What if……open boats ?

Title photograph : Lyme bay and the Bill of Portland.

New Facebook group, The Backyard Boatbuilder : https://www.facebook.com/groups/892923134689307

Boats, open boats and rare events.

Blog time : (re-write) first, a quick note to readers that this is a heavily edited and re-worked post from last week that i pulled back into draft because i’d made a factual error and then correcting that made the post less readable. In real time we’ve just had a day and night of strong winds here which were blowing straight into the exposed end of the shelter and early on in the storm there were heavy showers sending rain into the shelter as well – i had to keep rescuing and adjusting the tarps to keep the boat covered and dry . Today is cold but still so iv’e done a bit of work this morning by standing inside with the tarp cover over my back – i ran a length of glassfiber tape down one of the bunk board joints …..mainly what i did today was retrieve most of the leaf mulch from the corners it’s all blown into and put it back on the various beds that iv’e planted.

What iv’e mainly been doing this last week is just working on the sanding/tidy up of joints and planks , and then doing some epoxy coating. That only really works in the warmer part of the day and even then only after running a heat gun over the plywood before coating ; in fact i had a problem with that when my fan heater died without me knowing it and shortly after i’d finished coating , the result being a waxy Amine blush to cut back the next day. As i write my fingertips are still sore from working with coarse wet and dry sandpaper used wet with some warm water to clean off the blush.

My intention for this month is just to get the inside of the boat all coated and sealed and then to close the forward compartments with the bunk/sole boards all in place (dry fitted for now) and all of their hatches and inspection ports dry fitted. At this stage i think i’m going to paint any compartment that i’m regularly going to access but leave the other compartments just epoxy coated but maybe with some UV protective clear (bright) finish on them. The other thing that’s happening this week is that i’m starting on a new section of my book project and funnily enough i’m going to be writing about building a boat……funny that !

What i want to carry on with this post is to talk about more incidents and accidents that happen at sea, that are much more statistically rare than the common ones that iv’e covered so far but which tend to have a much worse outcome.

Rare, but serious, small boat incidents and accidents then.

It’s likely to be the case that just like in mountaineering and rock climbing the most risky thing i will do with this boat is to tow it on the motorway – it being known that more climbers have road traffic accidents than do fall off crags !. So far in this series of posts about boats and their crews that go bump iv’e taken an evidence based statistical approach – basically put that the things that happen most often are the things that will go wrong more often than rare events. That is not to say that we should ignore comparatively (statistically) rare but serious events – swamping/capsize being one , man overboard being another and dismasting a good third. In the RNLI cause of launch reports all of those are much rarer than mechanical failure – something like only a 1 – 3 % incidence but going into the water in March say as a result of capsize perhaps has a high likelihood of being lethal because the water is so cold ; remember maybe that my Lyme Bay ‘blizzard’ was in March and that’s the coldest time of the year in terms of sea temperatures.

While i think back to Lyme Bay in a strong easterly wind and blizzard conditions i’m also reminded of one incident that happened there several years before and which had a major affect on the outdoors industry as it was then – this being the Lyme bay canoeing tragedy of 1993 at which time i was heavily involved in bushcraft and canoe practice myself. I wrote about that incident and about something similar , the lake Timiskaming incident several years ago : https://dirtywetdog.co.uk/2017/11/30/the-dark-side/

Something to remember here is the loss of British yachtsman Rob James in the English channel after he fell overboard from the trimaran Colt Cars GB and although the boat got back to him the crew could not get him back aboard and he died in the water as a result of hypothermia. Of note with that incident that there was a chain of events that started with chafe of the lashings that held the boat’s netting trampoline in place.

Two other lethal man-overboard incidents also come to mind , firstly the loss of Tony Philips in the 1989-90 Whitbread race – again into very cold water , and secondly the tragic loss of the great Eric Tabarly when he was knocked overboard from his boat Pen Duick in the Irish sea in 1998. One more that was very nearly lethal was in the same incident in which Tony Philiips went overboard – actually two crew members went overboard that day and the second one (Bart Van Den Dwey) was recovered unconscious but was resuscitated. I was privileged to read Bart’s recollection of the incident and one thing that was apparent was that he lost consciousness in the cold water very quickly and secondly that he needed considerable looking after as he recovered. All of these incidents seem to typify one aspect of incidents at sea ; one moment everything is running along as normal and the next it’s all gone horribly wrong.

