“Talking Sailing” by Richard Crockett – issue 17

talksailissue – 17
19 May 2014

by Richard Crockett

Reader response is welcome – mail to: editor@sailing.co.za

All the public holidays in late April and early may were certainly not good for business, but good for those needing time off for sailing! So apologies for the rather large time gap between issues. Blame it on the holidays!

In Memoriam – David Cox
David Cox passed away in late April after a short illness. He was a formidable sailor as well as a formidable sailing administrator.

He was a top-flight dinghy sailor and an even better ocean racer and is one of just two people who have ever won every single race in a Lipton Cup – a grand slam of note!

As an administrator he was Commodore of the PYC and involved on the Cruising Association of South Africa (CASA) and South African Yacht racing Association (SAYRA) councils, as well as serving on South African Sailing (SAS) in its formative years.

He left an incredible legacy to the sport in this country with the L26 and L34 one-design yachts.

And he was a remarkable seaman who liked nothing better than to impart his knowledge to young keelboat sailors. I know, as I sailed with him for some years and was taught well by David. The lessons he taught me still stand me in good stead today.

He will be missed – of that there is absolutely no doubt.

What SAMSA Can Learn From the ‘84 Vasco Da Gama Race
I was taken to task by a reader for my last comments on SAMSA when I concluded that SAMSA is an acronym for Suffocating AMateur SAiling’. This is what she wrote:

“Wake up and smell the roses. We live in a modern society where we see change every single day – so why not in our clubs?” These are your own words about the stuffiness of most yacht clubs…..However, when it comes to the fact that we have moved on and the certifications that were okay 30 years ago, you yourself seem to be stuck in a gigantic rut!!! I say this in response to your criticism of SAMSA. I am not about to bat for them, they can do that for themselves…probably have a number of people who can do it…..

It seems odd that you are so ready to go to war against SAMSA……in a sense you and many of these old farts at the self same clubs that you are so eagerly criticising are saying that the SA Govt and their civil servants….these people (read Black people) who know nothing about our (read White people) sport should just go and keep to whatever little it is that they know about whatever the hell else!!!! These people must leave us alone to enjoy our boats and the oceans without trying to regulate us….in the good old days (Apartheid days) the Nats left us alone to sort out ourselves…you know?

Surely, this is a very unhealthy attitude and you as an Editor should know better……

I would like to hear your response.”

There is absolutely nothing racist nor unhealthy in my remarks about SAMSA, something you allude to. Far from it as in your words, I have moved on and embrace our Rainbow Nation – warts and all.

The draconian SAMSA regs have done absolutely nothing to improve our sport or its safety aspects. I firmly believe that the best people to administer a sport and make rules and regulations are the players and administrators within that sport.

The Certificates of Competence (CoC) that CASA brought in all those years ago were voluntary. There was pride in obtaining them, but sadly that pride no longer exists as one simply has to have one to get afloat, so get the minimum requirement possible is the attitude.

We yachties know our boats and what makes safe boats and competent seamen. We would never consider telling SAMSA how to do their job in regulating Merchant Shipping as that is their area of expertise and sailing vessels are ours.

I firmly believe that education rather than legislation is the route to go, and will defend that view to the hilt.

While SAMSA laud it over us, our sport is no safer under their command than it was when the yachties set the rules. Plus, and not wanting to detract from the subject, SAMSA’s expertise is in merchant shipping, yet we regularly read about incidents of merchant ships in trouble – and they say our sport is unsafe! The bottom line is that the sea is a hostile playground whether in a recreational vessel or commercial vessel, and accidents will happen. That is simply a given and no amount of regulation will prevent them.

1984 Vasco da Gama Race – 30 Year Reunion
This reunion organised and hosted by the Point Yacht Club went off well with a reasonably good turnout of old salts who appeared out of the woodwork to reminisce about old times and pay their respects to the crew of Rubicon. Some even made their way from Johannesburg specially for the occasion.

Various short speeches were made, with the four Eichholz children sending in their recollections of that fateful time which were read out.

It was a fitting evening of a tragedy that still remains unexplained.

Having been on that race myself, and having a personal passion for the Vasco da Gama Race as I competed in 23 of the 24 races to East London, I have been very fortunate to have received personal historical records from a number of people. I am attempting to create the definitive historical record of that race, and will make the info available once it is compiled. It’s a tough job with many faded bits of paper to wade through and scan, plus tons of press cuttings to scan as well.

If anyone has info to add to this, please let me have it (editor@sailing.co.za). Material will be returned.

Amtec J22 Worlds
I am delighted to report that the J22 Worlds on the Vaal dam went off smoothly and without incident. The Jiggery Pokery that plagued last year’s nationals was taken to heart and all issues resolved – so well done to the class and the organisers.

Dave Rushton as Race Officer did a mighty sterling job in difficult conditions, so take a bow Dave!

Congratulations also to the winners, David Rae; Guido Verhoevert and Trevor Spilhaus for their emphatic victory.

