Archive for 'Safety'

movistar Abandoned, ABN Amro One Wins Portsmouth Leg

Posted by John Callender on May 21st, 2006 at 8:58 am

This morning the captain of Volvo Ocean Race entry movistar, after a night spent fighting severe leaking from the failure of one of the pivot points of the Spanish entry’s canting keel, chose to abandon ship. movistar was about 300 miles from the race’s finish line in Portsmouth, England, at the time. Lots of interesting detail is available from the official VOR site: movistar abandons ship.

The boat’s ten crewmembers transferred via liferaft to ABN Amro Two, which had turned back to assist movistar and had been standing by throughout the night. The transfer was made during relatively light winds as the eye of a northern storm passed over them, but one of the main factors in movistar skipper Bouwe Bekking’s decision to abandon the vessel was the forecast for winds gusting to 50 knots. “Ten lives at stake, with a similar number of families, the right call,” Bekking said in an interview from ABN Amro Two.

movistar is currently adrift, with a radio beacon transmitting the boat’s position.

In other VOR news, most of the boats have reached Portsmouth, ending the last long-distance leg of the race. Unsurprisingly, this leg was won by the overall race leader, ABN Amro One. Two shorter races remain.

Photo: A shot of movistar taken before the beginning of the VOR, by Sally Collison /

The Death of Hans Horrevoets

Posted by John Callender on May 20th, 2006 at 3:40 am

In all my talk about the risks faced by crews in the Volvo Ocean Race, I always focused on the dangers of the Southern Ocean. But as we all know, any stretch of ocean can be deadly. Early Thursday morning, as the VOR fleet crossed the North Atlantic in the last long-distance leg of the race, Hans Horrevoets, a 32-year-old crewmember on ABN Amro Two, was swept overboard by a wave and drowned.

From the ABN Amro site’s official announcement:

ABN AMRO TWO was sailing downwind in 25 – 30 knots of wind under main, fractional spinnaker and staysail. Seb Josse, Skipper of ABN AMRO TWO was at the helm, Hans, 32 of the Netherlands was trimming the spinnaker sheet, Nick Bice, Andrew Lewis and Lucas Brun were also on deck. The boat nosedived down a wave and water came washing back down the deck, when the water cleared Hans was no longer on deck.

ABN AMRO TWO Navigator Simon Fisher explained the incident, “Immediately Seb hailed a ‘man overboard’ and we initiated man overboard procedures and we put in place the GPS positioning. The boat immediately turned around and began to search for him, meanwhile raising the alarm on shore. After Hans was found he was lifted back on board and the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department at Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, UK was notified that we had a major medical emergency and to stand by. Unfortunaly our attempts to resuscitate him were not successful.”

ABN AMRO TWO Skipper Sebastien Josse said, “We are all devastated by the events that took place this morning and all our thoughts are for Hans’ family. Throughout the whole MOB (man overboard) procedure the whole crew handled themselves calmly, professionally and with the utmost maturity. It is with deep regret that we were unable to resuscitate Hans.”

ABN Amro Two, in happier days:

Photos: Hans Horrevoets, from the official Team ABN Amro site. And ABN Amro Two, courtesy of Sally Collison /

Craig McCabe’s Big Adventure

Posted by John Callender on January 15th, 2006 at 1:04 pm

Craig McCabe

Mark Twain famously quipped that a man with one watch knows exactly what time it is; a man with two is never sure. A nice example of that is provided by Internet news sites, which make it possible to pull up different newspaper articles describing the same event.

I thought about that when reading today about Craig McCabe, a lawyer who lives aboard his powerboat Heather in Marina del Rey. McCabe was singlehanding the boat from Marina del Rey to Newport Harbor this past Thursday, when he fell overboard and ended up spending more than five hours in the water.

Meanwhile, his boat wandered off on its own and eventually plowed into Catalina Island, prompting a search for the missing boater. He was plucked from the water near a buoy that sounds like it might be the LA Harbor entrance buoy. But first he was overlooked by a passing fishing boat, almost run down by a passing freighter, clung to a balloon and some driftwood, recited the 23rd Psalm, and was threatened by a territorial sea lion.

The articles all pretty much agree on these dramatic apects of the story. But there seems to be an interesting looseness regarding more basic information like how old McCabe is (58 or 59, depending on which article you read), and how long his boat is (either 50, 55, or 65 feet).

