On one of our Sailing Cub Catalina Island
qualification training flotillas , I was skippering one of the instructor boats. Actually it was a Crealock
rigged sailing vessel. The fleet numbered 8 other club boats.
All of the new members were assigned to certain boats. Having completed their sailing and navigation
courses and pre requiste coastal day sails
, they were ready for their Catalina Island
A couple who I had never met or had on lessons were assigned to my vessel along with four other students. The office had approved the two them to stay on board the night before the training fleet sailed the next morning.
I had no clue until I walked up and climbed on board and found them in the cockpit
having coffee and donuts.( perfect start for mal de mere ). They had not been present for my pre cruise
meeting the week before.
No worries, what kind of trouble could they cause. Plus, it was my job to
familiarize the members our boat with all of the vessel systems and making the several hour passage
across the ocean to the island.
They would be standing watches, reefing down the mainsail
, making sail changes ( before roller snarling sails
became standard ), coastal piloting, and navigation
( No GPS), shipping
lane traffic, mooring
pick ups, etc.
We were about 3 miles out of Two Harbors, Catalina
, when someone went down below to get their sailing jackets. Immediately the person was back standing in the companion way hatch
, I can smell gas ! " This is a diesel engine
vessel, how could that be happening. I sent another crew down below to verify the first persons findings. " Yep, it smells like gasoline fumes in the cabin
The two people who I had never met before just sat there and said
Speaking to everyone " This is a very dangerous situation, The vessel down below is filled with gasoline fumes. We have a diesel engine
, how can we
be smelling gas ?" I look at everyone eye to eye. " Did any of you bring gasoline on board this boat ?"
Eventually, the two lubbers who stayed on board overnight fess up. They brought some gas on board for their dinghy
. " Where is it ?"
They had stuffed two large drinking water
plastic bottles filled with gasoline
deep down into the cockpit
locker and covered them up with sail bags, exta line and their dink. The gas was for their dink outboard
" Clear out the locker, get the gas out of there !
To the rest of the crew, " Turn off any and all electrical
including the master batter switch. Open up all hatches, and port holes. Open all of the cabin sole bilge
hatches and remove the engine room hatch
. Air out the vessel. "
By now the two culprits had drug the two plastic one gallon water
bottles full of gasoline. Add in 'more not smart' , the bottles only had those tiny snap on plastic bottle caps.
Not using an ounce of common sense, they arrived the night before, and stowed the gas and dink in the locker, and never advised me of what they had done
With our vessel reefed down, and small jib
, we were beating into fairly rough seas, the bottles leaked and now gas fumes had permeated all throughout cabin
, the galley
, the bilges , heads, berth areas, and engine room. WE WERE A FLOATING BOMB !
" Get out the Manual bilge pump
handle, and that bucket with a line attached. Dunk the bucket into the ocean water
and dump it into empty cockpit locker. There is drain that flows into the bilges . Just keep doing that and change off duties to keep it easy.
The bilges are the lowest part of the vessel. We would wash down and clean the cockpit locker and the bilges at the same time. Plus ventilate the gas fumes from down below.
The crew had opened all of the cabin sole bilge
hatches as well as the port
holes and over head
hatches. Working diligently and as a team they
kept dunking that bucket and emptying into the cockpit locker, as well as continuing to sail the boat.
Sailing in to Two Harbors, they rigged bridles fore and aft for the mooring
pick up under sail. No way that we could turn on any electrical
or start the engine. 0ne spark and KA-BOOM.
When first finding the gas bottles I had the dink owners pour them out and toss the empties overboard
. I know, but at the time I was more
interested in saving our human lives and the boat.
We did a great job of picking up the mooring undersail, and eventually the fumes dissipated. The two goofusus never made any attempt at saying
they were sorry, or did not admit they had made a mistake, nope none of that.
They were just concerned about getting fuel
for the dink outboard
. Pretty simple, row it over to the gas dock
I reminded everyone on board, Never stow any gasoline fuel
, or diesel in an enclosed area. Have the extra diesel or gas in proper fuel containers lashed to life lines along the deck
. Or a red, designated fuel tank
in the dinghy
that is towed astern.
Those two, who I had never had on a lesson, never sailed with me again. In fact I never saw them again. The sad thing is that it never dawned on them that they had put all of us , as well as the vessel, in danger
blowing up, becoming a fire ball, sinking the boat, and possibly killing or badly burning all of us.
Now as to skippers responsibility. I was the instructor /captain. If that boat would have exploded, it comes down to the skipper
being the responsible person. Also, it takes a cool head
, and firm commands to overcome emergencies at sea.
Also , my sailing students, basic begins on 30 foot vessels, I always taught my students that some day, that engine or an electrical system
will fail, and you will have to dock
the vessel undersail.
And, when it was time for their check outs, on any vessel on up to 55 footers they had to dock under sail into our dead end slip.
Then under power also docking
stern first, and also using backing and filling stern first.
In the instance above, picking up that mooring at catalina
under sail was no big deal. They worked calmly as pros, and it was their first mooring pick up, ever.
Also in the sailing clubs training, was a required systems, and emergencies class, including fire fighting A, B, and C class fires.
Everything comes down to skippers responsibility to crew, passengers and the vessel. The buck stops with the skipper