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22 April 2002, 11:19 am
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Paul Henderson Speaks on Safety - Your Feedback

The input continues to come in with your response to Paul Henderson's comments on safety.
Feedback from Gabriel Wicke, Germany
Paul Henderson wrote:
"The problem in sailing is tragedy means drowning and the resultant family agony to say nothing of the resultant enquiries and litigation. Hopefully Sailing will learn from these unfortunate happenings and at least endeavor to minimize where we can the inherent risks which occur when we go to sea in our boats."

The risks sailing an ocean race are somwhat different to sailing a 49er or a Tornado with rescue- and coachboats around.

All mortal accidents in the high performance classes i know of happened because a sailor got trapped underwater and wasn't able to free himself.

Certainly wearing floatation wasn't a great help for them, it's more likely that it was just the opposite.

A fellow german sailor experienced the whole conscious part of drowning while he was trapped underwater. Fortunately he survived and sails again now. But it's because of this personal experience he will never wear any additional flotation devices when racing 49er or 18.

In order to be able to minimize the risk for sailors there should be an investigation if the advantages of flotation devices statistically outweigh their risks in high performance classes. I doubt it.

If the risk is increased by positive floation it might be safer to change the rules for certain classes.

Alexander Finsterbusch, National Measurer, Argentina

Regarding safety I think it is important that when racing occurs in shallow water, boats should carry a floating device on the top of the mast specially for small dinghies.

During the Cadet World Championship, I saw 5 boats break their mast because during a capsize the mast touched the ground. It was impossible for the sailors, without outside help, since the mast was stuck on the ground, to put the boats back in position and of course the boat was no longer in sailing condition.

Same thing happened during several Championships for the 420 Class, 29er Class, Optimist, Europe Class and 470 Class.

The problem is that usually there is only one coach for 10 dinghies and if only two capsize, one will get no help at all and that is the moment when the crew is in danger.

Chris Bolton, Hobie 20 Sailor
One thing that is MANDATORY before we start to give opinions is to establish some facts! The first report I heard of this incident said winds were 8-14, and that it took 20 minutes before anyone showed up that had a knife. I also heard that he was caught up in "specialized trapeze gear", whatever that was. Now I read this article that says it was blowing 20 knots, and that two knives "were thrown to him" (I assumed he must have been both conscious and in a position to catch the knives; but why didn't the knife thrower jump in to do the cutting?). They also said they tried to keep him calm. Was he partially above water?? What really happened? I still believe that a knife in the hands of both crew and skipper will be much more useful and flexible than two "hatches" in the tramp (what happens if you are stuck but aren't under one of the hatches?). Maybe a small rescue bottle as used by helicopter crews and divers would be the ultimate solution; all the removable gear in the world won't save you if things go wrong. The basic hook is pretty simple and easy to clear; modifications to that system "to ensure you stay hooked up" have clear danger.

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