Anyway, you can read the articles and try to figure out the details for yourself:

All the articles seem to agree that McCabe was checking over the side to see if his boat had snagged a lobster pot when he fell in, which is easy enough to believe. But I find myself wondering if it might actually be that McCabe is embarrassed to admit that the real reason he was leaning over the side was that he was peeing.

I guess I’ll never know. Anyway, I’m glad the story had a happy ending.

Photo: McCabe, along with his daughter Kelly and Dr. Jonathon Lawrence, at a press conference Friday at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach. Photo by Bruce Chambers of the Orange County Register.

Big Surf

Posted by John Callender on December 24th, 2005 at 11:16 am

Mike Parsons catching a big wave at Jaws

I’ve been driving back and forth through Malibu over the last week, which has given me a front-row seat for some of the huge surf we’ve been having in Southern California. The LA Times has an article today about some of the people who’ve gotten into trouble with the waves, including a young man who apparently was killed when the boat he was in capsized off Ventura. From Deadly high waves batter coast:

Late Friday, an 18-year-old remained missing after a small boat carrying him and three other family members capsized in rough seas near the mouth of the Santa Clara River, officials said.

The skiff carrying a father, two sons and his daughter capsized about 12:30 p.m. roughly 100 yards from shore, authorities said.

Three of the family members made it to shore, but one son did not, said Fire Marshal Glen Albright of the Ventura City Fire Department.

The others were taken to Ventura County Medical Center with minor injuries. Authorities searched for the missing man until darkness fell. The search is expected to resume this morning.

The article also describes how a surfer drowned off Carlsbad State Beach on Thursday, and how the Venice Pier has been closed until further notice due to damage from the waves. The surf is expected to subside over the next few days, before building again next week.

Photo: That’s a still I snagged from an unauthorized video clip that’s been floating around the net for a while. It shows Mike Parsons being towed onto a big wave at Jaws on Maui during a competition a few years ago. If you haven’t seen the video it’s definitely worth a look. One commenter claimed the clip is from the movie Riding Giants, but having watched that movie I didn’t see that clip in it (though the movie is very much worth watching, regardless).

Update: Oh, and now another source I googled up indicates that the clip is actually from the beginning of Billabong Odyssey. And since brief moments of the clip appear in the film’s trailer, I’d say that’s a pretty good bet.

Later update: So I’ve now watched Billabong Odyssey, and I can tell you that yup, it’s definitely from that movie. It’s basically the first minute of the film, with Parsons’ big wave (which was the high-scoring wave at the Tow-In World Cup in January 2002) also being featured in the extended coverage of the event toward the end of the film.

VOR: Cahalan Fired as Brasil 1’s Navigator for Southern Ocean Legs

Posted by John Callender on December 6th, 2005 at 9:02 am

torben grael and adrienne cahalan after brasil 1\'s finish

Navigator Adrienne Cahalan, until now the only woman racing in the VOR fleet, has been fired as Brasil 1’s navigator. The move apparently came as a complete surprise to her. From her statement Monday, as reported on the official VOR site (Interpreting the situation):

“Yesterday I was informed by team manager Alan Adler that I was to be replaced as navigator on Brasil 1. Regrettably it was not Torben himself who told me of this decision. I am very disappointed not to be able to sail the remaining legs in the race with Brasil 1 and particularly the Southern Ocean legs coming in and out of Australia.

“I am and have been fully committed to both Brasil 1 and the Volvo Ocean Race for the past year and in light of our good results so far I was very surprised and disappointed to be told of Torben’s decision.”

Possibly seeking to frame the public perception of the move, Team Brasil 1 themselves claimed surprise in a subsequent statement:

“The Brasil 1 Team was surprised by Adrienne Cahalan’s statement that she was out of the team for the remaining of the Volvo Ocean Race. No decisions have been taken so far. This subject will be discussed in a meeting (on) Tuesday in Rio de Janeiro.

“During the first leg, trimmer Marcelo Ferreira was out of the sailing watches for some days due to a medical problem and Adrienne Cahalan wasn’t planned to take part in the watches. The only issue here being the great physical strength required for the job. The situation of having two crewmembers out of the sailing watches will be the subject of the scheduled meeting.