Full results can be viewed by following this link to the SAILING Gybeset blog pages at:

Boat Shows
We are coming up to boat show time again with shows in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town between July and October.

I have always been a great supporter of the boat shows as I firmly believe that they do a lot for our sport and industry. For one they expose visitors to our sport, boats, equipment, retailers and manufacturers, and secondly as an exhibitor one has an intense number of people looking at what each and every exhibitor showcases.

I have become concerned with the declining sailing representation at the boat shows in recent years. This is not a slight on the industry, far from it, but a very real concern as I see the shows fast becoming power boat shows with the sailing aspect fading fast and appearing to be the ‘poor relation’.

I say this as at every show I attend as an exhibitor I am always asked where the sailing boats are? This question is more of a query about dinghies and smaller affordable sailing boats than the luxury cats our local builders exhibit and generally market well.

Please note that I have absolutely nothing against power boats other than they are noisy and use valuable fossil fuels, whereas the energy needed to propel a sailing boat forward is the wind – AND IT’S FREE.

Boat Shows in this country are consumer shows, not trade shows, so everyone coming through the doors pays to get in. This means that they have made a conscious decision to part with some hard-earned cash to be there, and that deep down they have a desire to be part of the boating scene, whether as an owner or crew. Plus, this desire, or is it a dream, may only be realised in future years. And there’s nothing wrong with dreaming big and aspiring to own a boat.

Our sport needs all the exposure and positive support it can muster. I can only appeal to the industry, Clubs and Class Associations to support the shows to give our sport top-of the mind awareness again, and to assist in growing the sport of sailing and making it the number 1 watersport choice.

The Parlous State of Youth Sailing and Yacht Club Memberships
This is a reader response.

Always good to read insightful analysis -thanks for the newsletter.

So what to do about the parlous state of youth sailing or for that matter membership at sailing clubs?

An old refrain and a letter I wrote that was published in your magazine years ago when I was a newbie parent with boys just getting into sailing is just as relevant now as it was then.

Nothing much has changed, except my attitude – I now accept that this is a difficult, costly, time-consuming sport in which to be involved. No-one but yourself as a parent to provide time, money and encouragement to the young sailor. Once I realised that the age and condition of an Oppie really made a difference when racing, and that the newer charter boat was suddenly the reason his results improved so dramatically, the penny dropped. I thought a boat was a boat, but boy was I wrong.

Then it was easy to make the decision to buy a boat, but I was looking for one that would add value, could grow with the child and was a one-design. The belief that it was the sailor and not the boat that made the difference mattered, however unrealistic that might seem. But the minute the young sailor got into a Tera his heart was lost. It was simply that much more fun! So despite disparaging comments in earlier issues about the Tera “diluting” youth classes with undeserving champions, accept that what makes a heart sing in any sport should be encouraged.

Whatever floats their boat I say!

When a child who is competing at the highest level in other demanding school sports, is maintaining his academic standard and doing extra-murals decides he wants to sail as well, one gets an idea of the flexibility of time and space in a child’s world. There is always time to do everything. However, it also points to what it takes to enjoy and perhaps succeed at sailing -perseverance.

The endless attempts to try and make sailing more attractive amongst a new generation of sailors are coming up against the same obstacles being found in the classroom. Children who have been raised by TV and who are able to swipe devices, but have no other motor control, who cannot read or write properly and who have no ability to concentrate. Teachers are faced with children who do not function in the classroom because they simply cannot focus for even half an hour. Now ask a child to compete in an event that does not take one hour or even an afternoon. No, it takes 2, 3, 4 days at a time, during which every day calls for focus and concentration.

I gave a gift of a sailing course to a young girl who experiences life vicariously through the TV. Despite every encouragement, assistance from other young sailors and the attraction of being able to make friends with real people, it did not work. Sailing was simply “too hard”.

Celebrate the fact that there are still children who want to sail. Give them a pat on the back – they are special!

By the way, I love the idea of adding a multi-disciplinary slant to sailing events.

What about a swim, sail event? Basic and simple and keep it short. Say 100m there and back swim to shore and get your boat from shore to the mark and back. And then add a cycle leg for variety later.

Lastly, why is it that regatta organisers still make it impossible to actually see what is happening on the water? For every sailor there is at least a dozen family members and friends around the world who are trying to find out what is happening. And don’t think if you are actually at the event you might know more. No, you would have to ride around to the other side of the bay, cross a deserted mine field only accessible by 4×4 and then hope the farmer doesn’t spot you in the off-chance that the wind is blowing in the right direction for a part of the course to be seen!

It’s called Live Streaming –  and it should be mandatory at all events. There are so many options available, most being free for recognised sport events. Have one camera on the course at least, whether from a committee boat or the photographer’s boat, but have an eye on the course which can be followed no matter where you are. Yes, even on the screen at the home club.

Do not treat this sport like some secretive ritual that is only for the eyes of those allowed into the inner-circle. Show it, share it and give the competitors an audience – you might even find that others then want to try it!

