As aviation crash investigators know, airplane crashes are seldom the result of one mistake; they are usually the result of a cascade of events. When the wheels start to fall off, you need to minimize more problems. Here’s a video of the Ocean Racers' Pogo 12.5 HERMES in the 2019 Caribbean 600 approaching the islet of Redonda near the end of this arduous race. They are taking down the kite for the final beat back to Antigua. Just before the video starts, the bowman noticed that the retriever line for the dousing sock of the A6 had gotten fouled. OK, there’s one wheel gone.
The crew wisely opted to change gears and set-up for a letterbox takedown, the safest way to lower a spinnaker at sea. They ran the lazy sheet over the boom and got set to release the tack only to find a knot in the tack line. When they cut the tack line a second wheel fell off.
But the letterbox was still a viable option if it was set-up properly...but it wasn’t. The sheet was led over the boom, but the crew didn’t lead it through a deck block on the windward rail and then to an open winch where it could have been controlled. In fact, the person designated to hold the retriever line only had it in his hand and lost his grip once the boat rolled out and the spinnaker violently luffed. Wheel #3 a goner.
Smartly, the helm bore off dramatically, burying the flying spinnaker behind the main. The crew was then able to manhandle the sail through the letter box. Things went smoothly and safely from there. The fourth wheel remained in place.
What’s the lesson learned? When a maneuver goes wrong and you shift to Plan B, make sure everyone knows what Plan B is, how to execute it, and their specific role in the plan. Here, they opted for the right Plan B, but they missed a critical detail—leading the sheet through a deck block back to an open winch. As such, there are three wheels floating around somewhere in the ocean.
UK Sailmakers has just updated its instructional video on the letterbox take down and you can see it farther down in this newsletter. In the meantime, remember that pre-race practice and pre-maneuver anticipation will makes the difference between being a hero and a zero.
Ocean Racers is an international sailing team and network, providing training and racing around the world for amateur to professional sailors. They sign sailors up to race in most of the major ocean races in Europe, the east coast of the USA and the Caribbean. For more information, go to Oceanracers.net