Safety first

The solo skippers, due to set off on Saturday week, get briefed

Thursday September 10th 2015, Author: James Boyd, Location: France

The Mini Transat Îles de Guadeloupe skippers all attended the safety briefing held this morning with the 24F pilots and border patrol boat staff that survey movements on the Bay of Biscay.

The Falcon 24F pilots, based on Lann Bihoué, have gathered valuable experience from working in the Bay of Biscay in both Summer and Winter, so are ideally placed to explain and give advice on how to manage a problematic situation.

At each of the briefings they remind us of some of the things not to forget: First thing is not to abandon the boat until the very last minute, because as the Mini Transat Îles de Guadeloupe race director, Denis Hugues highlights: “the boat is the safest place. Some skippers have left their boats only for them to be found on the other side of the Atlantic.” The briefing is also opportunity to explain how the skippers can best organise a boat evacuation, prepare for any eventuality, which is however, something that all will do the utmost to avoid.

Strict checks

On the Port Rhu, the controllers and the Douarnenez Courses’ volunteers are running though boat inventory checks. This includes the safety checks, ensuring that the lifelines are tied correctly, the height of the guardlines, etc. Each skipper must also present Race HQ the official paperwork, paper charts for the key areas the race will cover including harbours access charts, the list of lights …

The temptation is to take just what is necessary to save weight, however the Race Director is adamant that “When the skippers find themselves in a difficult situation, it is complicated enough for them. It is not worth making their problems worse by allowing them to leave without the right documents”.

Men at sea, the biggest risk

Experience proves it. The biggest risk for a solo sailor is to fall into the water. It will be impossible for the skipper to catch up with the boat if he was using the autopilot. To avoid this risk, Denis Hugues hammers home: “The Minis are small boats. It is easier to loose your stability on a 6,50 meters boat than it is on a 60 foot IMOCA. There is no miracle recipe, but to be always attached to the boat is the only guaranteed way someone falling overboard and of loosing someone to the sea.

CLS, the guard dog

We all know that the Mini Transat Îles de Guadeloupe is a solo race. Only the VHF will offer the solo skippers some breaks when they come across another sailor or an accompanying boat. This communication is very random though: some sailors can be left withou any VHF contact for four or five days. In case anything happens, they can activate their warning signal: in addition to this, the boats will send regularly position signals that allow skippers to send a message to the Race HQ saying that they have a problem but they do not need assistance. In this case, the race office will send the message to the accompanying boats (six on the Mini Transat Îles de Guadeloupe) to identify the problem. The Mini Transat îles de Guadeloupe is a sailing race where there is no external assitance, so only the medical aid is authorised. On the first stage from Douarnenez to Lanzarote, the French naval patrol ship will accompany the fleet.

Crossing the Atlantic is a dream that many have been working towards for years. For most, the sailors have given up their free time, they have risked everything to see their dream through to the end. To make this happen, the skippers need to face their own responsibilities and be aware of the potential risks.

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