Safety at Sea

Some dear friends just sent me an email with this question:

David did you know this boat or it people? On another note, happy 4th.

I thought I would share my answer with the group.

No. I do not recognize the boat or the people. But, I am very sorry to hear it. Strangely I do know another sailboats named Nina.

Seems odd that Fox does not read their own articles. Not that my proofreading is so brilliant. That’s for sure . But, I thought these guys were supposed to be professionals. They say:

“The 70-foot sailboat Nina left New Zealand bound for Australia on May 29. Authorities believe the 85-year-old classic wooden boat likely sank that day in a powerful storm.”

So, they are saying that she sank May 29th. “likely sank that day… “ Of course, then any boater wonders why in the world would you leave port with a life-threatening storm anywhere nearby. Or even remotely possible.

But then they say:
“The New Zealand center released the last-known message from the boat Thursday after seeking it from satellite phone company Iridium and the U.S. State Department.

“The June 4 message with a misspelling read: “Thanks storm sails shredded last night, now bare poles. Goining 4kt 310deg will update course info @ 6PM”.

So, she was still afloat on June 4th but they did not send the expected update message 6 hrs later. Nice that they gave their course and speed, but without knowing their position at that time, it is essentially useless. And whatever happened, for some reason, they did not use an EPIRB. So, there was no search for almost a month.

There have certainly been a few cases where people bobbed around in a raft for many weeks or months. But, not very many. Usually they die in the first few hours, or at most, in days once they are in the water. A search a month later is 99.9% a waste of time it seems to me. But, what else can you do?

EPIRBs have gotten relatively cheap and very good. I would’ve thought that a famous 70 foot yacht would’ve had at least two. And at least one of them automatic, that goes off automatically and is released automatically when the boat sinks. They also had a satellite phone, that if they could keep it dry long enough to get off a message, would’ve alerted people right away.

There is a lady here at the marina, that about eight years ago was sailing in that same area with a friend and her boat sank suddenly. She was able to get out a distress call and another yacht that she knew was able to get to their raft within about eight hours and save them both with very little drama. That second yacht did blow out several sails, trying to get to them as fast as humanly possible. A very reasonable thought. You don’t know if two seconds are going to make the difference until it’s too late. So, they certainly was SOME drama.

I’m sorry that I don’t really remember the details of the sinking. It was very stormy and something went wrong and caused their boat to sink pretty quickly. At that point she had sailed that boat at least halfway around the world.

She bought another boat and sailed it here shortly before the pirates got bad. She has use this marina as a base for the last six years or so. She is now 83, I think, and is off sailing for the summer and will be back in the Fall.

When we were getting ready to cross the Atlantic we bought an EPIRB that does not have a built-in GPS, but it can connect to the GPS with the special optical plug. So, if we have two or three minutes warning, we can send our exact position at that time. Also, in any kind of scary situation, I would’ve had it hooked up to the GPS while we waited to see how things turned out. I think that’s quite an improvement over the standard EPIRB. I am told that they take several hours to get an approximate position. This is because you have to wait for several satellite passes. Of course, if your EPIRB goes belly up during that time you’re pretty much screwed. Not as screwed as not having an EPIRB at all, like these folks though.

Actually, I can keep our handheld GPS connected to this EPIRB while it is working, and detached from the boat. I.E. if we were in the raft, or even swimming. But it is definitely not as safe and reliable as the kind with the built-in GPS.

If I decide to cross another ocean, I will definitely be buying an additional EPIRB with completely built-in GPS. That way, it gives the rescuers your exact position within a few minutes of being turned on and continues to give your correct position as long as it possibly can.

And also I will then have two EPIRB’s on board. Poop happens. And so it seems nice to have more than one. Amazing coming from a cheapskate, right?

EPIRB’s have gotten really amazing. We met some people that hit a reef in a remote part of the South Pacific and it took some time, perhaps an hour or so for the boat to become uninhabitable. They turned on the EPIRB as soon as they hit the reef. They had a email on their satellite phone, from their son within about 10 minutes saying that the Coast Guard had called him and said that their EPIRB had been activated and were they okay?

I think that’s the way they do it now days. When the Coast Guard gets the signal, they call the contact number, and say does this sound like a reasonable signal. That way they don’t launch a full-scale search when the boat is in the marina and something just malfunctioned. But, even with an old-fashioned non-GPS 406 EPIRB, the authorities know within a very few minutes that something is wrong. By the way, the earlier type of EPIRB, I was told they don’t even pay attention to anymore. 90% of the broadcasts were false alarms, I was told. But, hopefully they pay attention to the 406 EPIRB’s.

It seems immensely important to know right away, if you plan to start a search. We have known cruisers, and we were this way in the beginning, that feel that no one should risk their lives in order to try to rescue us. We were out here on our own recognizance, and if we get into trouble it is our problem.

That is a great subject for long philosophical discussions. There are excellent arguments in both directions. Certainly the system is very often abused. People without two brain cells to rub together get into some sort of catastrophe and expect other people to risk their lives to come and save their stupid asses. Have they heard of the Darwin awards?

I think I remember reading about some guy that had been rescued in Yosemite National Park like eight times or something. And I don’t mean he was rescued like he got stuck in the porta potty. He would be hanging on some cliff somewhere and expected people to come get him out of there.

As I recall the story, they eventually banned him from the park or something. He was clearly an idiot. And, we have known of the marine equivalent. Friends from Southern California told us many years ago, that they had heard mayday calls on the VHF. “Mayday Mayday Mayday I am off of Los Angeles and there is not enough wind. I’m going to be late for work unless you come bring me in.”

I don’t know. I guess I have too much imagination. I would be concerned that the Coast Guard boat would come over and test that big machine gun they have on the bow.

