Offshore Safety interviewMar 25, 2016
A rebuilt boat leads to a circumnavigation
The Knape’s ketch Maraki in the Bahamas.
John and Lucy Knape
John and Lucy Knape voyage aboard their Dufour 44 ketch Maraki. John grew up on a small lake in Michigan to a sailing family. His father built him his first boat, an Optimist pram, at the age of 5. Scows are part of the inland lake culture in this region and soon he was crew for his father on C and then E scows. John has an industrial engineering degree and MBA from University of Michigan. He worked in production engineering and fabrication, where he learned his specialty of problem-solving/troubleshooting.
Lucy comes from a dairy farm family in the Lake Ontario area of New York with a strong love of the outdoors. She earned her BSN from University of Michigan and gained expertise in cardiac care nursing. Soon, sailing became a part of her life together with John. The first boat they sailed and raced was a Hobie 16, but the desire to voyage offshore required a different boat.
A 1978 Irwin 30 fit the budget, so in 1982 they set sail — a sextant for navigation, RDF and VHF, paper charts, and no refrigeration but plenty of enthusiasm. They sailed the Caribbean as far as Venezuela then across to the U.K. and up the Irish Sea to Scotland. Next was Scandinavia as far north as Bergen, Norway, and Europe by Rhine/Rhone rivers and canals to Marseille, France, and then through the Mediterranean to Turkey before running out of money and heading back to the U.S. Virgin Islands to work.
John worked in a boatyard and put his engineering mind and schooling to good use learning many useful boat skills. Lucy went to the local hospital, working as an RN while starting a family that was to include four boys.
In 1989 Hurricane Hugo wrecked many boats and provided them with their current boat, Maraki, a 44-foot DuFour ketch. Two years of overtime work and John had completely repaired and rerigged her, ready to go again. Their children were now 3, 3, 5 and 7 years old — yes, the youngest were twins!
From 1993 to 1998 they did a circumnavigation that included the usual route of the South Pacific, plus New Zealand, the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea, the Mediterranean and Europe, and back through the Caribbean. They sailed to Michigan via the Hudson River, Erie Canal and the Great Lakes to keep Maraki near their home on Lake Michigan. 2013 saw them heading back out to pick up their cruising life without children. They are now in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, and will soon be crossing their eastbound path, having completed a clockwise circumnavigation of the Caribbean. Their next major stop will be Florida, where they intend to remove and replace the original teak deck.
Lucy and John at Isla Mujeres.
Will Van Dorp
OV: Has your experience sailing offshore affected your thinking on safety?
J&LK: Thoughts regarding safety begin with the boat you buy. We bought a boat from a salvage situation that we determined to be what we could afford and be safe in. Maraki was built as an offshore cruising boat to the French specifications of 1A. We then had a family of four young children and a desire to continue sailing with them, including a circumnavigation. So a stable, well-built boat with a working sail plan easily handled by one person was what we bought.
During the course of two years, John rebuilt and evaluated every system from the inside out. He did all his own work, taking the time and care needed, knowing that this boat would be our home for years to come.
Today thoughts about safety are ongoing. The need for regular routine maintenance of all systems occurs with special attention prior to passages.
Starting at the top, John goes up the mast to inspect rigging, fittings and connections. We do this ourselves so we are familiar with the state of affairs. We installed steps on the mast so John walks up in his boson’s chair while I keep the halyard taut as secondary. He ties himself onto the mast while up there as an additional safety line.
Prior to passages, we check fluids in steering, transmission and engine — including scheduled replacement. We keep a logbook of dates, times and engine hours as well as a list for replacements that are needed to ensure we have the necessary supplies no matter where we are.
Our ketch has a roller-furled jib and a hanked-on spare jib. We added an inner forestay for hanked-on staysail or storm sail. The mainsail has two reef points and a mizzen sail. We expect to update our sail plan to include a lazy jack-type system for main and mizzen, and roller-furling staysail for avoiding foredeck work as we age. We use a 1-inch jack line as safety line around the entire boat, plus safety harnesses with inflatable lifejackets.
Our safety plan has evolved over the course of our offshore sailing life. We joined the Seven Seas Cruising Association to be able to read and learn from others. Today there are digital reference materials and we take advantage of these too. We still have books and manuals on engine repair, so hard copies are readily available without a power source.
Maraki at anchor in the San Blas Islands.
John and Lucy Knape
Losing a sail overboard in a rough Gulf Stream crossing on our first offshore passage years ago served as an indicator of what can happen. We discuss contingency plans and “what if” scenarios so that we are thinking the same way when the need to act quickly arises. Maraki always has two anchors on deck: the main anchor, a plow type with 200 feet of 3/8-inch chain, and another on the bow roller in the ready position.
Two more anchors are available in the aft lazarette with rope rode and some chain. In 1989 John rode out Hurricane Hugo on our 35-footer in Culebra partly because of four anchors spread out forward and lots of lines aft to the mangroves. John chose to stay on board to watch for chafe, etc., but Lucy and the two young children, aged 2 and 3-1/2 went to a friend’s home on St. Thomas.
