A Tragedy In The Cruising Community

By Rich

Linked here is a story about two fatalities aboard a cruising boat that was returning from the Caribbean this winter. We heard about this tragedy through personal channels in the cruising community, and now an article has been written about it. Escape was docked next to us in St. Martin this winter, and we had briefly met Karl and Annamarie.

S/V Escape, photographed from Rover this winter in St. Martin.

We think it is super important that articles like this be published so that the entire sailing community can reflect on incidents and hopefully learn from them. Here are my personal reflections:

  1. In shopping for our own ocean passage maker, we quickly decided to avoid designs with main sheets led to the cockpit because of precisely this risk – that they can injure crew or damage other equipment in a gybe or a situation like this. This rigging arrangement is best left to race boats. We see a number of design traits in contemporary “passage makers” that are motivated more by marketing and style than by seaworthiness.
  2. As I read the story – and I could be wrong – it appears that Karl was really the only person on board who could lead the group through maneuvers like reefing. The CNB 66 is a huge boat, so for open ocean passages at least one other senior leader should be aboard who is thoroughly familiar with all of the systems and the choreography of maneuvers, and preferably more than just one additional senior leader. In this situation Karl had to both execute procedures and serve as crew chief choreographing. He was over extended.
  3. I hate to point fingers reading a story like this, but we can only learn from them when we do. In this situation the helmsman had no need to go head-to-wind while the genoa was being reefed – indeed, it is preferable not to. A close hauled or even beam reach angle is fine for reefing or furling a headsail. Karl should have given more clear instructions to the helmsman about staging the reefing – first the headsail at a close-hauled angle, then head to wind for the main. Going head-to-wind too quickly is the root cause of this accident, and the responsibility for that decision is jointly shared between the helmsman for doing it and by Karl for failing to correct him.
  4. Piecing together the incident, I am inclined to believe that the helmsman not only came head to wind before it was desirable, but did so too quickly – quickly enough that Annamarie was not able to get the mainsheet in quickly enough to prevent the boom from swinging wildly back and forth. The moment the boom began to swing uncontrollably, a more experienced helmsman would have recognized the danger and fallen back off to prevent the wild motion of the boom and give Annamarie more time to grind in the sheet.
  5. Given the spirited weather conditions, the helmsman probably came head to wind too quickly due to the anxiety of the situation. As weather conditions deteriorate, it is vital to manage our anxiety, slow down, and be very thoughtful about maneuvers.

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