Working on the foredeck of IchorCoal.
The UK’s Marine Accident Investigation Branch has published a report into two crewmembers that died in separate incidents aboard ‘IchorCoal’, a 70ft yacht in the last edition of the Clipper Round the World Race. These boats are crewed by amateur sailors, many of which had little experience before joining the programme, and the lessons learned are equally relevant to owners of long-distance cruising yachts. They are the first fatalities in the event’s 21-year history, which to date has seen a total of 84 yachts complete circumnavigations.
In the first incident watch leader Andrew Ashman, was struck by the mainsheet during an accidental double gybe off the Portuguese coast in the early stages of the first leg. Immediately before the incident he was briefing his watch on reefing the mainsail, a task they had not yet undertaken while racing. To do so he moved forward from near the helm, where he had been monitoring an inexperienced driver, to stand in the ‘danger area’ in way of the mainsheet and traveller.
At the time the boat’s course was weaving 50 degrees, which eventually led to an accidental gybe. It’s believed Ashman’s head was hit by the mainsheet, killing him instantly. A preventer was rigged, but the Dyneema strop securing the forward end broke, rendering it useless. The MAIB therefore recommends the Royal Yachting Association, World Sailing, British Marine and rope manufacturers work together to provide advice on the use and limitations of different rope types.
12 identical 70ft yachts competed with amateur crews in the 2015/16 Clipper race.
The second incident was a crewmember overboard on the leg between Qingdao in China and Seattle on the west coast of the USA in winds of 40-60 knots. On returning to the deck, after summoning additional help from off watch crew to hand the yankee jib, Sarah Young omitted to clip her harness to the boat. A wave washed over the vessel, sweeping her down to the lee rail. Before she could recover, and before fellow crewmembers were able to help, a second wave swept her through the guardrails and into the sea.
She was wearing a personal AIS beacon, which enabled the crew to determine her position accurately. However, by the time the sail had been doused and the boat had recovered her, she was no longer breathing. She was found without the sprayhood of her lifejacket having been deployed. As well as a poignant reminder about the importance of harness discipline, especially when going out on deck from below, the MAIB recommended lacing between the deck and lower guardrails to help restrain crew.
In addition, the MAIB identified that both accidents might have been avoided though greater levels of supervision. It has therefore recommended that a seconded paid seafarer, in addition to the skipper, is employed on each boat.
Clipper Race Founder and Chairman, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, welcomed the report, commenting: “The MAIB has an important role in ensuring that the valuable learnings from accidents are shared with the industry to help improve safety. These two fatalities, resulting from two very different incidents, were the first in our long history and are tragic, especially as they were caused primarily through momentary lapses in applying basic safety training.
“The report acknowledges that we have been proactive to mitigate the risks concerned even further… We will continue our long established collaboration with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the MAIB, to develop, test and improve safety standards, devices, methods and procedures, not only for the benefit of Clipper Race crew but also to pass on any lessons learned, during the toughest around-the-world race that is available to amateur crew, to the sailing community at large.”