Archive for » March 15th, 2013«

Drayton: We need more safety at sea

Over 200 years ago, “Moby Dick” author Herman Melville warned about the perils of a “lee shore.” A lee shore is defined as any shoreline that faces directly into the wind, and typically also catches the brunt of an ocean’s waves. There have been three offshore sailing tragedies in California in the past year; all three involved boats being pushed up onto a lee shore.

The death of Craig Williams in last week’s Islands Race is the 10th offshore sailing fatality in California in the past year. To put this number in context, according to Wikipedia there have been a total of nine fatalities worldwide in professional auto racing in the last 20 years. Is offshore racing along the California coastline really that much more dangerous than auto racing?

Statement from Uncontrollable Urge

“As we try to piece together the horrific events of Friday night and early Saturday morning, the crew of Uncontrollable Urge wants to express their appreciation for the support of the sailing and land-based communities at this difficult time. We are all grieving and share in the loss of Craig Williams, a beloved family man and team member. There are no words to express how much Craig meant to each of us, and we know how much his loss is felt in the Williams family.

“We would also like to thank the U.S. Coast Guard for their assistance and professionalism. Without their heroism, the outcome of this tragedy would have been much worse. Thanks also to San Diego Yacht Club, Silver Gate Yacht Club and Newport Harbor Yacht Club for their assistance and understanding.

“Lastly, we ask that people donate to the memorial fund that has been established to assist the Craig Williams family.”


In early April 2012, a Sydney-38 named Low Speed Chase ran aground on the Farallones islands while racing off San Francisco – five of the eight crew on board died when the boat got caught inside a big set of waves. Just a few weeks later, a Hunter-37 named Aegean ran aground on North Coronado Island, and all four sailors on board died.

On March 8, the Columbia-32 Uncontrollable Urge was thrown onto the rugged coastline of San Clemente Island during the Islands Race. In this case, five of the sailors on board reached shore and were successfully rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter. The sixth crewmember, 36-year-old San Diego sailor Craig Williams, lost his life.

A storm front had passed through the day before the Islands Race, so sailors had to contend with moderate to heavy breezes, confused seas and large 6- to 8-foot swells. One of the sailors on a larger boat commented that he wouldn’t have wanted to be on a smaller boat that night. (The 32-foot Uncontrollable Urge was among the smaller boats in the race.)

Details about what happened on board Uncontrollable Urge when it washed ashore are still vague. The crew initially contacted the Coast Guard around 9:30 p.m. March 8, saying that they’d lost their rudder, but they declined further assistance at that time. During the next two hours, they contacted a private towing/salvage company, but rough conditions would delay this response. They also attempted to deploy their life raft, and around 11 p.m., as they had drifted close to San Clemente Island, they attempted to deploy their anchor. Around 11:30 p.m., they radioed the Coast Guard that they would be abandoning ship just before the boat washed up onto San Clemente Island’s shore.

It’s too early to draw conclusions about this tragedy, but our sport should anticipate (and embrace) additional scrutiny of our offshore sailing events from both the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Sailing. Maybe there are additional safety measures race organizers can consider for future offshore races, such as providing escort vessels, or conducting mandatory safety inspections, or choosing race courses that stay clear of dangerous navigational hazards. Offshore sailing is primarily a recreational pastime – we should continue to ask ourselves what else can be done to ensure the safety of offshore racers.


I’ve had the pleasure of doing a number of long-distance races, so I was excited that our 16-year-old son had been invited to participate in this year’s Islands Race.

While his schedule would ultimately prevent him from sailing this year, he had sailed on a number of offshore races of this type, and we would not have hesitated to let him race in this year’s Island’s Race.

Following the recent tragedy, I found myself thinking about what advice I could share with our two sons about this crash. I started by looking up “emergencies” in the Annapolis Book on Seamanship, (aka the bible on offshore sailing and seamanship).

Rule 1 – Prepare the boat: Any boat going offshore needs to be appropriately prepared. Is there proper safety equipment on board? Every offshore crew should be prepared to react to a broken mast, a broken rudder or a medical emergency. When we did the 2009 Transpac race on Ragtime, we brought a full tool kit including bolt cutters, hammers and hack saws in case we needed to cut away a broken rig.

Rule 2 – Prepare the crew: One of the first things a skipper should do when a new crew comes on board is to give a safety briefing. Every sailor on a race boat should have a life jacket. The crew should also know where safety gear is stowed (radio, flares, man-overboard gear, etc.) and the basics of how to use this equipment. There should also always be at least one crew member trained for medical emergencies. During the 2009 Transpac, we had a satellite phone and two doctors standing by if we needed medical consultation during the race.

Rule 3 – Choose a safe route: When doing route planning for offshore races or passages, the navigator should make notes about any significant obstructions or hazards that are along the route, and should also identify alternate backup ports between your departure point and ultimate destination. During the 2007 Puerto Vallarta Race, there was no wind and we were able to re-route ourselves into Turtle Bay (about 500 miles south of San Diego) to pick up fuel for a return trip north.

Rule 4 – Prepare for emergencies: In the event of an emergency, the book says, “The goal should be to solve a life- or boat-threatening problem quickly, efficiently and without crew panic.” One good way to prepare for emergencies is to attend a Safety at Sea seminar. Several times a year, veteran offshore sailors and safety experts conduct a series of seminars at local yacht clubs. The next local seminar is July 7 at Shoreline Yacht Club in Long Beach. Additionally, OCC’s School of Sailing and Seamanship offers a wide variety of courses that can be useful for offshore sailors.

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Sailing school sends out SOS

Sail on, boys: Students preparing to race at sea during a training session at Batu Laut beach in Kuala Langat.Sail on, boys: Students preparing to race at sea during a training session at Batu Laut beach in Kuala Langat.

THE limited sailing equipment at the Selangor Sailing Asso-ciation (SSA) training centre at Batu Laut beach in Kuala Langat makes it difficult to train more students, said its vice-president Abdul Aziz Abas.

He said currently, there were about 50 students, aged eight to 18, undergoing training in preparation for the upcoming Selangor Schools Sports Council (MSSS) and Malaysian Schools Sports Council sailing competition.

However, there are only 20 boats for the Optimist category, six boats for Laser category, two boats for Laser 420 category and only two windsurfing craft that are still in working condition.

“There is a lot of wear and tear on the equipment due to frequent use. Some cannot even be repaired as they are outdated models,” said Abdul Aziz.

“I understand the Selangor Schools Sport Council’s (MSSS) situation as it is very expensive to get a sailing boat,’’ he said, adding that an Opti-mist cost RM12,000, the Laser boats RM30,000 each and Laser 420 boats RM40,000 each.

“We are hoping for government aid or for others to come forward to help us by sponsoring the equipment,” he said.

“For now, we need five Optimist boats, five Laser boats and two Laser 420 boats so that the students can be competitive in the sport and emerge triumphant in the upcoming MSSM sailing meet.

Rare sight: Boats lined up on the jetty before they are launched into the sea for the young sailors’ training session.Rare sight: Boats lined up on the jetty before they are launched into the sea for the young sailors’ training session.

“Besides the MSSS and MSSM meet, these students have also participated in the Royal Langkawi International Regatta, Terengganu Open, Penang Open, Malacca Open and Perak Open events annually.

“With better equipment, the students are bound to perform even better,’’ said Abdul Aziz.

The MSSS district and state-level competitions are held at the Batu Laut beach and occasionally, international competitions are held here too.

Students from two schools, SK Batu Laut and SMK Batu Laut, that are located only 100m from Batu Laut beach are among the top sailors in Malaysia.

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