bag could allow for communications when all your fixed equipment is damaged or water logged. Program that Irridium with emergency numbers, because when it all goes pear shaped you may not have those numbers handy.
  • A hydraulic rod cutter can save you huge amounts of grief. Their hacksaw blades were not up to the task.
  • Keep your passports with your ditch bag
  • Keep your flares in a water tight box of some sort. None of their flares survived the soaking they got when the boat inverted.
  • If a boat is diverted to you, you have to leave when it arrives regardless of the conditions. You can't ask them to stand by. If they had it to do over again, they would have coordinated their rescue request so that the boat would be diverted after conditions had abated and become safer for a transfer.
  • If you end up in the water in the Atlantic in December with no hot toddy in your near term future, you want to be wearing a gumby survival suit. Not a dry suit and most definitely not foulies. They are required for Cat 0 and are not required for Cat 1, but perhaps you should consider it if you plan on doing a transat.


I hope this is helpful.... I know that I learned something from having heard the debrief. The seas that they were in when they got into trouble are seas I have seen, and the issues that they experienced are issues I easily could see experiencing. I am changing my own plans in response to their experience.

I have a debriefing document that I am happy to share, although warn you that it is in French.

 
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Recidivist

Super Anarchist
Thanks RM.

I have friends who were recently taken off a damaged catamaran in the Banda Sea in conditions nowhere near as bad as this incident, and they also stated that the possibility of being crushed between their vessel and the ship was very harrowing and the most dangerous part of the exercise. It's basically leap for your life, grab the ladder and climb like hell. Failure to complete any one of the 3 tasks will likely be fatal. It seems the collective wisdom of SA could be harnessed to come up with an improvement to the system - anyone want to start?

 
Thank you for posting this Rail Meat, suffice to say this could have been a tragedy and we are lucky that it was averted. It speaks to the coordination abilities of all of the international authorities and I personally will feel a little safer knowing that they're up to par. Also, the inquest seems to have done a good job of making suggestions for the future so that incidents like this can be avoided.

For the record I can only imagine the horror for everybody involved in this scenario and although it will not keep me off of the water I hope that I never to have to make that leap.

 
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Infidel

Super Anarchist
So just to understand how this started the sequence of calamities: the boat rolled presumably beam to the waves with only a storm jib.

No trysail aboard to add some weatherhelm and maybe keep the pointy end up into the wind/waves? 40knots doesn't seem like terminal conditions unless you get sideways at the wrong time.

That event seems to started the process of slow boat death and near crew death.

If they were running, I guess the logical question is why? Seems to have been a bad choice in hindsight with the chance of getting sideways at a wavebottom, but I assume that is what happened.

 
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El Mariachi

Super Anarchist
41,182
1
And for those who think the description that Rail provided (re; swapping one boat for another in a rescue) is mere hyperbole and a walk in the park, it truly is one of the most dangerous things one can do at sea, and not something to be looked at lackadaisically. I'll just say this---my step dad had over 65 years on the sea, starting in the 1920's, and eventually retired as a ships pilot for JJ Jacobsen in Long Beach. Even the stories of hands and legs getting crushed boarding a ship in the relative confines of So Cal waters were enough to make you ill-----but the shit he told me about that happened during the big wars and the thousands of miles and days between them were even worse. Just scary shit.

His best bit of advice he once told me when I went with him to board a freighter when I was about 14 was;

Ricky, out here, it only takes about half second to make you two feet shorter..........

 

jimbot

Super Anarchist
4,734
0
Thanks RM.
I have friends who were recently taken off a damaged catamaran in the Banda Sea in conditions nowhere near as bad as this incident, and they also stated that the possibility of being crushed between their vessel and the ship was very harrowing and the most dangerous part of the exercise. It's basically leap for your life, grab the ladder and climb like hell. Failure to complete any one of the 3 tasks will likely be fatal. It seems the collective wisdom of SA could be harnessed to come up with an improvement to the system - anyone want to start?
Not nearly as harrowing, but I did have to do a transfer from a motor whaleboat to an LPH. Had me rigged in a safety harness with a line attached. I was supposed to climb a jacobs ladder while the guys above took up the slack, but they were fairly energetic. I think I touched about 5 rungs on the way up. I did climb over the edge thou. The reason for the climb was that I injured my hand when clearing the lowering hook on the lifeboat. Perhaps a bowman's rig could be used.

 

Burnsy

Super Anarchist
3,140
0
Milwaukee, WI
Thanks for the excellent recap. Some pretty sound Lessons there at first blush too. I can think of a few things we're doing well and a few that will bear review after that testimonial.

 

Rail Meat

Super Anarchist
7,193
175
Mystic, CT
So just to understand how this started the sequence of calamities: the boat rolled presumably beam to the waves with only a storm jib. No trysail aboard to add some weatherhelm and maybe keep the pointy end up into the wind/waves? 40knots doesn't seem like terminal conditions unless you get sideways at the wrong time.

That event seems to started the process of slow boat death and near crew death.

If they were running, I guess the logical question is why? Seems to have been a bad choice in hindsight with the chance of getting sideways at a wavebottom, but I assume that is what happened.

If he described the sequence, I was not able to follow it in French. He did mention that at least for some portion of the 12th he was running west north west and west south west. Which leads me to believe that he did get sideways on a wave bottom. One thing I have noticed with these fat assed girls is that a trailing wave can slew you sideways pretty easily if you are not paying attention.