Fun and What’s Wrong with our sport?
This is a reader response.

Thank you for your edition of “Talking Sailing”. I wish to confirm and affirm your observations in your latest newsletter.

In the section “My 2 cents worth” I would like to add my “pennies” worth:-

I am the proverbial “newbie” to sailing and took my first sailing lesson, this year, in February! My personal experience is a replica of this individual’s comments, which you quote in your newsletter;

His experience with the dinghy sailing scene was the following:

• In general, old classes are still the best represented and sometimes the only affordable means for a newcomer to enter the sport. Ditto
• Yacht/Dinghy Clubs still give a “members only” vibe off to the general public. For a newcomer the club is still a daunting place. Ditto
• The racing scene is dying down due to lack of initiative/creativity and around the cans is still the most sailed racing format. Perhaps it’s a matter of square pegs round holes?
• Hobie Cat beach sailing has died down considerably.
• Lack of new affordable & exciting dinghy designs. Ditto

I would like to confirm the perception of the “club” and although I have a strong personality and self-esteem, crossing the lawn was “intense”. Fortunately, I had prearranged to meet someone, who is a great chap (and may I add, sailing coach) and quickly broke the “ice”.

My experience is, that racing was the only option and at no stage did “cruising” get a mention! My opinion:- I think that perhaps later it maybe “nice” to “cruise” a bit quicker, but you chaps are spot on, I am older (59) and would like to ENJOY the simple pleasure of sailing proficiently. I may never cruise the oceans, but dinghy sailing is as good as it gets for me…

I have been trying to make a decision about a dinghy for a while now and my options are:-

* Laser (a so called “decent” boat is R25 000, dolly but no trailer). A little breezy and the rookie is in the water more than he is on the boat!

* Gypsy (this dinghy may range from R5000 (a piece of junk) to R27 000, dolly with trailer, “new” gypsy is R40 000 plus no trailer) according the class secretary a “Second hand boat price may vary from R4000 to R10000 depending on the condition of the boat & sails, with/without dolly/trailer etc.”

* Mirror (this dinghy may range from R3000 to R18000) with dolly and trailer at the upper end.

* Topaz (brand new will cost R40 000 to R50 000 with a dolly but no trailer) no real class to race in.

Naturally they get more “ridiculous” as they become unaffordable to me. A new Laser quote I received recently was R110 000 excluding VAT. There was no mention of a dolly or trailer. A Topaz Argo or Laser Bahia is also in this region. Where do I go from here, I am not quite sure. I sort of think that the Gypsy will be the dinghy to go for, but the old Afrikaans cliché is appropriate “kom tyd, kom raad”.

Thanks for the great newsletter much appreciated and you have a new supporter.

General Botha Old Boys Association – Ancient Sextant for Auction
The GBOBA is an active organisation doing good work in raising bursary funds and generally promoting careers at sea.

They have a very valuable piece of memorabilia to auction.

This is a classical sextant manufactured by Heath & Co. Ltd., Crayford, London, in very good condition, with all accessories, in its original wooden storage box with original brass fittings. The cartouche on the lid is beautifully inscribed “W.Scott”, the name of Bill Scott, the sextant’s last owner and donor.

The Certificate of Examination from the National Physical Laboratory, Kew Observatory, Richmond, Surrey, issued in 1906, is attached within the box lid. It describes the sextant as Class A, no. 7181, of 7 inches radius, with a silver Vernier showing 10 inches, and requiring zero corrections.

It has a very interesting history as described by Bill below.

Ownership provenance:
Bill Scott states his knowledge of the ownership of the sextant as follows:
The first owner of this sextant was Lieut. R.H.Fitzherbert-Brockholes, R.N. Here is his death notice and brief history, from “The Tablet”, page 20, 12th July, 1919:
“We deeply regret to report the death of Lieut. R.H.Fitzherbert-Brockholes,R.N., on July 2, during minesweeping operations on the River Dwina, the second surviving son of W.Fitzherbert-Brockholes,C.B.E., of Claughton Hall, Garstang, Lancashire. He was born in 1891, passed through Osborne and Dartmouth, and entered the Navy in 1908. When war broke out he was on his way home from the China Station to specialise in torpedo work. But on arrival in England he was appointed to HMS Benbow, one of the latest battleships. After serving with the Grand Fleet for over a year, he was sent to Portsmouth for a qualifying course as a torpedo lieutenant, in which capacity he served for a time. He was later selected to specialise in mining and was appointed mining officer to the 20th Flotilla, which was specially mentioned for its successful work during the last few months of the war. In March last he was sent to Archangel for special duty as a mining expert.”

The next known owner was Peter Fisher who was second officer in a Clan Line ship which was sunk by a U-boat in the Mediterranean during World War 2. He told me that the sextant was the only item that he managed to take into the lifeboat when the ship was abandoned. Peter died in Scotland in January 2014.

