Preparing for an Offshore Race, OSR Section 4

Sunday, March 6, 2011
West Marine's Chuck Hawley, a strong supporter of Pac Cup, has posted an exceptionally thoughtful and thorough discussion of the Offshore Special Regulations as applied to races like ours. These are on his blog, and he has allowed us to repost them here.

Section 4 - Portable Equipment and Supplies

Of all of the items required for taking a racing sailboat offshore, the least technologically sophisticated may be found in Section 4.03. Through hulls and hoses may fail at sea and when they do they let in a prodigious amount of water. A simple tapered wooden plug does wonders for stemming the flow from holes in plumbing, and if it's dry when inserted, can swell to form a watertight plug. Tie one tapered plug to each through hull, and suspend it away from bilge water to keep it relatively dry. A small brass screw eye can be used as a lanyard attachment point.

Jackstays, trolley lines, or jacklines: whatever you call them, they are an integral part of staying onboard in rough conditions. They can be made of webbing or wire; many prefer webbing since it is less of a tripping hazard on deck. Jacklines do not have to run to the transom, but should run within 2m of the bow and stern. Don't use standard flat webbing of the kind that might be used to reinforce the corners of sails. Use heavy nylon, or preferably polyester webbing with a strength of at least 6000#. You can use a luggage hitch on the forward anchor point (something strong, like a pad eye, toe rail, or mooring cleat) and then lash the aft eye to another strong point using small Spectra line. By taking several passes of Spectra single braid through the sewn eye and the fixed point, you can create a turnbuckle of sorts that can exert lots of tension and be as strong as the line you're attaching.

Galley fires can spread quickly. Photo courtesy of BoatUS.

Fire extinguishers (always a good idea when at sea) are only mentioned in passing in Section 4.05.2, but they turn out to be larger (2kg or 4.4#) than the standard B-I extinguisher in the U.S. plus you're required to have two. Good idea, but if you're sailing in a Cat 1 race in a small boat (Mini 6.5, Moore 24), it's unlikely that you'll be thinking of anything other than the 2.5# Coast Guard-approved requirement. It's a shame; this rule should take into consideration the LOA of the vessel, but apparently doesn't. 


Under the sole, but why is the stock cut off?

Of all of the requirements in the Special Regs, the one which has the least detail, but upon which volumes have been written, is the lowly anchor and rode. Boat over 28' (why 28'?) are required to have two anchor set-ups, while smaller boats need one. Since anchors and chain are generally made of steel, and since weight conscious racers abhor steel, there's a natural tension between having a suitably-sized anchor and rode and trying to save weight.

If your boat is equipped with an aluminum anchor, like the Fortress, Guardian, or some of the European anchors, there's generally a "steel equivalent" number on the anchor to give you an idea of what it would weigh if made from steel. For example, a Fortress FX-23 weighs about 14#, but has approximately the same size as a 23# steel Danforth anchor. So, one way to get the performance of a larger anchor is to buy a premium aluminum anchor. Regardless of the material, race boats should have legitimate anchors with high holding power, like Rocna, Manson Supreme, Fortress, or Danforth Hi-Tensile.

Chain size should be related to the anchor size (no need having a high holding power anchor with a chain that will fail), although the need to have a boat length is debatable, and the Special Regs are silent on the size and length of chain and line used.  A rule that has worked well is to select line diameter is 1/8" of line diameter for each 9' of boat length (36' boat could use a 1/2" nylon line). A related rule is to use chain that is half the line diameter (1/4" in this case.)


MD, call home! One of the best reasons to
have a satellite telephone may be to call
a tele-medicine service like WorldClinic.

You'll need to have a first aid kit and first aid manual, and there are many good ones based on the demands of wilderness medicine. A good idea is to have the kit separated by the nature of the injury, and to have a manual that is written with the first aid kit's contents in mind. It doesn't do you any good to have a manual that recommends equipment or drugs which you don't have. It's also a good idea, but not required, to get an extensive medical history from each of your crew members so that if they have allergic reactions to drugs or chronic heart issues, don't take them (just kidding).

Section 4.10 requires that you have a passive (non-transmitting) radar reflector. Radar reflectors are remarkably hard to measure and to state their performance in a concise manner. (See the 1995 test of radar reflectors on the US Sailing web site.) Octahedral reflectors (those that have three planes intersecting at 90 degree angles) are required to be 18" across according to ISAF and 12" across according to US Sailing. That includes models like the Davis Echomaster reflectors.


Akela's storage diagram is among the best.