We have four ABC-type fire extinguishers located throughout the boat. We have an automatic fire suppression system mounted in the engine compartment.
Regularly scheduled haulouts are needed for bottom coating but also for inspection. This past year we ground back all through-hull fittings and replaced three that showed signs of aging. We also dropped the rudder to redo the bearings that had developed some play. Next haulout will also include dropping the masts for inspection of wiring, rigging and hardware.
OV: What planning have you done for possible medical emergencies? Did you receive any medical training before you began voyaging?
J&LK: Planning for medical emergencies is part of my career as an RN. I view my nursing training and years of experience as invaluable to being well prepared. We carry a modestly stocked pill inventory of antibiotics, pain meds, burn supplies and sterile supplies. Keeping it up to date is more important than large quantities.
We carry a medical emergency book and drug book, although we use the Internet when we have that capability. We do have a BP cuff, stethoscope and mask for rescue breathing because they are the basic tools of my trade.
The Knape family in Tobago.
John and Lucy Knape
Last year we were called upon to administer emergency medical assistance to a fellow 37-year-old boater who collapsed on his boat. We administered emergency first aid, including CPR. We were many miles from any medical help and although the outcome was not what we hoped for, I feel that we did all we could for him. We did not succeed in reviving him from what the autopsy determined was a heart attack. The lack of immediate defibrillation, oxygen and fast transport to a medical facility unfortunately hampered our best efforts. It was an opportunity to teach others proper technique for CPR, rescue breathing and positioning for an unconscious person and much more.
In our experiences, dental health and care has featured more prominently than medical needs. We have found dental care in unlikely spots such as Tonga, Bonaire and now Mexico. We carry antibiotics specifically for teeth issues.
OV: What type of life raft do you have? How often do you have it serviced?
J&LK: We do not at present have a life raft. We did carry an eight-person Avon life raft in a canister on deck around the world. We had it serviced when we bought it and again four years later. Then we sailed back to Michigan and did not have it serviced again for 14 years.
We made the decision in Fort Lauderdale to get rid of it. We were curious, however, to see how it had survived all these years in its canister. We had a professional life raft company agree to take it and allow us to see it activated. Much to our surprise — and theirs — it inflated properly and appeared intact in excellent condition. The survival accessories were badly corroded and deteriorated except for the wooden paddles, Dacron sea anchor and rubber hand inflator. Quite remarkable, really!
We will buy another life raft of the two- to four-person size prior to going across the Atlantic or Pacific in the future. In place of a life raft, we prepare for our passages with our aluminum sailing/rowing dinghy and rig on deck as a package (oars, mast and sail, life jackets) and our RIB with inflator tied in as well. Although not ideal, it is our last-ditch idea for now.
OV: What do you have in your abandon-ship bag?
J&LK: Our bag is always packed with our 406 EPIRB, flare gun and flares, as well as hand-held flares. We also have a mirror, two reflective blankets, a flashlight and spare batteries in zip-lock bags, fish hooks and line, sea anchor, collapsing cloth bucket, knife, a small first aid kit and plastic bailer. We have a hand-pumped Survivor watermaker that needs replacement when we are able. Ready to add is the waterproof hand-held VHF with a GPS that goes into a charger on passage. I add dried nuts, raisins, candies, etc., in zip-lock bags. The water jugs on deck would be the last addition to the improvised life raft.
Maraki en route to Columbia in the Caribbean Sea.
John and Lucy Knape
OV: Do you have survival suits?
J&LK: We do not have survival suits, nor have we ever had them.
OV: Do you have an AIS unit on board?
J&LK: We do have a Raymarine AIS receiver. We do feel this is a very valuable piece of equipment that affords safety by increasing the info we have at our fingertips when we encounter ships. We also have a 48-mile radar unit, but the advantage of AIS is that the power draw is so minimal compared to radar. If the need to replace the AIS unit arises, we would buy the transceiver instead as that gives a better signal of our position to others. Our mast steps are designed to increase our radar signal.
OV: What types of weather data do you use when making an offshore passage? How do you gather weather information?
J&LK: Prior to departure we use the Internet to download GRIB files and data from NOAA. We have an SSB on which we listen and participate in various “nets” in the region. We have apps, including PassageWeather, Weather4D and a few others. It seems we are always hearing about another great app to try on our phone or iPad.
OV: Do you use a weather routing service?
J&LK: Our number-one weather guy is Chris Parker. We subscribe to his Marine Weather Service. He does an excellent job for us and we listen faithfully every morning.
OV: What types of safety gear do you plan to purchase and why?
J&LK: This is a list of equipment we realistically do intend to upgrade or buy. If money were unlimited, the list would look differently, of course:
1. Upgrade our weather fax and email capability through the SSB. We like to be more self-reliant. Even though we have the weather routing service through Chris, we would like to see more details and increase communication with family when offshore.
2. Add lazy jacks to our mizzen and mainsail to ease/facilitate the deck work. We will look at adding a roller-furling staysail/storm sail on the inner forestay, but we need to see what is available at what cost.
3. Add a headset communication system to facilitate ease of communication between helm and crew. We have not done enough research regarding available devices.