He gave Bill the sextant when he was a junior officer in Safmarine in 1949, and it was used by Bill throughout the rest of Bill’s seafaring career which ended in 1956.

If you are interested in this historic sextant please contact Keith Burchell (k.h.burchell@yebo.co.za) or 083 282 4928 with your bids. We have placed a reserve on it of $ US1500 as research indicates this to be its value especially with its history which adds value – however we will note all bids and make a decision in due course.

IRC – Aussie Style
I was very interested to receive a press release on the Audi Australian IRC Champs as the event included six short course races, one medium distance race and a long distance race.

In an age where distance racing attracts little support, it is encouraging to see the Aussies embrace more than just round-the cans racing.

They had 31 entries broken up into three divisions so boats of a similar size and with comparable handicap ratings raced together.

I wonder if our IRC afficionados in this country should not look closely at this as locally there always appears to be a lot of background noise about how to split the local fleet into meaningful divisions – with squabbles in this regard sometimes resulting in potential competitors withdrawing – and fleets getting smaller.

Emmy Win for the America’s Cup
The America’s Cup Mobile App has won an Emmy Award in the Outstanding New Approaches – Sports Event Coverage category.

The win, coming in a new category at the Emmy Awards, recognizes a seismic shift in how the sport of sailing is covered and consumed.

Through the America’s Cup mobile app, fans could get race results, video, race animation graphics, wind and tide information, and photos, as well as engage in chat, all in real time – on their tablet or phone, from anywhere in the world.

The America’s Cup Mobile App was developed with Animation Research Limited.

“We had two main goals when we approached this last America’s Cup,” said ORACLE TEAM USA skipper Jimmy Spithill, who was on hand in New York for the Sports Emmy Awards ceremony.

“We wanted to win the race, which we did, thankfully. But we also wanted to make our sport more exciting and accessible to casual viewers and general sports fans through better television and multimedia production. These five nominations, and especially this award for the Mobile App, is recognition for all the people who worked so hard to achieve that vision.”

With five nominations, the America’s Cup was among the most recognized events or leagues at the Sports Emmy Awards. This follows on the heels of a previous Sports Emmy Award for Technical Innovation, for AC LiveLine, a revolutionary graphics package that allowed information and graphics to be overlaid on live television pictures, adding layers of information to the live broadcast.

“It’s not often that you have an opportunity to transform the way a sport or an event reaches its fans,” said America’s Cup Director of Technology Stan Honey.

“With the America’s Cup Mobile App, AC LiveLine, and the other broadcast innovations, we have made a sport that in the past could be difficult to follow, into one that is now impossible to ignore.”

A Secret Plea To Use London 2012
So worried are Olympic organisers by how far behind schedule the 2016 Rio Games has fallen, London has reportedly been asked, in secret, if it could host the event at the last minute. According to the London Evening Standard, an informal approach has been made by IOC chiefs to ascertain whether London’s 2012 Olympic venues could be brought back into use.

The build-up to the Rio Games has been labelled a shambles, with every venue badly behind schedule, spiralling costs and accusations of negligence.

IOC vice-president John Coates has already called Brazil’s preparations “the worst I’ve experienced”, with just two years to go and a football World Cup to host in between.

An “unprecedented” special task force has been set up to try and speed up preparations but the situation on the ground is said to be “critical”.

A source told the Standard: “At a comparable planning stage in 2004 Athens had done 40 per cent of preparations on infrastructure, stadiums and so on. London had done 60 per cent. Brazil has done 10 per cent – and they have just two years left. So the IOC is thinking, ‘What’s our plan B?’

“Obviously, the answer would be to come back to London. It’s very unlikely but it would be the logical thing to do.”

Can Anyone Assist A Naval Architecture Student
I am currently studying Naval Architecture, specialising in small craft design through the MacNaughton Yacht Design School, of Eastport, Maine, USA.

The first module of the degree is the Computer Assisted Design Course utilising Rhino 5 3D software and associated rendering plug ins. I require assistance with regard to publications prescribed as part of the curriculum, which I have not been able to source at reasonable prices, the copies on offer being priced way beyond my means.

I appeal to your readers who may have one or more of the publications listed below, and who may be willing to part with it at a reasonable price, or in exchange for design work, to please contact me.

The publications I require for this module are:
“Understanding Boat Design” by Edward S Brewer
“Preliminary Design of Boats and Ships” by Cyrus Hamlin
“Ship and Aircraft Fairing and Development” by SS Rabl

I can promise that the books will be cherished, used for the express purpose they were written, and used well. Any and all assistance in the above regard will be greatly appreciated.

Please contact Stenree Laurence on 0780 19 19 15 or stenree@gmail.com.

Is this A Family First?
From Rhona Clark. I have just heard that my granddaughter Emma Clark is going to the World Youth Championships in Tavira – Portugal from the 12-19 July 2014. She is sailing a Laser radial in the girls section.

In August 1972 my late husband Vaughan Clark represented SA at the Finn Gold Cup in Anzio in Italy. He also sailed a Finn Gold Cup or European champs in Cascais, Portugal, in the ‘70s.

