Boston Harbor Sailing Club...More Time on the Water...

Lesson Learned

Situational Awareness

Synopsis - The Developing Story

August 11, 2007 7:00PM.  The course was a windward leeward course with the wind coming from the NE.  The Windward mark was outside the BHSC mooring area.  The Lee Mark was south of the Hyatt Harborside Hotel on the north side of the channel.   The wind was moderately strong coming down the channel where it had a longer fetch.  The wind was stronger on the north side of the channel.  The downwind course was a port tack, although this was not obvious at the Windward Mark.  The Windward mark was sheltered by the city buildings.

A rain squall was passing to the north of the harbor across East Boston.  At the start of the race the the rain squall was not effecting the race area. There was no rain in the race area.

As the fleet reached the Windward Mark a squall line came down the harbor channel from the NW.  Boats going downwind on Port Tack experienced a downwind plane.  (The 11 o'clock News on Channel 5 described the weather as gusts to 40 mph at Logan.)  Boats on starboard tack experienced confused winds because of the shelter of the city but were clearly not going toward the mark.

Class Action was on starboard tack with the Spinnaker flying.  They were going to the wrong side of the course very fast and needed to do a jibe to go toward the downwind mark.  They elected to jibe the Spinnaker.  A very bad idea because the squall line caught them, the boat broached, filled with water and sunk.

  What went wrong?

Situational Awareness.  In our racing fleet the helmsman is the skipper and has the ultimate responsibility for the boat.  However, during a race the helmsman is concentrating on the wind and the sail trying to drive the boat as fast as possible.  That is his job. The crew has more freedom and should be responsible for alerting the helmsman to potential problems; such as, starboard tack racing boats and the various other power and larger boats in the harbor.

It is a team effort.  In this case no one looked windward and saw the squall coming (which was very obvious to anyone actually did look windward).

There are a lot of other details but the above is primary.

In the words of one of the participant.

"Just chastened and suddenly knowledgeable about what we should have done differently"

 "For instance:"

     "a) Closing the watertight bulkheads forward and aft before departure."

    "b) Making sure there were no knots in the spinnaker sheets so they can be loosed in an emergency."

    "c) Monitoring the weather more closely."

    "d) Not using the spinnaker for that down wind leg."

    "e) Getting up on the foredeck to jibe the spinnaker when I should have been letting go the sheets."

"The fundamental problem (my emphasis) was that I too busy on the up wind leg and lost my situational awareness. Actually, nobody was watching the weather."


  Situational Awareness (Military Term) - Example Fighter Pilot.

If as a fighter pilot you have the enemy in your guns sights and are inside his control loop, but forget that you are running out of fuel and ammunition and are drifting into one of his anti-aircraft  batteries, the results that your are expecting may not be valid.



Written by John Clark.  Any comments? Send me an email

Lessons Learned

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