My point in mentioning all of this is that while machinery failure is definitely common in boats it’s rarely lethal ….in most cases it just leaves a boat partially helpless and bobbing about on the water. Going overboard from a fast moving sailboat into cold water is rare but when it happens it is always serious and often lethal. In terms of a risk matrix the average machinery failure (engine failure) would be classed as frequent but with normally only a moderate outcome – a MOB on the other hand is an infrequent but extremely serious event. Where i’m going with this ……? that not falling overboard is a good place to start but that small and lightly ballasted boats can be capsized so it’s essential that the solo driver can get back aboard without assistance and then start putting the seawater back where it belongs…..and quickly too.

Do open boats actually suffer capsizes though ?…..the answer is yes and anyone who follows Roger Barnes’s video series will know that he’s had 2 capsizes in his open Lugger (Avel Dro) – one off the north Devon coast and one off the Crozon Peninsular in Brittany. Something i note is that many of the fellow cruising dinghy self-builders do put some time into experimenting with capsizes and getting back into their boats – this is one thing that also comes in sideways at us from lessons learned from the Timiskaming canoe incident and heavily influenced outdoors training in the UK.

Previous link taken down as claimed incorrect.

Link : removed.

A trained and practiced response.

Many years ago i was a keen open water/open boat expedition canoeist and occasional sea kayaker – in fact i was a low level canoe coach trying to be a higher level one and i frequently went on coaching and skills training sessions at Plas-Y-Brenin and other venues. On just about every canoe course or sea kayak course iv’e ever attended, or for that matter run myself iv’e always had to do some time perfecting various rescues, self rescues and assists – in North Wales that regularly meant capsizing into stunningly cold water and having to do something about it….like flipping the boat back upright, emptying it enough to get back in and then getting self back into boat without swamping it again.

Several years later i got into the practice of ‘wild’ swimming – basically going for a swim in just about anything that isn’t a concrete tank full of dilute bleach….also known as swimming pools. My regular venues were 2 of the rivers that flow off Dartmoor – the Dart and the Plym which both have good swimming holes and my intention was to swim at least once a week all year round. One time, in the late autumn i was in the Plym when some Royal Marine trainees came running past with their Pt instructor….the instructor ran over and gave me the thumbs up for ‘good effort’ and then ran back with his squad and had them all jump in, fully laden and swim out ; i preferred my version as i had dry clothes and a warm sleeping bag to get into to warm up.

Designer John Welsford points out in one of his design video’s that it’s good to do drills so that we get good at basic things like reefing quickly and importantly capsize and swamping drills. Well, i’m not ready to start practicing drills yet but i am at the point where i’m thinking about the boat’s layout – at the moment for example what rig i’m going to have and thus where the halyards and reefing lines are going and crucially where things like the self recovery kit is going and where the first of 2 bilge pumps is going. Having also watched Roger Barnes’s video’s and experienced many open canoe capsizes and watched my gear floating away i’m also putting a lot of time into working out neat and effective stowage of the loose gear…..i have to assume that although unlikely it might be possible to invert the boat completely and things like anchors and batteries could literally fall out unless properly stowed.

To end this week’s blog post i’d like to return to one thing that’s also relevant to this and is a personal factor – that i get cold easily and quickly, in fact i seem to be unusually susceptible to hypothermia as i found out to my cost once in hill walking and twice aboard boats. I think now that getting both very cold and cold/tired is a greater risk with an open boat than it was with my last boat and previous ones that had a cabin and in one case a sprayhood as well. At this stage of my project i’m just about to start mocking up a cuddy so that i can immediately get into wind and rain shelter at any time, have a dry space to rest , cook and sleep and where perhaps i can keep watch from.

In the next post in this series i’m going to continue this theme with the actual problems of getting cold and tired, sick, cold and tired and then making poor decisions.

Until next time.

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