Safety gear and through-hull shut-offs are useless if they cannot be found in an emergency. That's the thinking behind Section 4.12, which requires a chart showing the locations on the boat where safety gear and be found. Adding through-hulls to this chart is an excellent idea. This needs to be posted in a conspicuous position.

Emergency Steering

Example of a "cassette" emergency steering rudder.
Courtesy of Jim Antrim, Naval Architect.

Depending on the nature of the race you're entering, and the instructions given to the inspector, the requirement for emergency steering can be anything from a general discussion of using a spinnaker pole and floorboards off the stern, to having to demonstrate a replacement rudder and sail upwind and down. The Pacific races have had a long history of steering and rudder failures, so it's not without cause that Transpac and Pacific Cup inspectors look upon explanations of how racers will sail 1500 miles downwind by moving drogues from side to side with a certain amount of incredulity.


Beautifully made, but can it take the strain of a 77' boat?

The best rudder, of course, is generally the one your boat came with originally, and not some contraption bolted to your transom. A thorough steering and rudder inspection, prior to departure, is the first line of defense against losing your rudder. It's not just the rudder: commonly it's the steering chain, or cables, or sheaves, or quadrant, or bolt holding the quadrant to the rudder shaft, or the bearings upon which the rudder turns. All of these are potential sources of failure, and fail they will.


For want of a bolt, the race was lost. On a SC52, this single
bolt required lots of jury rigging, but the boat made it safely
to Kaneohe YC due to the skill of the crew.

There are some production (and possibly custom) boats which are built in such a way that the rudder shaft and quadrant are entirely inaccessible. The lazarette and cockpit seem to have been installed after the rudder, and no boatyard worker, no matter how small, can prep the rudder to have it dropped out for inspection. Obviously, you don't want to take such a boat to Hawaii or Bermuda, since you can't inspect it ahead of time. Jim Antrim, a local and respected naval architect, has some excellent information on his web site about rudder inspection and emergency rudder considerations.

What are some possible solutions to emergency steering?

  1. A separate rudder and tiller, attached with pintles and gudgeons to the transom of the boat. If you build a second rudder, it's recommended that it extend far enough into the water to be effective, not be too large so the loads don't overwhelm its strength, and be able to be installed  at sea. The shape should be fat, and the rudder does not have to be smooth to be effective. 
  2. An improvement to to a rudder hung on pintles is a rudder which slides inside a "cassette". The cassette is above the waterline and pivots on pintles and gudgeons. The rudder blade slides down inside the cassette, which makes it dramatically easier to install at sea.
  3. Several boats have demonstrated their ability to be steered upwind and down with a spinnaker pole which is attached to a universal fitting at lowest extremity of the transom. Using a line to pull the pole down into the water, plus lines which allow the pole to be swung from side to side, the pole/rudder has enough force to swing the stern from side to side. "Commodore" Warrick Tompkins developed this method in the late 90s.
    John Jourdane and crew sailed Brooke Ann for hundreds of
    miles using this sweep. Impressive, but next time use a rudder?
  4. Spinnaker poles can also be used with floorboards or other flat materials to create a "sweep". This is what sailors generally think they can do, but relatively few boats have made this work. John Jourdane has a picture of his crew sailing Brooke Ann in the Caribbean using this method.
  5. Finally, and it's sort of unrealistic to say "finally" since I suspect there are a hundred other possibilities, several boats have been successfully sailed using a drogue off the stern which can be pulled to one side of the transom or the other. By moving the attachment point of the drogue, the boat can be forced to point in the intended direction. This is generally a method of last resort, and when your landfall is downwind.
You can't fix your Honda with these tools; they're intended
to allow you to get back to port after something has broken.
Everyone who has used a Band-It tool at sea becomes the best
salesman possible. Band-Its allow you to compress things
together so they can be put back to use. Examples are boat
structure, booms, spinnaker poles, masts, goosenecks, etc.

Section 4.16 requires tools and spare parts, and you can buy some DC (Damage Control) kits from suppliers if you don't know what to put into one. The Navy has created a DC kit for their Navy 44s which comes in a large plastic tackle box, and it has items which are not exactly "yachty" including giant hose clamps, a 2# sledge, a pruning saw, tapered plugs, wooden wedges, underwater epoxy, drywall screws, and a variety of other items which solve many problems. You're not making furniture; you're likely tearing apart the interior so that you can stop the inflow of water, or shoring up some compromised section of the hull. Neatness doesn't count nearly as much as getting to shore with all of your crew intact.

If your boat sinks, you want your rescuers to know that it was you and not someone else. That's why it's required that you put your vessel name on stuff that is likely to float away in case of a sinking.

