10 Lessons Learned For Sailing in Severe Weather

John Konrad
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July 27, 2007

Sean Seamore II

In a gCaptain exclusive we were able to discuss the May 2007 abandonment of the s/v Sean Seamour II with her captain Jean Pierre de Lutz. This story was first brought to us by Robin Storm, Marine Salvage Specialist and Maritime Severe Weather Spotter.

The Background Story

Here is a clip to bring you up to date on the Sean Seamour’s voyage but for the full story visit Robin’s coverage of the incident: LINK

On or around 7 May 2007 the s/v Sean Seamour II was struck by a what is believed to be a “freak wave”, during Subtropical Storm Andrea. The sailboat was broadsided by a wave that did an great deal of damage to the boat and sent the crew flying about the cabin doing 360’s and causing its Master to break his ribs. The wave caused the sailboat to immediately list starboard.

After a harrowing time riding the waves a EPIRB signal was received by the USCG and a C-130 over fight located the wave riding crew. A J-Hawk Helicopter was dispatched to the area and launched a rescue swimmer, who injured his back during the insertion into the water, when a wave dropped from beneath him and he dropped some 50 to 70 feet. All of this done in 50 to 70 foot seas, with winds estimated at 80 knots.

To continue here are the captain’s own words:

10 Lessons learned from the Incident

1. No two passages are alike, do not consider that setting sail at what is deemed the most appropriate time is reason for less vigilance. Weather routers are not only for racers, they add a level of security through objective analysis of far broader data than one can access on board within economically reasonable parameters.

2. All security equipment should all be grouped together in the most central, least vulnerable and most accessible area inside the vessel. Heavy weather requires as much crew as operationally possible to be secure inside the vessel where security equipment can be accessed in anticipation of catastrophic events. The most vulnerable element of a sailboat is the rig. Such was the case for Sean Seamour II with the exception of cold water protection suits that were in a rear port deck locker that ended up under the crushed rig. Had these been kept with all other security equipment in a compartment at the base of the companionway the crew would have been able to don these after the first knockdown and avoid hypothermia.

3. Pumps are never redundant: whale pumps are great, I had three installed on board, only the cockpit pump could have been used, the stern and bow units were not accessible due to debris or water levels. Again these should be centrally installed on the highest floor level within the vessel. 2000gph electric Rule pumps should be permanently installed in tandem to avoid debris plugging the pump. Ours had to be constantly monitored against floating paper and other debris.

4. Redundancy saved my crew but not my vessel. The second EPIRB I always considered a luxury, eleven years later it still tested operational, which it ended up being. Had I planned this redundancy with purpose it would also have been sent for recertification, would have been kept with the main unit inside for deployment, would have been initiated and efforts to save the vessel accomplished. Redundancy is a must, but making sure you are not carrying duds as a feel good notion of redundancy is almost as important.

5. Reliability of equipment, considering the above, both ACR 406 EPIRB units tested operational yet both performed below specifications. The ACR Globalifix died within thirty minutes after being sent for verification and recertification two weeks prior, the second old ACR self tested positive but battery life was only ten hours, had we been further out to sea its remaining ten hours of battery would have been insufficient to guide help our way.

6. Lashing is too often considered and applied to on deck equipment, openings, doors, etc. Within the vessel we generally secure for heavy weather thrashing forgetting what happens during knockdowns and 360’s. Start with floorboards – these are the first to pop under such circumstances either through simple gravitational action, let alone kinetic energy that can be created during a knockdown. Besides half of my floorboards that were not secured, the one most forgotten in my case was the salon table which detached and was probably the cause for half of my ten broken ribs. Had it knocked me unconscious or worse my crew would have likely perished.

7. Gulf Stream, staying away from the core is not sufficient when confronting opposing direction weather systems. I left the stream well before the storm but did not take into account the size of the eddies in that area. I had used the stream carefully avoiding the eddies in my 1996 crossing, but over the past five years I had noticed the eddies diminishing in strength in the North Atlantic. Had I tacked further east from the night of the 4th I would have probably been less punished by Andrea. New data seems to correlate this.

8. Stowing and backup usage of vital electronic equipment must be designed into contingency plans. Sean Seamour II had most everything but contingency plans did not take into account such catastrophic circumstances. VHF, a backup antennae was pre-wired to enable the DSC VHF to function, but the stowed antennae was unfindable after the 360 which crushed the rig. The SSB antennae used one of the backstays, gone with the rig, also the tuner was positioned too low and was shorted by water. The Iridium satfone should have been kept in a waterproof skin, it was soaked in the 360.

9. Securing the vessel at least for the short term must remain a priority. With the knowledge that the GPIRB had been initiated securing the vessel was to be my first objective by dumping the rig, 100 meters of chain and bow anchors and plugging the mast passage. These actions would have secured the vessel for at least extra hour or two, taking other actions could have put us under way with engine propulsion. Although for years I have prepared myself mentally for this type of situation, given the level of panic, physical trauma and the ensuing disorientation too much time was lost attempting to get electronic equipment to function — if it doesn’t work it is not going to, redundancy yes dependence no.

10. Although substantial time had been dedicated to briefing the crew prior to departure on the security equipment inventory, whereabouts and deployment, showing them how collision mats, rule pumps and other equipment should be sued, as well as other procedures such as rerouting whale pumps, effective drills are far better. Had I been incapacitated during these catastrophic events I am not sure the crew would have survived.

These lessons were written by Mayke & Jean Pierre de Lutz
Camp de la Suyère, 83680 La Garde Freinet, France


s/v Sean Seamour II – the final log entry

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