“The idea that will be discussed is having Adrienne on the Brasil 1 as team’s meteorologist and including a navigator who will be a part of the sailing watches for the Southern Ocean legs. Afterwards, there is the possibility of having Adrienne back to the crew for the remainder of the race.

“That idea is still the one we are supporting: ‘Adrienne has done an important job for the team and we do not want her to stop helping us’, Brasil 1 skipper Torben Grael stated.”

It sounds like the bumping of Cahalan from the crew was handled pretty poorly. If you’re going to do something like this, I think it’s best to do it openly and directly, being clear about what led you to the decision. Coy statements to the media after the bumpee has gone public with her disappointment are unfortunate.

On the underlying reasons, I wonder how much of it is based in machismo, as amplified by the understandable fear of taking these radical boats into the Southern Ocean. A male crewmember in good physical condition, generally speaking, is going to have more upper-body strength than a comparable female crewmember (and in that vein, I guess it bears noting that Cahalan is 40 years old).

Upper-body strength isn’t everything, of course. On this race physical endurance is a factor, too, and it’s less clear that a male crewmember would have an advantage in that area. With numerous circumnavigations and three previous Volvo/Whitbread races in her background, Cahalan certainly has plenty of relevant experience, and after being part of the team for the past year, and crewing on leg one, it seems unlikely that interpersonal chemistry would be emerging as a factor at this point.

My guess is that, confronted by the unknown, the Brasil 1 team is trying to do whatever they can to control the variables they do have control over. They face many, many worries going into the next two legs, and apparently they decided that having one of their ten crewmembers be a woman was one more worry they didn’t need to have.

I assume from Cahalan’s statement that she believes it was Torben Grael’s decision, and given that, I think I’d agree with her disappointment that he wasn’t willing to communicate it to her directly. Maybe there’s more to that story, though.

Photo: No longer one of the boys: Brasil 1 skipper Torben Grael and navigator Adrienne Cahalan at the post-finish arrival celebration in Cape Town. From the Brasil 1 official site.

VOR: ABN AMRO 1 Leads; Details on Pirates, Movistar Breakdowns

Posted by John Callender on November 16th, 2005 at 8:25 pm


In the Volvo Ocean Race, the four boats that have not yet suffered any serious breakdowns are still very close together, with ABN AMRO One having an 11-mile lead on Brasil, then Ericsson 1 mile back, and ABN AMRO Two 2 miles back from there. See the official VOR site’s position maps page for details.

Five hundred miles astern, Sunergy is back on the course and racing, though at a significantly slower speed than the boats in the lead pack. And back in Portugal, some really interesting news has come out regarding the breakdowns to movistar and Pirates of the Caribbean, neither of which will be rejoining this leg.

An article from the Telegraph has extensive discussion with Paul Cayard about just what went wrong on Pirates — and it doesn’t sound pretty: Cayard fears for Volvo 70 safety.

Instead of having a keel with a hinge on the outside beneath the hull, like the Open 60s competing in the Transat Jacques Vabre, the Volvo 70s have their pins inside the hull. This leaves a door-sized hole in the hull bottom.

The box – dubbed by Cayard the “fish bowl” because it has an inspection window – sits over the hole in the hull and the hydraulic rams pass into it, sealed by industrial-strength gaiters.

Pirates’ problem was that the fairings are meant to seal the hull bottom. When one fell off, it was not just a question of lost speed through increased drag but of the entire integrity of hull depending on the “fish bowl”, which was not designed to withstand the tons of pressure that were building up inside it.

More info on the Pirates team is available in this update from Cayard at Yachting World’s site: We have now been in port for 36 hours…

Over at movistar, the damage to the hull and appendages that was revealed when they hoisted the boat out of the water has led the team to conclude that they must have hit something big — like a container. More details from the official VOR site: Bad, but not quite as bad.

Again, more detail is available in this item from Yachting World: movistar damage caused by collision.