Then in 1981 my son Brett Clark represented SA at the World Youth Championships in Sinnes – also in Portugal. He skippered a Laser 11 with Murray Spiers as crew coming 5th overall.

Now his daughter is following in Dad and Grandfather’s footsteps – and amazingly all in Portugal too!

It would be interesting to know if any other families have a similar history of three generations competing in Europe and two of them in Worlds in the same country?

News From Jof Heathcote
I was very sorry to hear about Dave Cox passing away. He was far and away the biggest single influence on my keelboat sailing, and I am sure that stands for so many people out there.

On a happier note, I snuck an invitation to go and steer the Ker46 ’Tonnerre’ at Antigua race week. It was a pretty amazing experience and very cool to be able to just drop right into a great programme like that. We managed to finish with a clean scoreline of 8 bullets to take Class 0 as well as the Lord Nelson trophy for the overall regatta win.

Other than Antigua, they picked up some great results through the Caribbean season with a string of firsts and seconds.

From my dinghy sailing side, the last Moth regatta felt like a bit of a disaster, although I snuck in just one place below halfway. It has felt like starting from scratch again with sailing in the waves. Just not enough time to sail I’m afraid. Next regatta is in Weymouth and I’ve upgraded some kit, so we will have to see what that brings.

ED. For those who don’t know, Jof lives in the UK and is a passionate, maybe even obsessive, Moth sailor now. He has had some good results in past months although his true form in this class will be determined in the worlds which are coming soon. Keep us in the loop Jof.

Entry to Yacht Clubs Restricted
This was submitted by a “Talking Sailing” reader who is known to the Editor

I refer to the letter in your last edition from the bounder who invaded the so-called “Snottie Yacht Club”, and fortunately got forcibly ejected for his pains. I had seriously hoped that the exposure of this event that was gained by your courageous publication of his letter would have ensured that this absolute cad would forever remain outside the ambit of our sport.

However, as the Commodore of the Yacht Club involved, I have to report that this unspeakable lout has paid us another visit, causing quite catastrophic damage to the good name and high standing of this illustrious establishment.

He gained access on Wednesday last week. Once again, he was reprehensibly cunning in the way in which he must have eluded our much strengthened security cordon, but it was a very busy evening, and we have only now been able to piece together the trail of mayhem that he blazed through our bars and reception rooms.

Some of our most respected Lady Members have been reluctant to provide more than passing details of some of his approaches, comments and suggestions, and the Vice Commodore – a highly experienced racing sailor of some renown – recalls being accosted by some stranger in the Bar who dared in quite outrageous fashion to question his prowess, sense of fair play and superior conduct.

But the worst occurred after closing time.

This intruder secreted himself within the Clubhouse, and once everybody had left, he somehow let himself into the offices where he managed to gain access to the Book Keeper’s computer, and has played absolute havoc with the Accounting Records of the Club – and this with the AGM only three weeks away.

The Members will have my personal assurance that the Club is actually in good standing, but the records currently show (quite erroneously, I hasten to add) that the Committee has run up the most astronomical personal loan accounts during the past Financial Year. This has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that the Chairman of Finance is currently on holiday in Tahiti, the Club Secretary is skiing in Zermat, and the Book Keeper’s phone seems to be permanently on Voicemail.

I have to try to clear this lot up by myself before I join the Queen Mary 2 for a Round-The-World cruise starting next week, and leave everything in the capable hands of the Vice Commodore. He alone now holds signing powers on the Club’s Bank Accounts, so I’m sure he can sort everything out without outside interference, and I have alerted the Fraud Squad to our new, streamlined management style.

As if this gross assault on the Club’s Records was not enough, the despicable charlatan got hold of the keys to the Bulk Liquor Store where he apparently spent a riotous night, completely depleting our carefully hoarded stocks of Single Malt the while. But at least these didn’t appear on our Stock Records, so the Bar Trading Account should still balance, or so the Senior Bar Steward assures me.

This sort of behaviour has got to stop before our entire sport is sabotaged to a standstill, and I look to you, Sir, and to your esteemed publication, to take a strong line in unmasking this villain, and sending him packing.

Yours sincerely,
U.P. Tite
Commodore – MOBYC

Jiggery Pokery – Has this now spread to the Mirror Class?
I am hoping that the Mirror Class has not succumbed to Jiggery Pokery too?

I believe that this may have been evident at the recent Mirror Nationals where some questionable on the water actions were prejudicial. On protest, the result left much to be desired and an appeal has been lodged.

All any yachtie really wants, especially in a National Championship, is to have fair sailing and competent officials who ensure that the racing is fair and that the real on-the-water winner is crowned.

Does Anyone Know an Old SA Yacht Called Asterix?
“I came into ownership of a US Documented vessel that according to my documents was built somewhere in South Africa. I have been attempting to put together a binder on the vessel and learn everything I can about it. Unfortunately I have been able to find very little information about the listed ship yard that is claimed to have laid the hull.

