Over The Edge

It is sadly ironic that my musings last month on the nature of risk in sailing—and our acceptance of it— should be followed by the tragic capsize of the Kiwi 35 WingNuts (see page 16) in the Chicago Mackinac Race, and a little later by the maxi-racer Rambler 100 turning turtle in the Fastnet race after its keel fell off and plummeted to the bottom of the Irish Sea.The
Author:
Publish date:
Rambler-100

It is sadly ironic that my musings last month on the nature of risk in sailing—and our acceptance of it— should be followed by the tragic capsize of the Kiwi 35 WingNuts (see page 16) in the Chicago Mackinac Race, and a little later by the maxi-racer Rambler 100 turning turtle in the Fastnet race after its keel fell off and plummeted to the bottom of the Irish Sea.

The WingNuts disaster made national headlines and ignited a debate on the suitability of extreme designs for offshore races. The Rambler 100 capsize made international headlines, but thus far there has been no outcry over the suitability of bulb keels for offshore racing.

Perhaps that is because every performance boat built in the last however-many-years has a bulb keel, and precious few of those keels fall off. “Precious few” is a few too many, though, and I doubt any of the 21 sailors on Rambler 100 will forget the experience in a hurry.

What these back-to-back disasters should make us think about is the nature of seaworthiness. Is the Kiwi 35 design, with its pinched waterline beam and radically flared topsides, an inherently less seaworthy concept than a boat with a massive ballast bulb set at the tip of a long, skinny steel fin where it is subject to all manner of extreme torsional forces? I would say yes, of course, but given that both boats wound up inverted, perhaps the answer isn’t as obvious as it appears to be.

The highly experienced WingNuts crew were obviously aware of their boat’s limitations and felt confident in its ability to handle the conditions typically experienced in the Chicago Mackinac Race. Its shortcomings were fatally exposed by some atypical conditions. The even more experienced crew of Rambler 100 were obviously aware of other instances of ballast bulbs falling off high-performance boats, and felt confident enough in its engineering to think it wouldn’t happen to them. But if there is a weak link anywhere in a boat the sea will eventually find it.

I expect—no, hope—the inquiry into the WingNuts tragedy will result in stability requirements for boats competing in races like the Chi-Mac. I, for one, found it hard to believe that there were none, but perhaps that’s because I’ve done most of my offshore racing in Northern Europe, where heavy weather is never a surprise and you always prepare for the worst-case scenario. I do not think a monohull should be as stable inverted as it is right-way-up. No one, though, will be talking much about keel failures, because they’ve fallen into the category of acceptable risks.

Every year, the most unlikely boats carry off the most unlikely voyages without mishap, and it has always been thus. Given the right conditions, you could go transatlantic in a bathtub. But sooner or later, the law of averages will catch up with you. As the crews of WingNuts and Rambler 100 now know, experience and preparation is no defense against being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Related

emSelf-tacking-jib

Ask Sail: Are Self-trackers Worth It?

Q: I’m seeing more and more self-tacking jibs out on the water (and in the pages of SAIL) these days. I can’t help thinking these boats are all hopelessly underpowered, especially off the wind, when compared to boats with even slightly overlapping headsails. But I could be ...read more

01-LEAD-hose-leak-CREDIT-BoatUS

Know how: Is Your Bilge Pump up to the Job?

Without much reflection, I recently replaced my broken bilge pump with a slightly larger model. After all, I thought, surely an 800 gallon-per-hour (gph) pump will outperform the previous 500gph unit? Well, yes, but that’s no reason to feel much safer, as I soon discovered. The ...read more

190314-viddy

St. Maarten Heineken Regatta: A Source of Hope

The tagline for the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta is "serious sailing, serious fun." However, for the inhabitants of St. Maarten, the event is more than just a festival of great music and some of the best sailing around. Local blogger Angie Soeffker explains the impact the race ...read more

SPOTX-1500x1500_front

Gear: SPOT-X Satellite

Hits the SPOT The SPOT-X two-way satellite messenger is an economical way of staying connected to the outside world via text or e-mail when you’re at sea. As well as the messaging service, it has a distress function that not only alerts authorities if you’re in trouble, but lets ...read more

_8105684

A Kid’s Take on the Northwest Passage

Going North—and West Crack! Crunch! I woke with a start to the sound of ice scraping the hull of our 60ft sailboat, Dogbark. In a drowsy daze, I hobbled out of the small cabin I was sharing with my little sister. As I emerged into the cockpit, I swiveled my head, searching for ...read more

Nathan-Bates-San-Diego,-CA

SAIL 2018: Reader's Photographs

Are you out there sailing, cruising and living the sailing life? If so, we’d love to see it. Send your sailing photos to sailmail@sailmagazine.com And don’t forget to sign up for our free eNewsletter. Check back for updates! We set sail from Chicago on a crossing to Saugatuck, ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com Let her breathe When the wind’s so light your cigar smoke goes straight up (or it used to, before having fun was banned) any well-designed yacht with a clean bottom will somehow keep on sailing if you ...read more