Photo: movistar in happier days. Photo by Sally Collison,

VOR: Lead Changes, Fire, Men (Intentionally) Overboard, and Sunergy Heads in for Repairs

Posted by John Callender on November 14th, 2005 at 10:20 am

Brasil 1

It’s been a hell of a day at sea for the VOR racers, apparently. From the official site:

In an audio interview at 1230GMT, Ericsson navigator Steve Hayles told the Volvo Ocean Race web site that the boat was stopped in the water and crew members Jason Carrington and Richard Mason were in the water cutting away ropes from the keel and rudder. Thirty hours ago, during the first night, Ericsson had what Hayles described as an issue with a sail and a halyard, and had been sailing since with the debris hanging off the appendages. It was only now that the conditions were judged safe enough to put the swimmers in the water to resolve the problem.

Mike Sanderson, skipper of ABN AMRO ONE spoke to Race Headquarters at 1200 GMT and shocked radio reporter Guy Swindells with a very matter of fact report of a fire on board. Apparently a bolt had dropped into the battery box and lodged between a battery terminal and the carbon fibre structure. Carbon fibre is conductive and the resulting short circuit took out the wiring and systems in navigaton, communications and the media station. Once the fire was controlled, navigator Stan Honey, an acknowledged electronics expert in the field of TV and films, and not just an offshore navigator, has managed to re-wire the damaged areas so that they are now able to communicate and use their electronic navigation systems.

Meanwhile, Sunergy, the Australian team whose finances, and partcipation, were in doubt up until the last days before the start, has suffered a failure of the mainboom gooseneck, and is reportedly heading into port for repairs. More on the carnage in this Times Online article: Volvo boats crippled by raging seas.

At the front of the fleet, it’s currently a seesaw battle between Brasil 1 and ABN AMRO One, with Ericsson and ABN AMRO Two slightly farther back.

Photo caption: Water flows over the side deck into the cockpit of Brasil 1. ©Brasil 1.

‘Blue Law’ Runs Aground in Newport Harbor Entrance

Posted by John Callender on November 14th, 2005 at 9:28 am

There was an interesting account in the latest issue of The Log about the grounding of Blue Law, a Hunter 54 that got stuck on a sandbar near the entrance to Newport Harbor on November 5: Sailboat runs aground in Newport Harbor entrance.

“I had his crewmembers go from the bow to the stern and back and forth to try to rock the boat to get it off the sand. I was pulling so hard I was afraid I would break the hawser,” Gardner said. “This is the most exciting tow I’ve had in a while. I felt that if I didn’t get the boat off the sand in about five minutes, it would be stuck there for quite a long time.”

Southern California tends not to have the extensive shoals that East Coast and Gulf sailors learn to deal with; groundings around here are relatively uncommon. But we do have little patches of sand here and there that claim the occasional victim, and acquire a bit of local notoriety. I’ve run aground in San Diego Bay off the southern tip of Shelter Island, in the Oceanside Harbor entrance, and in King Harbor in that little corner between the yacht club and the breakwater. I never ran aground (so far) in Newport Harbor, but I haven’t spent much time there, aside from coming in the night before the Ensenada Race a few times.

60-Foot Tris at 50% Attrition in Transat Jacques Vabre

Posted by John Callender on November 12th, 2005 at 6:44 am

Orange Project capsized in Transat Jacques Vabre

A nasty storm a couple of days ago in the Bay of Biscay, followed by ongoing mayhem from strong tradewinds, have knocked out 5 of the 10 60-foot trimarans competing in the doublehanded transatlantic race currently under way between Le Havre, France, and Bahia, Brazil.

Here’s a writeup from Latitude 38 with aerial photos of the capsized Orange Project and Foncia: Snap, crackle and pop at Transat Jacques Vabre.

As if starting the biennial doublehanded transatlantic race in 25+ knot, on-the-nose winds and rough seas weren’t enough for the 19 monohulls (Saturday start) and 16 multis (Sunday start), Sunday night a cold front rolled in, blasting primarily the multihull fleet with 35 to 45-knot winds and reported 20-ft seas. In the wee hours of Monday, EPIRBs went off on the 60-ft trimarans Sodebo and Orange Project. The former snapped off its port ama and capsized. The latter suffered a broken main beam and also went upside down. Three hours later, at 0615, a report came in that Foncia had also capsized. With the retirement of Brossard earlier on Sunday with a cracked main hull, that takes four of the ten 60-ft multis out of the running. The six co-skippers of the three capsized boats were rescued, some more banged and bruised than others but all okay. At this writing, their smashed boats were all either under tow back to land, or about to be.