 

Barkley

Super Anarchist
3,844
9
C eh N eh D eh.
RM - thanks for sharing.

FWIW - some friends lost their keel in the English Channel and ended up in the water. The skip always made sure there was a muster list and that a grab bag w/ flares in a sealed container was right beside the companionway. The issue was that the moment they opened the jar o' flares, a wave crashed and swamped the jar. Lesson learned is to make sure your grab bag has a wrist strap (that will help you can hang on to it in the surf) and is easily and quickly re-sealable.

Another good thing to have is a spray hood for your lifejacket.

 

Raz'r

Super Anarchist
62,326
5,514
De Nile
damn that video is sobering.

How do these boats lay to a sea anchor? Stern to I assume would be disastrous but maybe head to?

I'm working on testing several things on my boat(multi):

How does it lay to a drogue? a parachute?

Where can I store the raft, given when needed the boat will likely be upside down? Current thought is lashed to the net, will have to cut it to get to it, and I don't like that much. The stern cockpit locker opens forward, so that won't work as is. I guess one good thing about the multi is that it would make sense to lash the raft to the boat. The boat won't sink out. EPIRB, same thing, where can I mount it and have it accessible inverted?

I didn't know that about the flares - good to know.

How maneuverable are you in a gumby suit? was some of the difficulty caused by the very beneficial suits? How did they climb that rope ladder in those suits? I guess they were highly motivated.

There are lots of these sorts of questions to figure out, all boats being different all solutions will be somewhat custom.

 

Jambalaya

Super Anarchist
6,712
118
Hamble / Paris
RailMeat - thanks for posting, very informative.

Please post the de-briefing document, I am sure we have sufficient French speaking Anarchists to provide a translation.

 

HamishMacdonald

Super Anarchist
2,675
0
I imagine I'm talking about the same guys as Barkley here, but a friend of a friend of mine ended up in the piss after the boat capsized. They took the top off the watertight flare container, and it immediately filled with water and sank. He now packs his flare containers with polystyrene pellets, figuring that enough will wedge in there to not float out.

 

Mash

Member
236
18
Lyon - Fr
RailMeat - thanks for posting, very informative.
Please post the de-briefing document, I am sure we have sufficient French speaking Anarchists to provide a translation.
+1, I'm definitely interested in this document, and would be happy to translate whatever part Anarchists may want to get more details about.

M

 

someoldsalt

Member
473
8
So sitting in front of my warm, dry, dead flat and calm computer...I ask why they were so quick to get off the boat? By the report, it was not holed and they were unhurt. Did they consider a jury rig to try and get 600 miles to BDA after the storm abated? I am well aware that this is monday morning quarterbacking, but...

 

Rail Meat

Super Anarchist
7,193
175
Mystic, CT
Unfortunately, the slide show is 4 megs in zipped format, which exceeds the posting limits here. I can email to whom ever might want it, but I will need you to PM me with your email address.

 

1_&_in

Super Anarchist
no cutting gear for the rod riging? your fucking joking right? where in the rules does it say you don't need rig cutting equipment?

Boat did not self right? fucking joking right? what is the class 40 rule for this? it was 40kn's no even a severe weather situation.

what the fuck will happen when its blowing 70kn's

thanks for sharing but this is just stupidity or is someone liable for this fuck up? designer or the people that let this boat go under prepared?

 

sjburns

Member
109
0
Am I naive about typical delivery times,routes for such boats, or is 600 nm NE of Bermuda in mid-December just asking for it?

 

kent_island_sailor

Super Anarchist
27,258
5,171
Kent Island!
I am a little bit surprised that was bad enough weather to capsize the boat.

I have no offshore experience with that hull type though. I *think* my own boat would have been OK, but those waves are 10 feet taller than anything I have ever dealt with, so maybe not. I do think the older narrower boats would roll back upright much faster. I keep thinking these modern boats sort of combine the worst features of a mono and a cat safety-wise.

Thanks for posting - good suggestions I will keep in mind. I had NO IDEA that SOLAS flares would die from getting wet like that.

Also reinforces my idea to have my waterproof HT on my person pretty much all the time.

 
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Tucky

Super Anarchist
3,497
24
Maine
How maneuverable are you in a gumby suit? was some of the difficulty caused by the very beneficial suits? How did they climb that rope ladder in those suits? I guess they were highly motivated.
I've only played in a big pool in them, but got to climb in a liferaft, etc. Most folks were in Gumby's, I had my Mustang-

http://www.mustangsurvival.com/products/product.php?id=6

Based on this little bit of practice, I'm glad I spent the money on the Mustang- I could do things the folks in Gumbys couldn't. Only thing I'd change is make the gloves on the ice suit removable like their regular suit. I couldn't work a radio in the gloves. I bought the ice suit cause I'm skinny and get cold easily, most folks could use the regular commander with removable mitts.

FWIW, I also played in my Musto drysuit, which kept me completely dry and with decent clothing on inside was quite warm, though nothing like the Mustang. Another whole improvement in ease of movement, but not as good in trouble. I figure in the short term surprise, I'll prefer the drysuit over normal foulies, in the extreme, I'll go to the Mustang.

I've always acted on the presumption that, if and when I'm in one of these situations I'll be glad I didn't get my safety gear at Walmart, or try and save weight on the kit.

 

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