When we were coming down the coast of Central America in the mid-1980s, there was a really old guy single handing. I think he was the age I am now. I’ll be so kind as to not put the boat name on the blog. Anyway, several people were really impressed that he was still out single handing at his age. But, many, many people told us stories about how he repeatedly would call for help on the radio and expect people to come rescue him.

Since we were going roughly the same direction and at the same time as he was, we heard from lots of people that had personal knowledge of his numerous rescues. They would be things like he would arrive off of some harbor after dark and call on the radio that he was old and he couldn’t figure out how to get into the harbor. He really needed some help could somebody come out and bring him in. Or that he had run out of fuel. Or his engine it stopped working. I seem to recall that all of the stories involved the knowledge that he was old, with the implication that whoever was listing should take pity on him. I don’t know if the stories are true. Rumors do happen. But I heard it from so many people who had so many different stories, happening in different places all along the coast, that I assume that they were absolutely correct.

I also heard stories about a world-famous cruising couple, who are very proud to have a sailboat with no engine. They always felt that that meant that they were a lot smarter than most people. Yet, many people have told me that they frequently would be becalmed off of the harbor, and ask people to tow them in.

Now in those days, as part of their philosophy, I think they did not have a radio. So, if the stories are true, they would’ve had to wave somebody down. Maybe send smoke signals? So I’m a little skeptical that this may be just a vicious rumor that someone who was jealous of them, or had an ax to grind, invented. And it would be perpetuated because many people were kind of upset at what they perceived as the couple’s ‘know it all’ attitude.

You can’t please everybody all the time. We used to read their books and articles, back in the day. We thought that they had a lot of good ideas, but were quite full of themselves. They know a lot of important stuff, but perhaps not all. So who is perfect? That certainly did not keep us from adopting any of the ideas that they had that sounded good to us. Plagiarism is the most sincere form of flattery. They had a lot of good ideas.

We have mutual friends that new them, and one time when Janet was in San Diego, this mystery couple, who I’m sure our boating friends know who I mean. Invited our mutual friend and Janet over for a glass of wine on their new and famous boat that they had recently launched. I remember that they only served white wine in honor of their new cushions. They did not want red wine stains on the cushions in the first month.

Certainly not an unreasonable thought. We mostly drink red and one night someone spilled most of a glass onto the cushion. Janet took the cover off the cushion and washed it, and it was no big deal. Of course, the guess just about had a heart attack. As any of us would.

Years ago she did have a favorite shirt that had been a special gift and had very special meaning. It was one-of-a-kind and it got a red wine stain on it that she could just not get out. She was heartbroken.

But, I had to fly to Houston on business and my mom’s favorite dry cleaners, sold me a little bottle of an enzyme that just took it right out. Which is probably not easy, since Janet had already tried about 87 different methods to remove it. Common wisdom is that doing the wrong thing makes it much harder to get stains out later. I was away at the time she cleaned the cushion, so I don’t know if she use the enzyme on it or just washed it. Over the years we have collected a little library of stain removal tips on the computer. And when I have Internet and need to know something like that, I go straight to Google. But, it’s nice to have your own reference library on board. Even if it is on the computer.

There definitely are magic bullets out there. If you know the right way to remove the stain, or to solve most any kind of problem, it can be easy. Yet, using any of the hundred other ways to solve it might be disastrous. Not a big newsflash there.

What would the soundbite be? ‘Life is easy if you know what you’re doing?’

Not as catchy as the opposite old quote, ‘Life is hard. But it’s harder when you’re dumb.’

Well, speaking of things being harder when you’re dumb. I’m trying to get my new battery charger to work correctly. So, I better get back to productive things.

The weather here has been excellent. Warmer than I would choose but not dreadfully so. I even had to get a blanket shortly before dawn.

No rain at all for a long time. Most of the marina live aboard folks are out sailing, but there are still a lot of nice folks here. So, it it is by no means lonely. Today, Saturday, is farmers market day, so in a couple of hours when they get their booths set up, I will go do that for the week.

By the way, the grandmother is getting definitely into the home stretch. I follow her position on:

I hope the fat lady is getting ready to sing. I hope that Nereida has a wonderful finish to her trip. And many more great trips to come.

I’m doing great and I hope you guys are too,


PS: Just in case anyone is thinking that this post is proof that sailing is suicidally dangerous, how many of you have already been in serious car accidents or even lost friends and loved ones as a result of them? I certainly have. Yet, you still get into cars all the time and don’t think anything about it, right?

My attitude is, that this boating safety question is almost identical to the people that are afraid of flying, yet think nothing of driving. And I am NOT referring to any of my several friends who fit that category. In my own situation, I find that things that frighten me are especially frustrating when my logical mind knows that I should not be worried about that. But that’s the problem. There’s nothing logical about the fear. Yet I have it.

But, I think that it does not take much research ability to show that driving is a zillion times more dangerous than flying. Especially in recent years. I know that Boeing figured out a clever way to set the tail of their airplanes on fire, but no one has been injured by it. I suppose that might’ve had to replace some seat cushions on a few airplanes, but I haven’t noticed it in the headlines for quite a while. So I assume that the problem was solved.

Not to give Boeing a bad time. I even worked for them for about a year when I was in college. I was a riveter and an Aero mechanic. I guess I should’ve figured out the ID numbers of the aircraft that I worked on, so that I could see if I ever flew on one of them. But, I worked on subassemblies, and so I don’t know which airplane they were used on.


And this morning (7-July-2013) I see:,0,284092.story

I am VERY sorry to hear that. 2 dead, 181 go to hospitals. Several in intensive care. I send them all positive energy, prayers, etc.

Flying is still a very safe way of travel. Early reports say that the pilot was way too low. Hopefully the correct reasons will come out eventually and air travel will get even safer.



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