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Three lives in mortal danger

Jan 1, 2003

THREE LIVES WERE IN MORTAL DANGER for a very long day in Decembera day which ended with the loss of a 49-foot yacht, Pilgrim, off the U.S. east coast. Fortunately, the lives were saved. But the boat they abandoned in favor of a Coast Guard helicopter disappeared into the vast ocean and presumably sank. These stories are fairly common, of course. Yachts and ships of all sizes are still lost and sailors still die at sea. Our report on the fate of Pilgrim and its crew in this issue is an account of one of many such incidents. In fact, the crew of another yacht, including a baby, were rescued from a storm-tossed yacht in the Atlantic less than a day before the Pilgrim incident. Most such mishaps go unreported in the general media because there are simply so many of them. We offer the case of Pilgrim, however, as one that may be representative of a serious malady in the world of offshore yachting: Too many people are putting to sea nowadays in vessels that are inherently unsuitable for ocean sailing. Sure, they all bring their life rafts and their flares. And they're properly trussed up with safety harnesses and all types of inflatable gadgetry. Of course, every one has read the latest safety-at-sea manuals and brought along their pine plugs and their plastic medical kits and their EPIRBS. But it's the boats that are a problem. Boats like Pilgrim, which are loaded down with systems for "automatic" sail handling, should stick to coastal sailing. Boats without collision bulkheads are at high risk out on the open sea where the sailing doesn't come to an end at sundown. Boats designed for speed and made of lightweight hull material are best suited for weekend racing around the bay where help is never far away. Boats that cannot heave to in a seaway are dangerous. Boats that cannot hank on storm sails and reef down properly in all conditions are in the high risk category right from the start. Boats that are heavily dependent on electric or hydraulic power for halyards and winches are just asking for trouble. A yacht owner who aspires to ocean voyaging would do well to keep everything aboard his vessel as rugged and simple as possible.