Review: Total Loss – A Collection of First-Hand Accounts of Yacht Losses at Sea

5 Star, Sailing
Amazon Page
Amazon Page

Jack Coote Revised by Paul Gelder

5 Stars Wake Up Call for Anyone Responsible for a Small Vessel and Its Souls

This is a hugely important book that should be in any personal or organizational (e.g. sail training program) library. It is organized into the following parts: weather (and waves), faulty navigation (poor thinking), failure of gear or rigging, failure of ground tackle or mooring lines, collision (think submerged free floating shipping container), fire or explosion, and towing mishaps.

While some of the short stories go back to years before modern electronics, the fact is that modern electronics can fail (and be wrong or not updated even when working). Each vignette ends with a lessons learned summary.

Here is what I pulled from the book:

Bad — really bad — stuff happens even when you have done everything right. Plan for and practice for the worst case. When its catastrophic and not your fault, get over the guilt and move on.

– Weather. Freak weather and freak waves happen. Assume dismasting. Assume loss of steering. Assume capsizing and need to cut access hatch. Assume loss of antennas and installed electronics. Assume broken bilge pumps clogged by tin can labels and such. Now what? Have answers.

– Navigation. When in doubt stand off. Do the azimuths and the chart work. Do not approach at night where there is any doubt. Have someone up the mast (or a webcam?) in hazardous reef areas.

– Rigging/Gear Safety. Stays will snap, double stays are nice, know what’s beneath the surface (“10mm” mounts could be on top of 6mm threads). Have the lifeboard accessible and where it won’t be holed by pieces of mast flailing about. Think about batteries and bilge pumps and portable options. New batteries for all hand-held emergency beacons and radios. Flourescent strom sails. Consider a flourescent deck or at least foredeck.

– Mooring/Ground Tackle. Corral reefs can cut through steel chains. This I did not know. The right amount of weather stress can snap chains and rip cable mounts off the boat.

Surface Radar/Alarm. They are expensive, but there is so much hazardous debris out there (and pirates when anchored) it might be worth thinking about sonar and surface radar, and if in a fleet, at least one boat so equipped. The whales I could understand — free-floating mostly submerged containers now scare me.

Fire Avoidance. Will your fire extinguishers actually work in gale conditions? May be a bridge too far but a useful standard by which to test and buy.

Towing. This is hazardous. I had no idea. Some very useful lessons learned, it is a class by itself, including techniques for using deployed anchor as base for your end of the tow line, trailing a drogue to avoid over-running the tow line, weighting the middle of the tow line, having the two line be long enough for multiple waves. Stuff I never learned.

Damage Control Mind-Set. What will it take? Where are the tools? What is the sequence of events? Was the sailing plan filed on both end? Did you do a PAN PAN when you could?

Grag Bags. Passport, credit cards, car keys, knife, light, personal EPIRB properly registered

Short Trips. No difference — be as ready as if you were crossing the Atlantic.

This is a precious book, most useful, a fine substitute for learning the hard way through mishap and having to abandon ship. Highly recommended.

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