To be safe sea,preparation key

SAILING

April 08, 1993|By NANCY NOYES

The water was relatively flat on the Severn River Saturday, but a brisk northwesterly breeze near 20 knots and gusting to 30 was hooting down the river as the Navy 44 Flirt, skippered by senior Eric Roetz, beat upriver under full sail at a good rate of speed.

Suddenly a crewman was in the frigid water, and as throngs of hushed spectators looked on from the academy seawall, the rest of his team went into action to recover him. Executing an upwind quickstop maneuver calmly and professionally, and promptly returning to their endangered teammate, the crew had sophomore Michael LaPaglia safely aboard again within moments.

Shortly afterward, as senior Alex del Castillo and his crew aboard Lively, another Navy 44, reached down the river under spinnaker, junior Adam Aycock found himself in the same position as LaPaglia a few minutes earlier -- bobbing in the cold river water relying on his crew's ability to recover him, this time with the downwind spinnaker version of the quickstop.

Again, the wet crewman was safely aboard the boat in short order after del Castillo and his crew doused the chute, stopped the boat and returned to quickly haul Aycock out of the water.

LaPaglia and Aycock were not in the water because of sloppy sailing, poor training or mistakes. They were the first volunteer victims -- all wearing full-body orange survival suits -- in the on-water demonstration portion of the 15th annual Safety at Sea Seminar at the Naval Academy over the weekend.

Other demonstrations followed, as senior Danielle Picco performed a single-handed rescue of junior Jeffrey Wissell using the lifesling method, three mids executed a synchronized belly flop into the river and inflated and boarded a life raft, and a Coast Guard helicopter arrived to drop an emergency pump to assist the "damaged" Lively and airlift the "injured" Aycock to safety.

The helicopter was one of the most exciting parts of the demonstration, since the Coast Guard points out that everything involved in such activities is inherently dangerous, and there was a high level of skill displayed in flying and handling the large sailboat in the gusty winds.

Despite a mainsail difficulty and the fact that the jib was in the water, Picco did an impressive job, showing that a knowledgeable and prepared sailor can do it all when necessary to recover another person, even one substantially larger and heavier, safely and competently.

The entire seminar, on the water and in the auditorium, was an exercise in the safety factor it stressed most: preparation.

From the introductory remarks by moderator John Rousmaniere at Saturday's basic-level program onward, just about everything led back to knowing what can happen, being familiar with what do to about it and having the equipment to deal with it and the knowledge of how to use it.

In the words of Capt. Hal Sutphen, former director of Naval Academy sailing and a veteran offshore sailor, "You are preparing for the voyage you may encounter -- not the one you would like to have."

Obviously preparation for a major offshore passage should be much more intense and detail-oriented than preparation for a daysail, a weekend cruise or a buoys race on the relatively calm and sheltered waters of the Chesapeake, but even here dangerous situations occur, and adequate preparation can minimize the damage and the danger level.

Rousmaniere, outlining his formula for disaster, cited several factors with relevance even on the bay: a rushed departure (in which category he classifies virtually all sail races), an unprepared crew, an unprepared boat, a crew which panics after an injury and an unclear command structure -- meaning that if something bad such as a collision, injury, man overboard, gear/rig failure or severe weather does happen, no one is sure who's in charge of what, making reactions chaotic, inefficient and/or too slow.

Even if you, like most sailors in this area, won't get beyond the bay in an average sailing season, this is a good time to address your specific program and its level of preparedness, fill the gaps in knowledge or equipment and make changes as necessary, before you find yourself on the water with a problem.

Check -- or have checked -- your through-hulls, sails, rig and other parts of the boat which could cause trouble. Remember that many dismastings are caused by a poorly tuned rig which is out of column or out of balance, and tune it properly.

Get your radio and other electronic gear working in case you need to call for help or figure out where you are in bad weather or at night, and check things like fuel storage, stoves and water heaters for safety.

Make sure you have adequate and functional safety gear such as PFDs, up-to-date flares and fire extinguishers, man-overboard equipment, etc. (stowed accessibly) and formulate some emergency plans to practice with your crew. Then practice them.

Check and restock your medical/first aid kit -- and reread your first aid manual so you're familiar with basic procedures and lTC where to look them up.

Spending time now looking at and thinking about your sailing program for the coming season can help produce trouble-free time on the water with little extra effort when you want to leave the dock, even on short notice.

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