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billyruffn 07-05-2008 05:25 PM

Retrofitting a "weekend cruiser/racer" for offshore passagemaking
I had the opportunity last week to help deliver a Newport-Bermuda race boat back from Bermuda. The boat was a Bruce Farr designed Beneteau 44.7. We made the 600 plus nm trip in three days and 10 hours with one day's run of 212 nm and several watches where SOG averaged over 10 kts. To make speeds and daily runs of that order you need a well-designed hull & rig, an experienced skipper and a strong crew. On this trip we had all three working in our favor.

The trip went well, but we had a rough night approaching and then crossing in the Gulf Stream. At one point the boat made a lurch to leeward and one of our crew was launched across the main cabin. He arrested his fall when his head impacted the leeward cabinetry. A nasty bump resulted, but with a few Tylenol he was soon back on deck. The next morning we were overflown by a USCG helo with a C-130 in company heading north at max speed. I learned later that a crew member of a boat behind us had sustained a serious head injury in an accident below during their Gulf Stream crossing. My guess is that the two accidents may have had similar causes and the two experiences prompted me to take another look at how well the interior of boat I was on was designed. My conclusion was that while Farr and Beneteau did a great job on the hull and rig, they really missed the boat when it comes to crew comfort and safety below.

I know that many SailNetters who aspire to offshore sailing have or will buy production cruiser/racers in pursuit of their dreams. My guess is that the designers and builders of many of the production boats intended for the weekend / coastal cruising and club racing markets have made compromises in the interior layouts that can lead to accidents like those mentioned above. In my view modifications are needed to make these boats safer for offshore passagemaking. First and most obvious should be the intallation of secure handholds throughout the cabin. The boat I was on has a big, wide open main cabin but was almost totally lacking in good grip points. The fiddles on cabinets in the main cabin were a little over an inch high and the ones on the nav. station were less than a inch high -- hardly enough to get a good grip while moving about. What might have been adequate at 10 degrees of heel was totally inadequate at 30 degrees and above. The boat I was on would have benefitted greatly from double ceiling rails running through the main cabin and a single ceiling rail in the forecabin.

In addition to safety below, there is also the issue of crew comfort and here too some production boat designs may fall short. On the Beneteau 44.7 ventilation underway is a real issue. There are 4-5 hatches in the deck which probably work well while at anchor, but they are dogged tight when offshore in rough weather. Because there were no dorades on the 44.7, there was no way to effectively ventilate the boat during the trip north. While it's probably not as big a problem in temperate climates, anyone planning to sail south will find it will be a real issue. In such situations owners would be well advised to retrofit the interior with multiple cabin fans, especially in the galley and all sleeping areas.

Another thing I noticed about the 44.7 was that there were relatively few places where the crew could comfortably wedge themselves to get some rest. One thing prospective offshore sailors should look for in selecting a boat is where the crew rests while on or off duty above decks. A good test would be to get the boat at 25% of heel and then wander around looking for comfortable and safe places to sit. One shortcoming of the 44.7 is the width of the cockpit. While there's ample room for crew to work, the distance between the cockpit seats is such that you can't reach the leeward seat with your foot when seated to windward -- the result is you really can't brace yourself when seated to windward in the cockpit. A sudden increase in the heeling angle followed by a slip of your foot on the cockpit sole and you could be launched across the cockpit and over the leeward rail.

I could go on, but it might be interesting for others to contribute thoughs on retrofits to production boats that enhance crew safety and comfort while sailing offshore.

Stillraining 07-05-2008 06:11 PM

Great post Billy....

One of the first things I noticed before I bought my boat was the absence of overhead hand rails...I plan on installing them some day..

Of course my boat was not designed with passagemaking in mind but there is no real quarter births with their associated lee cloths either..and begin fiddles on main saloon table...fiddles are adequate in galley at 1 1/2 "

I honestly hadn't thought of the buttoned down hatch ventilation problum untill you mentioned it...( no experience off shore so I dont know what I dont know..:o )

Great topic..IS your boat still up in NC or there abouts?

camaraderie 07-05-2008 10:38 PM

Billy...good post. Most discussions on converting production boats for offshore use involve hull and rig improvements & system. Your post makes some very good additional points!

hellosailor 07-05-2008 11:12 PM

Good points, Billy. Consider if you will, another vehicle which has only recently addressed safety issues: The car. You'll find classic Jaguars have rocker switches on the dashboard, because switches that stick out will impale ayone thrown against them. They've done that for a long time. The gear shift knobs on some cars have similarly been designed to be too large to fit into an eye socket--because people in shoulder belts can slide sideways and impact the shift lever with their face. (Mercedez and BMW have been leaders in expensive small thoughts like that.)
Interiors? You won't find hard wood panels or hard plastic on upscale cars, everything is impact-absorbent, to prevent harm if you are thrown against it. or, designed to crumble and absorb impact. But that kind of engineering costs money, and raises prives, and that lowers boat sales. So the tiny percent who want to go out in heavy wx, are left to retrofit on their own. I'd be afraid to ask what it would cost if Mercedes started yacht building.<G>

I grabbed a towel bar in the forward head of a Pearson 424 when it lurched--and was ejected out the head door anyway, towel bar in hand. Ooopsie. Personally, I like a boat with just enough headroom (and a padded overhead) so that when I stand really upright, I can jam my head into the overhead and brace myself in place, even when I can't grab something. And while fiddles on tables are nice--the usual fiddles, and table corners, are NO FUN ON RIBS.