On board her are two placards for the Cape to Rio in 1976, one is the participant placard the other is a large medallion with the ship’s name (at that time). I am under the assumption that this placard, (which looks like a large coin mounted to a dark piece of wood like a shield) is a placing placard for vessels that placed in the top 3.

The name of the vessel at that time was ‘Asterix’. I have tried really hard to find anything I can on the vessel. Searches for the name of the shipyard (she was built in South Africa by a company called Phoenix Reinforced) have yielded me nothing, contacting the design company S&S has yielded me nothing so I am hoping you can give me a leg up, or point me in the right direction, I would really like to learn more about this boat.”

If you have any information please contact Chris Lowe (sirredemption@gmail.com) and copy us in on the correspondence please (editor@sailing.co.za)

Should Ocean Races be Stopped If Inclement Weather is Possible?
Barry Cullen of ‘Sandefjord’ circumnavigation fame, a General Botha graduate and Master Mariner offers his views”

I disagree with Richard’s assertion in Talking Sailing No 11 (Start, Cape to Rio 2014): “In my youth, my sailing mentors were ‘wise old salts’ of the firm opinion that once a race time had been published, that race should start, irrespective of the weather. The view was that the Race Committee should go out and be prepared to start should anyone venture onto the course, so I am not one for postponing the start of races, especially distance races”.

Fine for races round the harbour, but when it comes to distance races, putting out to sea, compelling argument enters! I look at four infamous yacht races where tempestuous bad weather caused things to go horribly wrong.

The 1984 Vasco da Gama Race, Durban to East London. 29 yachts started, severely heavy storm, race abandoned, 25 yachts got safely back to Durban. I agree with Richard when he states that the quality and ability of the skippers and crew in achieving this was magnificent. 4 yachts lost, one of them, Rubicon with all hands. I keenly understand the grief, still, of the families. Opinions differ as to how and why this tragedy could have happened; Siggi Eicholz was a highly experienced skipper and would certainly have known that calmer seas would have been found immediately inside the 100 fathom / 200m line. With skipper and crew facing the full fury of nature’s might; a catastrophic occurrence must have taken place to prevent them doing so.

However, straight facts are that this tragedy could have been prevented by delaying the start of the race.

It is said that the severity of this south westerly storm, with on-board wind instruments indicating wind speeds in excess of 60 knots, was not forecast. I beg to differ. I was in Cape Town when the same severe cold front, with strong winds uprooting trees in the suburbs and torrential rain passed through on the night of 24 April 1984. Clearly remember thinking that this did not bode well for the Vasco da Gama! All yachtsmen know (or should know) that frontal systems typically pass up the South African coast in about 24 to 36 hours and their progress could, in 1984, be followed reasonably accurately by listening to the coastal weather forecasts. The bad weather moving up the coast that fateful April should have been apparent to the race committee in Durban. All sorts of platitudes will be put forward, but the plain fact is that it was totally irresponsible – unforgivable in the light of the tragedy – to start this race perfectly timed so as to run straight into this “massive south westerly storm that devastated the fleet”.

To those who attended the Rubicon Memorial Service 25 April, my sincerest thoughts.

The 1979 Fastnet. Began in fine weather but within 48 hours had turned into “every sailor’s worst imaginable nightmare. The race was hit by a violent Force 10 storm that swept across the North Atlantic and into the southern Irish Sea, catching forecasters almost completely unawares.”

“For almost 24 hours, the estimated 2,700 men and women crewing the fleet were pounded by monster waves generated by the 60-knot winds. Dozens of boats capsized or lost their rudders. Crews who escaped to what they assumed was the safety of an inflatable life-raft were horrified to discover that their floating shelters simply disintegrated under the force of the waves. Lifeboats, rescue helicopters, merchant ships and the navies of at least three countries were involved in a desperate struggle to save them.”

Only 85 boats out of 303 managed to complete the race. 15 lives lost, 5 yachts sunk, 24 crews abandoned ship and 136 sailors were rescued. At least 100 yachts knocked over so far that they put their masts in the water, at least 75 rolled upside-down, most of them losing their masts in the process. The 1979 Fastnet prompted an exhaustive inquiry and as a result, changes to yacht-design rules were made with the aim of making the entering vessels more seaworthy, less liable to be knocked down or capsize. The final paragraph of the report stated tersely: “The sea showed that it can be a deadly enemy and that those who go to sea for pleasure must do so in full knowledge that they may encounter danger of the highest order.”

The 1998 Sydney to Hobart. The most disastrous in the race’s history. Out of 115 starting the race, only 44 yachts completed. 6 lives lost, 5 yachts sunk. A deep low pressure system developed south of the country building into an exceptionally strong storm with winds reaching 70 knots, similar in strength to a lower-category hurricane or cyclone. A record 66 yachts retired from the race and 55 sailors had to be airlifted from their yachts by rescue helicopter. The rescue efforts involved 35 military and civilian aircraft and 27 Royal Australian Navy ships and proved to be Australia’s largest ever peacetime rescue operation.