Section 4.18 requires that floating items that begin with the letters L-I-F-E need to have retro-reflective tape on them. Life rafts, life buoys, life slings, and other safety gear will be dramatically easier to see at night when it has "SOLAS" tape on it. Note that this only works for the person with the searchlight; it's retro-reflective after all, which means that it reflects in the direction opposite from the incoming light. Those with the light get an immediate brilliant return, while everyone else wonders what all the excitement is about.

4.19 requires that you have an EPIRB. Few marine safety items have made as great an impact as Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons to sailors who sail in Category 1 races. Buy one with a built-in GPS receiver, register it, and make sure everyone on board knows where it's stored and how to operate it.


Life rafts: expensive, infrequently used, and absolutely
necessary when crossing oceans. Note orange bottom
in case your rescuers are looking for an upside down raft...

The topic of life rafts is complicated due to the overlapping and similar sounding regulations that rafts meet. ISO (International Standards Organization) and ISAF (International Sailing Federation) came up with very similar life raft standards about 10 years ago and eventually acknowledged each other's standards. Older style rafts built to the ORC (Offshore Racing Council) standard are grandfathered in if they were built prior to 2006. You'll notice that this section of the Special Regulations have more clauses than all the Macy's in December, due to the obvious challenge of upgrading a standard while not obsoleting every raft that's in use on racing boats. If you have an older raft, make sure it meets older ORC requirements, which are detailed in Appendix A, Part 1. If you're buying or renting a life raft, make sure it complies with Appendix A, Part 2.

Everyone seems to agree that insulated floors on rafts are a good idea, and yet most of the longest examples of survival have happened on rafts with uninsulated floors. To convince yourself of the desirability of an insulated floor, sit in a raft in relatively balmy conditions without one (say, in Newport Harbor with 60 degree water). In less than an hour, you'll wish that you had something between you and the ocean to keep your heat loss to a minimum. The colder the water, the sooner this will occur to you.


Charter boat in Tortola. While the raft is sort of in the way,
it's a hell of a lot easier to launch it when it is above decks.

It used to be permissible to store smaller life rafts below decks, but now all rafts have to be either mounted on deck in a cradle, or stored in a locker designed for life raft storage. This makes a lot of sense, as rafts stored below have two failure modes: they can either be inflated below which can tear a boat's deck off, or they cannot be got to the working deck prior to the boat sinking. Either is to be avoided. Store rafts where they have a chance of doing their jobs.


This pint of water was inside the author's own
raft, complete empty, having rusted through.

Section 4.20.5 deals with the frequency of inspecting and repacking life rafts. Generally, the manufacturer of the raft is the best judge of this, but ISAF has arrived at the conclusion that ISAF-spec rafts should be inspected no less often than every three years, then two years, then one year thereafter. There are good reasons for life raft inspections: some items deteriorate, rafts tend to abrade on the hard folds inside their containers, and water can seep in and wreck havoc with sensitive inflators and high pressure cylinders. It's odd that ISAF prescribes the inspection interval; one can imagine that an ISAF member had a bad experience and is trying to keep other sailors from experiencing the same fate.


The Lifesling really works. See the US Sailing web site for a
write-up on the 2005 Crew Overboard Symposium on San
Francisco Bay by John Rousmaniere.

Lifebuoys (Man Overboard Gear) are required, and due to the popularity of the Lifesling in the US, the U.S. Sailing prescription requires that one of the two required devices be a Lifesling. It must have a self-igniting light, and there are a variety of water-activated lights that can be attached to the straps of the sling. Earlier versions of the Lifesling had a purpose-built pocket at the back of the sling, but tests indicated that it would be more effective is mounted on the straps. In addition to the light, you should also attach squares of retroreflective tape to the tops and bottoms of the Lifesling so it is visible at night.


When you deploy a "MOM", what are you actually providing
to the victim? Here's one in use on San Francisco Bay.
MOMs need to be inspected on a two year interval.

The second "lifebuoy" is generally a MOM 8, or Man Overboard Module. This device was invented about 30 years ago to solve the issue have having a pole, drogue, life ring, and light in a small package.  By making most of these components inflatable, the MOM 8 allows a lot of gear to be deployed in a short period of time by pulling a single pin. Without going into a lot of detail, it's common to have "deployable" gear deployed a good distance away from the victim's location, and it's accepted that even the most motivated crewmember cannot swim worth a damn when wearing foul weather gear and a PFD. The MOM will provide a point of reference for the boat as she returns for to find the victim. In some instances, the MOM can be deployed so quickly (well-trained crew, observed overboard event) that it practically hits the victim on the head as he passes by the hull. The MOM 8 requires biennial servicing, generally by the same company that serviced your life raft.