Later, Groupama-2 pitchpoled (apparently) and capsized (definitely). Here’s a write-up from At around 1750 GMT tonight, the 60ft multihull Groupama-2

The prevailing conditions at the time were classic Trade wind 25 – 30 knots from the North East. The trimaran was sailing downwind and it is presumed that therefore the hull pitchpoled on capsize but this is not confirmed.

What we do know is that Franck Proffit was at the helm and was thrown violently forward, and has possibly broken his ribs. A helicopter has been sent from the Canaries to the zone to pick up Franck Proffit from the boat in order to give him immediate medical assistance.

Franck Cammas is staying on board in order to commence a salvage operation for the boat with his shore team. Groupama-2 had been pushing hard all day after their 5 hour pit-stop in Santo Porto at Madeira between 0400 – 0900 hrs local time this morning to repair their steering and rudder systems, and had been clocking average boat speeds over 25+ knots.

That brings to 5 (of 10) abandonments in the 60-foot trimarans of the ORMA class. Also retiring have been two of the Open 50 trimarans, and one of the Open 50 monohulls. So far the boats of the remaining class (Open 60 monohulls) have not suffered any retirements.

More info on the ongoing racing is available from the Transat Jacques Vabre official site. You can also check out cool realtime position maps of the survivors at the French-language site

Times of London on Volvo Safety Fears

Posted by John Callender on November 11th, 2005 at 6:23 am

VOR in port race no. 1 start

I was interested by this article from last week’s Times of London about the potential for mayhem in the upcoming Volvo Ocean Race: Global race starts under a cloud of safety fears.

The new Volvo Open 70s could hardly be more of a contrast to Volvo’s safetyconscious designs for the family car market. The boats are only 10ft longer than the old Volvo 60s, which were used in the last race four years ago, but they are much more powerful and much more dangerous.

Capable of exhilarating performance, with a top speed of up to 40 knots, the super-light Volvo 70s demand total concentration from their ten-man crews, with manoeuvres in rough seas having to be precisely choreographed if spectacular wipe-outs are to be avoided.

The new boats are more complex than the 60s and include hydraulically controlled keels that swing through an arc of 40 degrees either side of the centre line, giving the yachts extra lateral stability, plus daggerboards either side of the mast to prevent the boats slipping sideways.

Conceptually, it makes all kinds of sense. In flat water, under ideal conditions, I’m sure it makes for intense sailing excitement. But in the Southern Ocean, I just don’t know.

Neal McDonald, of Britain, who skippers Ericsson, admitted to a certain nervousness and fear of the unknown. “These are tricky boats — they are fast and powerful,” he said. “The hardest thing will be to know when to back off. When do we say, ‘Let’s put the no heroes flag up and knuckle down for the night and make sure we see tomorrow in good shape.'”

Paul Cayard, the Californian skipper of The Black Pearl, a boat sponsored by Disney in a unique marketing campaign to promote a sequel to the feature film Pirates of the Caribbean, is concerned about the swing keels, which have had a mixed reliability record in other classes. “The technology is a little more on the edge,” he said.

I continue to think that the relatively conservative (emphasis on the “relatively”) boats of the ABN Amro campaign may end up doing significantly better than their poor showing in the opening race last Saturday would seem to indicate.

I was also interested by the quotes coming from ABN Amro One skipper Mike Sanderson, as quoted in this post-race writeup from the official site: Worry no more.

Mike Sanderson put a brave face on a woeful performance by the best-funded boat in the fleet. In the preceding days he had made it clear that we shouldn’t expect a sparkling performance in light airs. ABN AMRO One is a fat-bottomed girl who likes a good breeze to allow her to strut her stuff. She doesn’t like it light and fluffy. “I can walk down the dock and I can show you the narrowest boat and I can show you the widest one,” said Moose. “It wasn’t the biggest surprise. We always knew that a six-knot In Port race — where we got the start wrong — would be our biggest nightmare. I think I’ve said that publicly before. You know that when you put your boat at one side of a fleet, you’re going to come first sometimes and other times you’re going to come last. We’re still adamant we’ve the right boat for the race. I don’t think we’ll be having this conversation in Cape Town.”

Time will tell on that one, obviously.

Photo: That’s In Port race one winner Ericsson taking the pin end at the start, on her way to stretching out to a big lead on the left side of the first beat. Photo by Rick Tomlinson.

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