NSW coroner John Abernethy found that the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia had “abdicated its responsibility to manage the race”, writing further, “From what I have read and heard, it is clear to me that during this crucial time the race management team played the role of observers rather than managers and that was simply not good enough. The Race Chairman’s inability to appreciate the problems when they arose and his inability to appreciate them at the time of giving his evidence causes me grave concern.” He also criticised the weather bureau for making no effort to inform race officials of a dramatically upgraded weather forecast, when it was common public knowledge the race was scheduled to begin.

The 2014 Cape to Rio. We know the story. Among the entrants several exceptional ocean racing yachts manned by highly experienced crew, one being ‘Maserati’ skippered by Giovanni Soldini. But given the facts that there were also several less well equipped yachts and a good number of inexperienced crew members, race chairman Ray Matthews’ first duty should have been to delay the start for 24 hours. The severe storm that hit the fleet with 50 knot winds on the first night forcing 10 yachts back to port with the remaining 25 yachts continuing towards Rio de Janeiro, was forecast. The most tragic incident occurred on the dismasted ‘Bille’ sailing with inexperienced crew and the death of young António João Bartolomeu along with a number of serious injuries.

“All of us here aboard ’Maserati’ are greatly dismayed by the news,” said Soldini by sat phone. “Our thoughts are with all of ‘Bille’s’ crew members and their families. And also with all the boats that were or are in difficulty. Given that the Cape2Rio fleet includes small cruising yachts ill-prepared to cope with such violent ocean storms, it might have been wiser to postpone the start. But it’s always easy to evaluate these things from a distance.”

I fully agree Richard, those new to sailing do have to go out to sea to learn how to ‘do it’. But in so doing, this must be tempered always, by simple due diligence versus recklessness, including respect for the prevailing conditions and always, due precaution for and awareness of the latent might and potential fury of the open sea. These remain guiding principles.

The 2007 Fastnet was delayed for 25 hours because of an approaching storm by the club’s then racing manager, Janet Grosvenor. She was convinced that hers was the right decision. Even so, this decision to delay did not prevent 91 out of 271 yachts from retiring from the race that year. She acted with the courage of her convictions.

My experience to comment? A lifetime at sea. Under sail, one circumnavigation as skipper. One Cape to Rio (1971) as navigator, sailing for Natal in ‘Mercury’, One Mossel Bay race, sailing for Natal as skipper. Four trips, Durban down the Wild Coast to Cape Town under sail as skipper. In big ships, at least 50 north/south trips along the South African coast as 2nd mate, mate and master. Got to know the coast and the dangers of the Agulhas Current opposing a SW gale alright! One needs to be just as careful here with big ships. Hurricanes, typhoons and storms. On my final voyage, Sydney to the Red Sea, the very worst weather of my entire sea career! Westbound to Cape Leeuwin, mid-winter across the Great Australian Bight in a deeply laden modern bulker. For ten days, our average speed only 2½ knots as we battled a succession of three force 10 westerlies caused by very deep lows below us in the Southern Ocean. Our course line resembled that of a sailing ship. Had we lost engine power and the ship been turned beam on to the mountainous seas – I had rated our chances of survival at less than 50-50. (Our main engine was expertly “driven” just ticking over, almost stalling just sufficiently to give steerage way). Why did we proceed this way and not north-about via Thursday Island? That’s another story!

28 lives were lost in these four races that went horribly wrong. It becomes very simple. There will always be pressure to start a race as advertised, but if there is any risk at all that extreme weather will dangerously affect safety, (at the start of a race – or during the progress of the race for the following two days) the Race Chairman must delay the start until it is safe for the fleet to sail. You do not mess with the sea. There is absolutely no, repeat no argument against these overriding rules of due diligence.

When you are dead, you don’t know that you are dead. It is difficult only for the others. Same is true when you are stupid.

The SAILING Gybeset portal (www.sailing.co.za/gybeset) is updated regularly with new and interesting information on our sport, both locally and internationally.

The ‘Event’ button takes one to an events calendar where key events are published – and where all info including all documentation can be obtained.

To be listed, simply send the name of the event; NOR and SIs; Entry form, even a pic or poster plus contact details timeously to (editor@sailing.co.za). This is a very powerful tool, so use it to your advantage – and submit material for inclusion.

Classes and Clubs are urged to send info, reports, results and pics on their events for publication on SAILING Gybeset timeously.

The only way for SAILING Gybeset to be successful and to be able to disseminate information that covers all aspects of our sport is for Clubs, Class Associations, event organisers and individual sailors to ensure that information and pictures flow our way timeously – so send your material to: editor@sailing.co.za and we will do the rest.

Some Selected Responses to “Talking Sailing”
●  Thought provoking stories for sure, so well done.

