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Old 16-01-2007, 23:16   #106
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sneuman,

I was about to ask what you did for a living due to your superb writing skills...I then saw that you are a journalist. Have you written any books or accounts of your dismasting other than threads?

Your analysis of the situation relative to your experience is very enlightening and thought provoking. Maybe I can add to this with some of my observations from watching Ken prepare his vessel for his journey.

He did not have any light wind sails or rigging for spinnaker. When I asked about this, he said he was going to be sailing in high latitudes and would not need them. I thought for a very brief moment about the 1000s of miles between Long Beach and those high latitudes…I then went back to washing my deck.

I concluded Ken was extremely, even passionately determined to do this thing he had set out to accomplish. I observed him spending hours running wires, installing radios and electronics that I could not yet afford.

He installed new sails, new lines, and hard dodger; however, he neglected to replace his aged and outdated blocks and deck hardware. I could not help but realize that most of this hardware was not only aged, but also the lowest grade one could buy for coastal sailing. As far as I know, he did not replace this hardware before he departed.

Most striking to me was the lack of visible instruments in the cockpit and the unusual and less than functional location of the helm. This suggested to me that he was planning to sail by autopilot almost exclusively.

Hopefully these observations will add some insight to the discussion and foster some more thoughts from the group.

Removing 800 pounds of ballast with the blessing of the designer still doesn’t sit quite right in my armchair.
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Old 17-01-2007, 00:37   #107
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Trim50
Removing 800 pounds of ballast with the blessing of the designer still doesn’t sit quite right in my armchair.
It wasn't with the blessing of the designer (Maurice Griffiths is sadly no longer with us). We don't even know if it was with the blessing, as such, of a designer.
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Old 17-01-2007, 03:35   #108
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Scott (sneuman):
Your account was as well-written as any we could expect from a a practicing journalist.
More importantly, your analysis is a very thoughtful explanation of the psychology involved.
Thanks.
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Old 17-01-2007, 03:48   #109
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Thanks Scott, for the comparison; it adds a sobering view to Ken's situation.

Kevin
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Old 17-01-2007, 08:42   #110
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As ugly as this thread has been, we have had other threads where we have thought through the possible causes leading up to an incident such as this one. In these cases, since there is no "black box" to tell us exactly what went wrong, it is a good mental exercise for all of us to go through the possible problems and scenarios. This helps us all to think about what would happen if we were faced with similar situations and prepares us all for that possibility. These disuccions, while not always supportive of the sailor in picking apart the incident, are beneficial to the whole community. Of course Ken has my sypathy and general support. He went through hell. But, I'll objectively sort through what happened and discuss it with you guys to further all of our knowledge.

One thing that sticks out loud and clear is something Trim50 says that fits well with Ken's account:

Ken planned to use the autopilot most of the way. Ken said he was below when the rollover happened and didn't see anything. This suggests he probably had the autohelm on in seas from his rear quarter that were dangerous. This is not an ideal configuration. I've tried the autohelm in just slightly rough conditions and been scared to death of the way it doesn't account for the waves and getting the boat up, over and back down. It's something that has to be steered by hand (or possibly windvane??). I know an AutoHelm brand autopilot just can't cope with those kinds of conditions and runs a serious risk of not steering in a way that eases the motion of the boat.

Could this have been a (or *the*) factor?

PS: Quick edit for clarity: I say AutoHelm brand because that's the only one I've ever used in rough conditions with seas on the stern quarter. In my case, it did not handle the crests of the waves like a human can.
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Old 17-01-2007, 09:09   #111
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Sean,

FWIW, I agree with you. Not necessarily about the Autohelm brand autopilot, specifically, but rather about the dangers of downwind sailing in rough conditions and the inability of most autopilots to handle things reliably.

One of the most serious dangers faced by the long-distance singlehander is exactly this, i.e., how to handle such conditions over long periods of time when sleep or other time away from the helm is inevitable. While prudence might suggest heaving to or other tactics, this may be impractical given the conditions, the objective, the location, etc.

Anyone who has sailed downwind in rough conditions offshore must be aware of the danger of rounding up, broaching, and worse. I remember delivering a 50-footer in the Caribbean one wild night. Only two of us to crew. Winds on the quarter 25-30 knots, waves rolling up behind us unobstructed all the way from Africa, flying just a small downwind spinnaker, and going like a freight train. Although I was much younger then and very fit, I couldn't take more than 15-20 minutes on the helm before needing relief by my friend, also young and fit, who also couldn't do more than 20 minutes at a time. Keeping that boat on course and avoiding a broach was exhausting work.

In those conditions I cannot imagine any autopilot which could have kept up. Nor would we have even tried, since the dangers attendent to a rounding-up were evident. And these conditions had to be much more benign than those which Ken faced.

So, yes, it makes good sense to me that in the storm conditions he faced the autopilot was unable to keep the boat on course, he rounded up, and was hit by a breaking sea which rolled the boat. End of game. Enter survival mode.

