At the risk of being ridiculed, I thought I'd tell about a past encounter with near catastrophe as a good example of the Swiss Cheese model of accident
After several days at sea in calm to moderate conditions we found ourselves jibing downwind with full main and ASI in TWS 15kts.
Slice 1: The crew included a moderately experienced captain
(me), and two relatively inexperienced friends who had each done a charter
or two in friendly waters.
Slice 2: We unexpectedly noted that the wind
speed indicator had failed, although wind
direction appeared accurate. A reset did not correct the matter and we sailed on.
Slice 3: A lack of observation possibly due to fatigue and the usual reliance on the instruments resulted in me failing to note a sudden increase in wind speed and it was not until we suddenly sustained 18.5kts for about 40 seconds whilst surfing that the danger
of being overpowered was realized.
Slice 4: Considering the strengths of the crew, I mistakenly decided that I would go forward to bring down the sock of my 155Sqm ASI and instructed my two less experienced crew as to their roles, one to steer the boat close to down wind and the other on the timing of releasing the sheet. Upon reflection, the danger
demanding greatest experience was in the steering
of the boat which I should have done.
Slice 5: Once near direct down wind, the sheet release was too slow and the time to get the sock down was drawn out lengthening the time of vulnerability.
Slice 6: The helmsman, no doubt became distracted by the struggle to get the sock down, and failed to maintain the heading. Perhaps the confused sea contributed to some windward wander, and so the boat with full main began to round up, no longer having a balanced sail plan. We settled beam on.
Slice 7: Yelling loudly from the bow, whist now wrestling a half doused sail flailing out to leeward and unable to draw the sock down, I "asked" that the boat be turned down wind.
Slice 8: During all this commotion, the two crew at the helm
failed to note that the lazy sheet was now in the water
and had tangled the rudder
. Matters were exacerbated when the engines were started in an attempt to turn the bow down wind.
Slice 9: "The engine
won't start and I can't turn the rudder" was the reply. "Fu*K" was mine. By now the Spinnaker
was blown out and in shreds. We were beam on to the sea and drifting without rudder
or port engine
towards the beach some 1 to 1.5NM away, and with the risk that whatever sheet was in the water
could still foul the STBD engine if used. There was nothing to do but cut the ASI free and retrieve the halyard
as the sail was quickly on its way, fortunately away from us.
Slice 10: I tied on to a strong line and jumped from the stern landing on a jelly fish
whose stingers envenomated about a quarter of my thorax. in mounting seas, I avoided with luck, being battered between wave and hull
and managed to cut and free the sheet that had entangled the rudder and propeller
And so, we now had steering
, and power and were back sailing with a more conservative (although less exhilarating) sail plan. I did get some throat swelling from the effects of a large area of envenomation and this settled with a large doses of antihistamine and steroids. It was all now so tame, although only a brief time earlier, we were facing the prospects of drifting onto the beach about 1NM away.
So ultimately the cost was that of a new ASI, but it could so easily have been very much more, not to mention personal safety
issues. Upon reflection, I count 10 opportunities to alter this fateful path. Ten opportunities missed! This time we were lucky. I trust there will be no next time as I hope to learn from my experience.