Sailing has been represented at the Summer Olympic Games since 1896 and competitions are in a fleet race or match race format. However, despite the sometimes dangerous nature of the sport, there is no requirement from sailing institutions to hold a licence or complete any formal training or qualifications to participate in sailing activities and anyone can participate in regattas around the globe.
Since 1996, thousands of people have been taking part in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. Registered owners and managers of sailing yachts, and the race organisers - Clipper Ventures plc. - take part in the race, which allows sailors of different backgrounds and competencies to gain experience in ocean racing. Participants choose to complete either a circumnavigation of the world, or a selection of one or more individual legs. No prior sailing experience is required. Different legs of the race attract varying numbers of participants and, after taking into account individual injuries and withdrawals during the race, the number of crew on board a yacht range from 12 to 22.
While a compulsory, four-week training programme is provided, we feel that prior experience is crucial to be a part of such a race.
Incident off Cape Town
On 31 October 2017, while participating in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, on a leg between Cape Town, South Africa and Fremantle, Australia, a yacht ran aground at 2100 that evening. The CV24 Greenings, a 70-foot fibreglass yacht designed to be sailed around the world, ran aground with 18 crew on board in what was a life-threatening – and no doubt terrifying - situation for those involved.
Based on the information available, it’s not possible to determine on who was at the helm at the time of the grounding. Most of the crew went below deck at 1700 to prepare dinner, eat, clean the galley and were sleeping at the time of the incident at approximately 2100. However, it can be confirmed that at least half of the crew were on watch on a clear night.
It’s reported that the sound of the keel scratching the reef and the movement - or lack of movement - of the yacht aroused the crew’s suspicions that they were already aground. The first instruction of the skipper was to turn on the engine and use the sails to reverse the yacht into deeper water but was unsuccessful. The next step was to make a radio call to advise the race committee marine rescue authorities in Cape Town of the grounding.
The crew were extremely lucky to have been rescued by the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) based in Cape Town. They carried out a search and rescue for the 18 crew, sending rescue vessels with rigid inflatable boats (RIB), crew and swimmers to perform the rescue. They arrived safely at Hout Bay at approximately 0300 on 1 November 2017. The following day salvage and cleaning operations were performed to minimise potential pollution from the fuel and debris on the beach and maritime life.
From that point in time until the time the crew were safely rescued at Hout Bay, the skipper was in contact with both the race organisers and the NSRI as to the procedure to follow to evacuate the crew successfully with no injuries. It took more than a month to remove the yacht from the beach and investigations, from both the South African and English government, were completed in June 2018.
At no point in time were instructions given to try to salvage the yacht, equipment and personal effects of the crew.
What caused the grounding?
It is our view that the grounding of CV24 was the result of human error - a lack of communication between the helm and the deck crew on watch. Much of this, we believe, is down to insufficient training, and a lack of control and monitoring protocols from management.
When the crew were on deck, they could see land and the reef. The crew should have been able to see the yacht approaching land and prepared to stop or change course. It is also normal procedure to complete the vessel log every hour, the information in the log includes the position of the vessel, barometric pressure, distance travelled, voltage of batteries, time and risk of collision with other yachts and proximity of land. It’s believed the logs were not being completed in this case.
The crew on deck also have the responsibility to communicate to the skipper information on any approaching yachts, other ships and proximity of land. The skipper has access to some information from the instruments close to the helm such as wind direction, heading and depth. The skipper should have been aware that the yacht was running out of water and should have instructed the crew to be ready to change course before running aground.
Was there sufficient training and experience?
The four weeks training on the yacht is aimed at familiarising the crew with the vessel and day-to-day situations, such as tacking, gybing, reefing the sails and reading the electronic instruments. Reference is made as to what equipment to use when evacuating the yacht in an emergency, and what and where the key items are to take.
The training would have made the crew familiar with the vessel and the manning thereof, i.e. in an overboard situation as it is practiced almost every day in all types of conditions. However, there is no mention of a grounding situation, fire, de-mast or other critical situations.
In Australia, the Australian Sailing Safety and Sea Survival Course (SSSC) provides a comprehensive safety course on survival at sea. There is no comparable course to SSSC in the Clipper training, and it is our view that a similar course, together with a navigation syllabus, will increase the safety at sea for the crew and the yacht.
Further, with respect to general operations, the management of the vessel is entirely up to the crew with almost no intervention from the skipper or the Clipper Race Committee. In this regard, the number of crew at watch, number of hours at watch, quality/quantity of food per person and number of hours of rest per person are left entirely to the crew to decide. This is, in our view, a great mistake and not a matter to be determined by an inexperienced crew.
The Marine Accident Investigation Branch in the UK report on the CV24 Greenings grounding has also highlighted several safety lessons:
- CV24 was not safely manned or operated as the skipper was the only qualified, professional seafarer on board, and there was no dedicated navigator with responsibility for passage planning and execution;
- there was not an effective plan for CV24’s coastal passage along the Cape Peninsula and, when unexpectedly close inshore, the skipper became distracted from navigation by the requirement to supervise the crew on deck. It was also difficult for the crew to monitor the yacht’s position when on deck;
- company risk assessments, operational procedures and taking opportunities to learn from previous groundings could all have provided a higher level of safety management on board Clipper Ventures’ yacht fleet, particularly when operating in remote and often harsh environments.
Safety recommendations have been made to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (2018/116) and Clipper Ventures plc (2018/117 and 2017/118) intended to improve the standards of safety management and conduct of navigation in the Clipper yacht fleet.
Implications for yacht insurers
The insurance of yachts participating in blue water racing events have traditionally been restricted to specialist marine insurers who have the knowledge and experience to assess the additional risk factors, such as:
- weather and sea conditions (rogue waves);
- collision with underwater objects (whales and submerged containers);
- the availability of rescue and salvage services in remote locations.
Aurea Palmer crew member CV24 (Clipper Round the World Yacht Race Leg 3 South Africa to Australia 2017)