Despite a reputation for macho undertakings, the CCA is a safety conscious group that prides itself on using its "collective wisdom and experience to influence ‘the adventurous use of the sea' through its efforts to improve seamanship, the design of seaworthy yachts, safe yachting procedures, and environmental awareness." It's appropriate, then, that we take a closer look at the Newport to Bermuda Race to learn as much as possible about how its organizers approach the important issue of safety at sea.
The Newport to Bermuda Race is organized as a Category 1 event (as stipulated by the International Sailing Federation). What this designation essentially means is that the course will take the participants well offshore and thus the race organizers expect the entrants "to be completely self-sufficient for extended periods of time, capable of withstanding heavy storms, and prepared to meet some emergencies without the expectation of outside assistance." When you stop to ponder that statement, you can see that it truly could apply to any vessel that ventures offshore for extended periods of time.
"We inspect every boat to make sure that it is structurally sound," continues Winder, "that all required safety gear is aboard and properly certified, and we ask for crew qualifications to assure as best we can that the crew sailing the boat is qualified for this rigorous race. If a boat and crew do not pass the established requirements, we will not invite her to race."
The safety training that McCurdy mentions can be accomplished by attending one of Cruising World/US SAILING's Safety at Sea Seminars, held throughout the year in a variety of locations in the US. This year, in an attempt to further prepare sailors for the Newport to Bermuda Race, McCurdy has posted a Self-Study Session on the event's website (http://bermudarace.com/sas/sas_self.htm). The text of this Self-Study Session provides two anecdotes of actual emergencies at sea and then requires that the user answer 50 questions about them.
The mandatory inspection of each boat entered in the race that Winder mentioned above is an important underpinning of safety for this event. McCurdy says that though some sailors may view this as a nuisance, it can be a tremendous benefit for boat owners to have a knowledgeable offshore sailor walk them through the required checklist, and it comes at no cost apart from the event's entry fee. The checklist used is extensive, covering everything from construction details (requiring an American Bureau of Shipping certificate or the equivalent) to having spare parts on board, like another compass in addition to the main compass. The inspection also stipulates minimum requirements for freshwater and emergency drinking water supplies, as well as the mandatory contents of the ditch bag (see sidebar).
One of the requirements of this race is that each entry verify adequate function of its SSB radio by successfully making a minimum call of 600 miles sometime between April 1 and the date of that vessel's pre-race inspection.
Offshore safety has long been a key concern among the members of the CCA; in fact it's one of the underlying reasons that the club was founded 81 years ago. Winder explains that safety "is a really cumulative issue that begins with an attitude on board the yacht. Every member of each crew must think through their action with regard to his own safety and the safety of his mates….I guess the most important safety requirement is to think safety at all times."
Winder says that when it comes to issues of safety for sailors, there's really no distinction between segments of the sport. "We think that our general focus on safety applies to all sailors. US SAILING publishes a minimum equipment guide for cruising sailors, which is similar to the ISAF regulations. Cruising sailors should refer to that for equipment suggestions. We would urge cruising sailors to carefully inspect their vessel's hull and equipment and to make sure that all safety equipment is up to date and in working order. We also suggest that all vessels have proper radio or sat phone communications systems and proper navigation equipment. Of course anyone setting sail on a significant voyage should be experienced to the necessary level."
The scratch sheet for the event reveals numerous boats entered that have never participated in this race. And McCurdy acknowledges that approximately 20 percent of the skippers signed up are competing in their first Newport to Bermuda Race. "That puts a bit more pressure on the inspectors," she explains. But it's a good thing. "We're doing what we want to do," says McCurdy, alluding to the issue of safety, "which is reach people."
For more information on the race and its requirements, log on to the Newport to Bermuda website (www.bermudarace.com).
Elements of Safety
Heading Out to Bermuda by John Rousmaniere
Overboard Emergencies by John Kretschmer
Offshore Safety Made Simple by Liza Copeland
SailNet Store Section: Safety Sale