Safety at Sea Seminar

Roy, Kathy, Carlos and Jack, the four-person crew of the North Wind that will do the transatlantic passage from Portsmouth, Virginia to Legos, Portugal.

The four-person crew of North Wind met at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD for the two-day International Offshore Ocean Safety Course. Sailing has been re-instituted as a requirement at the Academy. About 100 civilians joined the USNA sailing team members and another roughly 200 Mids who were scheduled to participate in their summer sailing program. (Mids is the term they used to refer to Midshipmen. I’m not sure whether Mid was a gender neutral term for Midshipmen or just shorthand, but the 2021 USNA class is 27% women)

The Mids were seated in the section below to the left. There were more people that took part in the seminar than I expected.

Vice-Admiral Dixon Smith gave the opening remarks. He relayed stories of his days as a Mid and situations that he was lucky to escape without injury. He underscored the importance of learning from mistakes and taking preventive steps to avoid dangerous sailing situations.

One of the most powerful presentations included three crew members from the Meridian X, competing in the 2017 Chicago to Mackinac race. The helmsman described conditions when a crew member went overboard (MOB). It was near midnight, the wind was steady at 15 knots and then built rapidly to 30 knots. He called all hands on-deck to drop the spinnaker and set the storm sail. Eventually, the wind hit 40 knots, with a boat speed of 22. Mark Wheeler emerged from the cabin, putting on his life vest. Mark was heading for the stern winch behind the helmsman. While reaching for the winch, a sudden tack caught him off balance and he was thrown between the lifelines and out the back of the boat.

The helmsman estimated the boat traveled 2 miles before the spinnaker could be fully dropped and they could safely turn. A quick turn would have capsized the boat. Mark Wheeler described turbulent water, a new signal light that failed after a few minutes, and experiencing extreme cold. After 15 minutes he blew his whistle once a minute. After an hour in the water, he thought he was going to die. He had an AIS transmitter that would have led the boat back to him, but the boat was not equipped with AIS. Apparently other boats were not close enough to see the AIS signal on their chartplotters. Eventually, the crew of the Meridian X heard a faint whistle and headed in the direction of the sound. Bottom-line is the whistle saved Mark’s life. The overall take home message is upon exiting the cabin clip into the jackline, check your safety light, and make sure you know how to activate your AIS and PLB.

There was a session on emergency medical care. One focus was on preventing seasickness and the role of ginger tablets, acupressure wristbands, and Bonine. Hypothermia symptoms and treatment were covered, as were prescriptions to take offshore.

Communication with rescue personnel was addressed by Lt Kellen Browne of the USCG. It was an interesting presentation from the view of a helicopter pilot. I learned not to worry that a search helicopter may turn and go back to shore, while signaling another helicopter that will do the rescue. Hence, don’t get discouraged if the first helicopter departs.

John Kretschmer provided an engaging talk about voyage preparation. Other presentations included weather forecasts, storm sails and heavy weather, and care/maintenance of safety equipment.

One of the nice features of sharing a three-bedroom Airbnb was meeting the crew for our upcoming adventure. The other members of the North Wind crew, Roy, Carlos and Kathy, had sailed together. I had sailed with Roy, so it was a pleasure to meet Kathy and Carlos. After dinner on Saturday night we spent several hours processing the information we heard that day. Eventually the conversation turned to meal planning. The three days of positive interactions portend well for a smooth passage.

Our home for 6 weeks.


Jeanneau 509
An image of a Jeanneau 509 from the boat manufacturer’s website.  Hopefully, we will have great wind for the 3260 nautical miles of the passage to Portugal, just like the picture!

An Opportunity of a Lifetime

On the delivery of a Lagoon 450 from Annapolis to Key West and about 30 miles off the coast of North Carolina, I was asked if I wanted to be the fourth crew member on a transatlantic passage leaving in May. At the age of 16, I remember sitting on the beach in Ocean City, NJ, starring across the water at the horizon while contemplating what it would be like to sail to England. Now, almost five decades later, sailing across the Atlantic was a real possibility.

The next 36 hours were sleepless. I could not imagine a better opportunity. The boat would be a two-year-old Jeanneau 509 equipped with radar, AIS (Automatic Identification System), and a life raft. My former ASA 101, 102, 104 instructor, Roy Rogers, would bring 30 years of sailing the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean, plus practical knowledge of sailboat maintenance. We would be taking part in the ARC-Europe with 30 other boats. The Atlantic Rally to Europe

On the other hand, there are risks. During those sleepless hours, I was more worried about asking my wife, than heavy weather, hitting a container that fell off a cargo ship, a lightning strike that would take out the electronics (autopilot, chartplotter, AIS, radar, etc.), or one of hundreds of other things that could go wrong on a sailboat. Being a glass is half full person, I gathered to courage to ask my wife. She was wonderfully supportive.

On March 24-25, we will be at the Navel Academy in Annapolis for an Offshore Safety at Sea workshop. The course, sponsored by U.S. Sailing, covers Heavy Weather, Storm Sails, Crew Health, Hypothermia, Jury Rigging and Repair, Fire Precautions, Lending Assistance, Life Rafts, and Signals.

On May 5, we will depart from Portsmouth, Virginia. The first stop will be Bermuda, about 640 natical miles. Depending on the winds and weather, we will have about five days to explore Bermuda. The longest leg is 1800 nm to the Azores, a volcanic archipelago of nine islands. We will take eleven days to visit four of the islands. At the Horta marina, Island of Faial, we will paint an image of our boat, North Wind. For an image of the wall, see Legend has it that this will bring us good luck for the last 840 nm to Legos, Portugal.

The World Cruising Club maintains a Fleet Tracker website that allows one to track the progress of the boats. On May 5, the 2017 ARC fleet will be replaced with the 2018 fleet. Use the search function to track North Wind.