I belong to one of the essentially keelboat clubs on the Vaal Dam, and was a member of a dinghy club in Gauteng before upgrading my boat. Both clubs are plagued by ever dwindling membership numbers, so I read your piece on blindly following tradition with interest. The question is with dwindling numbers come dwindling funds and resultantly less and less capacity to stage events to attract members. So what do you suggest would be some “out-of-the-box” thinking that could help us out, to get interest stimulated again?

Then on your article regarding welcoming members from other clubs, I was disgusted at the exorbitant fees levied by a Western Cape Yacht club for members of other clubs who wish to visit them. They basically wanted more than 25% of an their normal annual membership for 1 months guest membership! This is so short sighted as we should welcome members from other clubs as they are normally pre-qualified bona fide yachties, and they spend money in our club houses! But not just that, they become friends and ambassadors for our clubs and the sport!

My 10 Cents worth. Keep up the good work!

●  Thanks for a great read in “Sailing” and “Talking Sailing”.

There have been a number of articles on protesting lately and I’d like to add my sixpence worth.

I hope my memory serves me well and my “facts” are close enough to the truth.

The 1968 OSTAR ( Observer Single-handed Trans-Atlantic Race) was won by UK sailor Geoffrey Williams due to the fact that he did not bother to attend the final Skipper’s briefing before the race. He was therefore unaware that he should sail South around the buoy off Rhode island. He took the shortest course to the finish line while South African sailing icon, the late Bruce Dalling, sailed the correct, and longer course, resulting in his coming in second. Bruce was urged to protest and be thus declared winner, but in spite of having sailed a very tough race, he refused to do so saying,” I would rather be remembered as a gentleman”.

Geoffrey Williams on the other hand, on discovering his error did not offer to relinquish his “win”. Which of these sailors would the readers rather be likened to?!

ED. Dave Cox had a similar experience on an early Rio Race and did not protest. Had he, he would have won overall.

●  Its amazing how in the times of tragedy that people come together with a common purpose, I remember the fund raising efforts to aid in the search. One such occasion was when Ed Browne a dinghy sailor from Midmar and keen ‘Mediterranean Cruiser’ held an American style Auction at the HMYC Prize Giving in early May to raise funds to assist in the search for Rubicon. In a matter of a few minutes a fairly significant amount of money was raised amongst a group of 505, Fireball, Miracle, Laser and board sailors.

●  Once again a great newsletter.

I hope this J22 thing will go to sleep for good. The person who tried another appeal, take up tiddly winks, I don’t think persons such as yourself deserve to sail. Enjoy the sunshine, wind and water as it was intended; you may find out how much fun it is.

Back to how to increase our sailor population, all our golden year sailors ( bored, don’t want to play bowls etc.) get to the schools in the poorer areas and set up sailing clubs at these schools. The curriculum as follows: (this to be done before sailing lessons begin, no exceptions..!!!)

Sailing technical first: rules of the road, knots etc.
* Teach discipline, don’t obey the golden year sailors – no joining.
* Restore dodgy old boats that are lying around at the yacht clubs rotting: fixing, sanding, painting etc.
* Finally off to the water and now the practical begins – yeehaa.!
* Up the yacht club fees to cover these kids’ membership.
What do people think???

Keep up the great job.

●  The J22 class is like the Gerry Springer show!

●  Well done!! This format arriving on my desk via e-mail makes such a difference. I find this great reading and you’re not scared to be controversial.

The Bitter End
Incompetent officials.

The ‘Bitter End’ is the inboard end of an anchor chain or rode which should be attached to the vessel so as not to be lost overboard in it’s entirety. In terms of “Talking Sailing” it’s things about our sport which get up peoples noses!

“Talking Sailing” is written by Richard Crockett, the Publisher & Editor of SAILING Magazine, South Africa’s monthly sailing mag.

TO SUBSCRIBE – there is no charge as this is a free newsletter.
If you have received this mail you are ‘SUBSCRIBED’.
If you know someone who would like to receive “Talking Sailing” either forward this mail to them and let them subscribe, or simply send an e-mail to sailing@iafrica.com with the words ‘SUBSCRIBE TO TALKING SAILING’ in the subject line – and the e-mail address in the message section. Readers are welcome to share this with friends and colleagues.

SAILING Magazine and SAILING Gybeset contacts:
Enquiries                                          sailing@iafrica.com
Editor                                                editor@sailing.co.za
SAILING Books                               derri@sailing.co.za
SAILING Mag Subscriptions        subscriptions@sailing.co.za

SAILING Magazine                        www.sailing.co.za
SAILING Gybeset                           www.sailing.co.za/gybeset
SAILING Books                              www.sailingbooks.co.za

Social Media
Facebook                Sailing Mag SA
Facebook                GybeSet.co.za
Twitter                    @sailingmagrsa

Check Also

“Talking Sailing” by Richard Crockett – issue 50

To Subscribe: Mail (sailing@iafrica.com) with the words ‘SUBSCRIBE TO TALKING SAILING’ in the subject line. …