There’s a lot of interesting stuff happening these days here in Lunenburg.
One of several new companies in town is Spartan Ocean Racing, who specialize in taking paying sailors offshore in high performance racing boats, albeit older ones, like Whitbread 60s.
The boss and lead skipper is Chris Stanmore-Major, a Brit with deep offshore sailing credentials, including having completed a single-handed round-the-world race on an Open 60 and skippering one of the pay-for-play Clipper Adventures boats some years before that. All in all Chris tells me he has racked up some 250,000 offshore miles, much of it in gnarly weather.
Chris was not best pleased about my musing about the dangers of putting amateurs on these high-performance boats that were designed for professionals, but he was nice about it and so we agreed to meet for lunch and have a chat.
And I have to say I had a fascinating time. Chris has more energy than any three normal people put together, and is both smart and articulate. He certainly made a convincing case that properly managed and led amateurs can have a good and safe time on these racing machines.
The core of his case is that keeping everyone safe is all down to the experience and smarts of the professional skipper and the pre-voyage training that said skipper supervises. And his bottomline is that he doesn’t think anyone should be in that position with less than 50,000 offshore miles under his or her belt, and a bunch of training that exceeds what is currently available in, for example, the Yacht Master program.
By the way, Colin, AAC European Correspondent and longterm professional skipper with decades of experience keeping inexperienced amateurs safe at sea, has said much the same to me on several occasions.
Made sense to me. If you are going to manage one of these racing machines and all the people-management issues of up to 22 strangers, many with little or no prior experience, you are going to need a lot deeper set of skills, training and experience than us recreational offshore skippers have or need.
So, did he convince me? Hum, still thinking about it. With the kind of experience and training of the skipper that he’s talking about…maybe yes.
Chris also had some interesting insights into the two recent fatalities on one of the Clipper boats, but I’m not going there since the last thing I want is to feed into the ghoulish discussion of these tragedies that is already going on. Also, I guess there might be legal fallout from this event, so it’s doubly inappropriate to speculate here. That said, I did learn things that will be useful when I write about safety issues in the future.
The other thing that was interesting was how many core beliefs about offshore sailing Chris and I share, despite our very different sailing experience:
- Anyone who takes a sailboat offshore needs to know how to heave-to.
- Almost any boat can be made to heave-to, and the cop-out that modern boats can’t be made to heave-to is just that.
- It’s not the sea that kills sailors, it’s the hard bits around the edges.
- Chris always clips on, except in very calm weather.
- It’s really important that we don’t festoon ourselves with huge amounts of difficult-to-don safety gear that will slow us down getting on deck in an emergency.
- That said, even in an emergency we should be properly clothed and have a harness on before leaving the cabin. No “I will dash up in my underwear and be a hero” stuff.
- In a person overboard (POB) situation the boat should be stopped as quickly as possible (the quick stop technique), none of this reaching off on a course getting sorted out, and then trying to reach back on the reciprocal to the POB, as you sometimes hear advocated.
He likes the same Swedish watch system that Phyllis and I have used for decades and agrees that generally watches should not rotate. In other words, each crew member should stand the same watches each day so their body-clocks can get used to the cycle.
I also learned a lot of new stuff, which I’m sure will appear in my writing going forward.
It’s always great to discuss offshore sailing with, and have my thinking challenged by—no, we didn’t agree on everything—someone who really knows the game, to make sure I’m not drinking my own Kool-Aid too much. Of course, you lot in the comments help to keep me well grounded too.