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Old 17-01-2007, 09:18   #112
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Storm tactics

We're all familiar with the advice as to when one should take a reef, although we are all probably guilty of not always following that advice from time to time. But what about storm tactics? What are the thoughts on when it may be time to resort to setting the drogue, heaving to, etc?
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Old 17-01-2007, 09:30   #113
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Sean - in reading all accounts, my mind has been suspecting the rudder and using Auto rather than vane would be a good way to lose control of the rudder without warning. There is no way he could have steered by hand for any period of time, so mechanical assist is a given. Great question - why the AP instead of a vane ?
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Old 17-01-2007, 09:34   #114
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"But what about storm tactics? What are the thoughts on when it may be time to resort to setting the drogue, heaving to, etc?"

That, of course, depends very much on the boat, the crew, the mission and, especially, the conditions.

Generically, I'd say:

1. if you think it's time to reef, it's really past time
2. if you want to rest, without having to steer the boat, think about heaving to or even lying ahull
3. if conditions deteriorate to the point where its unsafe to lie ahull or heave to, deploy a drogue
4. either lie to the drogue or, if that's unsafe, head downwind with the drogue, warps, etc. training behind.

Obviously, choice among these tactics will depend on the variables mentioned above.

Survival, with the least injury, broken gear, etc. is the measure of correct choice and, as always, luck.

JMO,

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Old 17-01-2007, 18:27   #115
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I dont have any espieriance with vanes. I have read about them and seem to remember some discusion that they didnt work that well down wind either. Is that true? I would think that minus a person at the wheel the Vane wouldnt be my fist choice the pilot would.( In Vane mode) does a vane loose its imput in the trough.
and on a 44ft 50,000 pound boat wouldnt you have to have a pretty big vane?

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Old 17-01-2007, 18:47   #116
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Good questions, Matt.

I have an Aires vane on my boat...42' LOA 27,000 lbs sloop. Draft is 6.5' loaded, modified keel, large rudder hung on a skeg.

The Aires does extremely well upwind and reaching, but not very well downwind. It's very powerful, depending on a pretty good size blade which sits in the water just behind the rudder. The wind works on a vertical plywood blade which turns the blade in the water. Water pressure on that blade pushes it to one side or another, pulling lines which are connected to a hub on the wheel. This turns the boat's main rudder. It's an older system which is very robust.

The Aires likes wind. The harder it blows, the more it likes it. It kept us on course during a wild Christmas trip from the Virgin Islands to Grenada...about 400 nm....in 35-45 knot Christmas winds one year. We just held on, while the Aires did all the work :-)

Newer vane designs may do a bit better downwind; not sure about this, but a powerful autopilot would probably do better.

As you might imagine, there are many variables. Of these, the boat's design and performance downwind are among the most important. Some boats track well, others are all over the place. Sea conditions are paramount, though, and one can envision downwind conditions where no autopilot can be expected to steer as well as an experienced helmsperson.

That said, autopilots seem to do a pretty good job downwind -- better than vanes -- when sea conditions aren't too bad. Reports from the ARC, Transpac, the various long-distance races, etc. seem to corroborate this.

Bill
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Old 17-01-2007, 19:15   #117
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Yes, to be clear, I said, "wind vane?" because I have no experience with them. I have experience with a small Autohelm ST4000 (or whatever it was called) on a 30' boat, extremely advanced large hydraulic systems aboard megayachts, and the current Autohelm 6000 direct drive (rod to quadrant) unit on my current boat. From my experience in seas probably 1/3 to 1/2 of what Ken had to deal with, I never trusted the autopilots downwind or in beam-ish seas. They don't know how to correct for big, odd shaped crests that pop up at you from odd angles.

They wouldn't have any way to sense one.

Looks like we might be onto a possible cause. It's not like he had other options though, since he had to sleep sometime. I guess that right there is one of the difficulties of the 'roud the world solo trips.
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Old 17-01-2007, 19:40   #118
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I should have said failure of either a vane or the AP would cause a sudden loss of control. I view vanes, apparently incorrectly, as more reliable due to the lack of a motor. My own experience tells me that an Aries will do pretty well on a 60 footer in 30+ knots (Alden built and did track well). I have also burned up an AP in following seas. The AP could not keep up. Our option was to steer by hand - an option not available to Ken for any length of time. If, as Bill says, the pros have success with their APs, then it seems not knowing the AP installed on Ken's boat or its condition ends my speculation on loss of rudder control. Probably just as well. I'm sure Ken is still trying to figure it out. I still give him credit for trying it.
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Old 17-01-2007, 19:57   #119
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Me Too Lar,
I,ve used my st6000 In vane mode a couple of times and it seemed to do fine but we where inrelativley calm seas I would think that in stronger winds and bigger seas using the wind insurment at the top of the mast would be better than using the compass, safer anyway. Id like to have a wind vane but my money tree hasn't been bearing fruit like that in a while
Thanks for the info Bill and all
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Old 17-01-2007, 20:12   #120
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I don't have any experience with the servopendulum windvane systems, but I have friends who swear by them. They confirm what others have said here, that they work best in heavier air.

I think that my biggest reservations about either the electric (mine is an ST6000) or the windvane self-steering have to do with their inability to anticipate. They can only react after the fact. When the "big one" is curling up over the transom a helmsman has the opportunity to react before it hits, possibly avoiding the break or setting the boat up to respond to it better than if it had been left to its own devices.
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