At the risk of looking like a fool...I'd really have to wonder if something like a "pool noodle" made from semi-rigid foam should be used on all kinds of edges, instead of traditional fiddles. Can't be more expensive than ribs are!

Of course, if you get too concerned about'd stay ashore in a padded rubber room, right?<G>

btrayfors 07-06-2008 10:08 AM

Really good post, Billy. Offshore sailing ain't the same as weekend cruising or round-the-buoys racing. You make the points very well.


Gary1 07-06-2008 10:45 AM

I concur with the comments about racer-cruisers, but in addition to interiors that leave wide open areas, things not through bolted, etc., I worry about the basic construction of the hull, the rig, etc. Most weekend cruiser boats are not up to the rigors of being battered around offshore.

Taking a lightly built boat offshore is a prescription for disaster.

Cap'n Gary

wdtracey 07-06-2008 10:49 AM

Interior Falls
My off shore experience has been that ALL of the injuries in rough water have been below decks. "One for the boat etc" doesn't work when there is nothing to hold onto. I had two injuries on my last off shore trip: one head, one broken rib, both of which can be life threatening. After that I gave considerable thought as to how to make it safer below decks. On my boat the only practical solution is some sort of interior "jack line" set up from the companionway forward. Not as good as adding overhead grab rails, but I think it might keep reduce a "sLam" to a "slip & slide". They will need to be well tensioned and of course I only have a couple of places that will take the strain; the companionway rails, and the compression post, but that takes care of the gauntlet area anyway.

wdtracey 07-06-2008 10:51 AM

By the way I am suggesting at waist height and not clipped on just something that you can fall against or guide yourself around with.

blt2ski 07-06-2008 03:30 PM

While Billy's post is excellent in what he observed.

An "I wonder" on my part. Some things, hand holds to me, are a bit on the personal side. While some like hand holds on the ceiling, others like my wife that is barely 5' tall, could not reach them if on the ceiling of this particular boat. So now one comes into something like wdtracey is suggesting, some kind of rail, strap etc that one can lean against/hang onto in rougher conditions that is more hip to waist level in height.

While some of us like to bash production builders on there lack of off shore stuff that some of us would like, One has to wonder, if even if they did supply/incorporate some of these things, if some would still not be complaining about these things being misplaced, ie not where they want to grab etc. To a degree, I personally would prefer to know that they built the hull strong enough to handle the offshore conditions that one might encounter, which I believe the 44.7 is, but as noted, "MOST" buyers of this boat will probably NOT take it offshore, hence for Benateau, probably not worth adding to the base boat. So that leaves it up to the end user, to equip with hand holds etc to meet "THERE" needs. Frankly, I personally would rather set up for where I want to grab on to, vs where they think I should reach to! Give me a well built production model that is able to prep my way, vs a well built boat ready, that is NOT the way I want any day of the week!

Maybe there is where I know unless I custom build a boat like Alex did, one will not get things perfect, out of the box! So I do not expect everything to be perfect, but will make things my way! Anyway, while the 44.7 is not on my list of boats to upgrade to, the smaller 36.7 is, and like other boats of this genre, NONE are perfect out of the box. But reviews like this, help me think about how to make the boat I have/will get better than stock, and or how to improve what I already have.


billyruffn 07-06-2008 06:37 PM


Originally Posted by blt2ski (Post 337520)
So that leaves it up to the end user, to equip with hand holds etc to meet "THERE" needs. Frankly, I personally would rather set up for where I want to grab on to, vs where they think I should reach to! Give me a well built production model that is able to prep my way, vs a well built boat ready, that is NOT the way I want any day of the week!

I think Marty is on the right track here. You need to modify the boat to meet your needs.

However, keeping the modifications you might want and the feasibility of making them in mind as you select your dream boat is important. Example: overhead rails -- I don't have them on Billy Ruff'n because I haven't figured out how to modify the cabin top structure to make them really secure. (And, I do have adequate waist-level gripping points for moving about the main cabin, so I haven't really felt the need to redesign the cabin ceiling.)

Unfortunately, most of us (me included) buy the boat that we will use offshore before we have substantial offshore experience. We tend to trust the builders to equip their boats with what's necessary for safe passagemaking. Marty's right in his observation that builders design for the market segement they're targeting. Aftermarket buyers with intentions for their boat that may be different from sailors in the builder's target segment need to know that the shouldn't necesarily trust the builder to put into the boat all that they will require to be safe at sea.

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