Staying Afloat

Posted on 7th December 2021

None of us want to ever step up into a life raft.

John highlighted one of the growing issues that we have in offshore and oceanic racing – hitting stuff. With the tragic increase in rubbish in the oceans, the chances of hitting something are unfortunately increasing. Most of it bounces off, but some of it doesn’t, and if disabled by this impact, what do we do to prevent yachts themselves becoming another pollutant in the seas?

Many modern offshore and oceanic racers have tackled the problem successfully, but this doesn’t tend to trickle down to the majority of yachts that are designed for predominantly inshore activities, with only a nod to oceanic deliveries and racing. It is potentially an expensive exercise to retro fit additional watertight bulkheads, and is often impractical, compromising the yacht, and detracting rather than improving in the overall. But as learnt from oceanic racing, a few items can simply be taken onboard every boat when heading into the open ocean.

In the 2005-6 Volvo Ocean Race, the Volvo Open 70 class was experiencing the new dynamics of racing at speeds previously not seen racing around the planet. The result was that the structures were seeing more strain than expected, in some cases too much to cope. When the fleet limped into Rio de Janeiro, the organisers decided to talk to all of the teams about what extra could be done to keep them safe to the finish line. As the Manager of the VO70 Class at the time, I implemented a new rule that required each boat to carry an extra grab bag with two large capacity submersible water pumps with cables long enough to reach the battery terminals from anywhere onboard, and collapsible hoses that would allow the pumps to be dumped into any compartment and the hose to be lead out of a hatch to the deck or cockpit. The cost was minimal, and the rule stayed in place for every Volvo Ocean Race to follow.

In that time the emergency pumps came out of the bag a number of times. In fact, they got used successfully in every one of the following races. In many cases the hull was significantly breached, and the crews relied on the pumps to keep them afloat until they could affect repairs and get to safety.

World Sailing have been looking into making this a rule for certain races in the last few years.

But maybe we should all head down to the local chandlery and get ourselves set up anyway…

James Dadd, Co-Founder and CTO YachtDataBank

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