Generally, signals will have the date of manufacture, and
then a date 42 months after wards which is when the it's
no longer legal. It may actually work for a decade...
Rescue swimmer demonstrating a small smoke flare in Hawaii.

Section 4.23 concerns pyrotechnic and light signals, commonly known as visual distress signals or flares. Racing sailboats are required to have SOLAS grade signals, which are dramatically more waterproof and brighter than conventional recreational signals. This is an example of where adhering to a commercial standard (SOLAS governs what ships have to carry) adds dramatically to the effectiveness of the device. You much have 6 red parachute flares ($55 ea.), 4 red hand flares ($20 ea.), and two smoke signals ($55 ea.) The flares must also be within their expiration date, which is 42 months from the date of manufacture. SOLAS signals are one of the expenses of going on ocean races: they cost about $170 per year for the three years that they are likely to be on your boat. On the other hand, they are extremely good signals, and if you're in trouble, especially at night, they make your boat stand out against the very dark sea and sky. One piece of advice would be for Transpac sailors to consider selling their SOLAS signals to Pacific Cup sailors at the end of the signals' useful life, since the races are on opposite years. That way, it might be possible to get four races out of each purchased set of signals, e.g. races in the summer of 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. It might take more cooperation than is justified, but it's possible to get four races our of a product with a 3.5 year useful life.

4.23.2 also requires a flashlight (with spare bulb and batteries) and a white spotlight for collision avoidance. These two devices are not well defined. We suggest having a compact LED flashlight for every sailor onboard, and consider having a supply of quality headlamps (again, LEDs work well) for at least half the crew and preferably all of them.

The heaving line requirement is best met by a heaving line in a bag, sometimes called a (Rescue) Throw Rope. This should have a permanent place at the helm or pushpit, and should be 70' long. The one doesn't have to be particularly strong (perhaps 1,000# is sufficient), since you can use it to pull a larger line to a vessel that is going to be towed or going to do the towing. Heaving lines are a great way to get a line to a person in the water without maneuvering the vessel too close by. (4.24)


What's wrong with this picture?

The knife that's required in 4.25 can be a diver's knife, with a blunt tip, sharp serrated blade on one side, and a straight blade on the other. The sheath can be strapped to the pedestal, and a second knife can be strapped to the mast (and a third knife can be strapped to the pulpit.)

Rather than try to figure out what you need in the way of storm sails, you are probably better of going to your sailmaker and asking him/her to make you a set. Storm sails are tiny, flat, and extremely strong. In survival conditions, very few sailors argue that their sails were too small. Some races have allowed boats to sail offshore without storm trysails on the grounds that, historically, the races had not been run when storms were likely. We hope that this false economy has been put to rest.


You can't be sure that your boom will still be in one piece, so
it cannot be counted on to help in trimming the trysail. Photo credit:
John Jourdane, who has lost more rudders and masts than any
other living sailor, or so it seems.

Some pointers:


  1. Trysails are commonly at odds with batten car systems on modern mainsails because the external track does not allow the trysail to share the track with the main. IN that case, a secondary track, parallel and offset to one side of the main track, is virtually the only answer. Some new masts have actually come with gates that allow the two sails to share a common track, but it's generally built into the boat at the factory. 
  2. Trysails should not sheet to the end of the boom, or require that a boom be present. A trysail sheets like a jib, with two jib sheets and no interaction with the boom. One of the common reasons to use a trysail is because your boom is in pieces after a round-down.
  3. Furling headsails create a challenge for bending on a storm jib. You either have to unroll your furling jib entirely and tack it off the furler (which can be difficult to do on a windless day at your slip), or you have to use a different stay, or you have to use a sail that goes over your furling jib. ATN makes a storm jib called the Gale Sail which attempts to solve this issue by allowing the luff of the storm jib to be zipped around the furled jib while it's in place. 

Section 4.27 requires that the vessel have a "Drogue, Sea Anchor". Since these two items are completely different in construction and use, it's not entirely clear whether you have to have either, both, or a device that can be used for either application. ISAF and US Sailing need to provide direction. A sea anchor is a very large drag device shaped like a parachute, which is deployed off the bow and designed to reduce the sternway of a boat to less than a knot. It must be used with a long nylon line, which can be the anchor rode, to absorb the shock of waves hitting the boat. A drogue is deployed off the stern, is far smaller (perhaps 5' in diameter), and is used to keep a boat from accelerating to surfing speeds on the face of a wave. Properly sized drogues roughly halve the speed of the boat. Para-Tech and Fiorentino are two popular brands of drag devices.