I’ve a deep and abiding interest in why boats sink [for obvious current reasons] and have scoured the internet for the fora and the words of those in the know, who’ve been there, done that.
I don’t mean “because water gets in them”, although that is one of the causes – water over the gunwhale, pooped by a rogue wave etc. I mean I wanted to see the insurance claim stats, the other stats, as to the specific causes and to design them out.
One is the proximity of the cockpit floor to the waterline. A bit of designism here, if you’ll bear with me. In a boat 40 foot or under, you need headroom, say 6’3″. If you have a floor, you need at least 12 inches to a foot and a half. That places the top of your cabin roof at a predesignated distance from the keel.
You can’t do anything about that. Now, the distance above that you place the cockpit floor is the same distance your cockpit roof is above the rest of the boat. You don’t want that more than 18 inches but 18 inches would be enough seeing room, no?
Well, it would but there’s another factor – where you’re standing on the floor in the cabin is not the waterline – actually, it is below the waterline. So, if your floor is one foot below the waterline but your keel is 2’3″, then that discrepancy must be added to the height of the cockpit hard top.
And that makes the cockpit top ridiculously high in relation to the rest of the boat.
So, designers, have tended to lower the cockpit floor to within inches of the water line and put in stopcocks and venturis – they couldn’t have scuppers because the water would wash in. That’s, of course, if you want your skipper to have the same headroom as elsewhere. Perhaps you don’t – perhaps he has to sit in the cockpit – it would solve the cockpit floor problem.
You might be inclined to call this a nicety of design but designers would beg to disagree – in an under 40′ boat, it’s very much a matter of life and death and all manner of tricks have to be used in the name of beauty and graceful lines – you see why a boat is female.
And that is why so many boats sink. Not the only reason, of course not – there are many others:
# engine related – fire, corrosion, bilge fills and pump doesn’t cope
# electrical system and impedances plus corrosion
# poor design – inadequate shell material, built badly, plastic thru-hulls, toilet backwashing
# rogue wave, being pooped [which is why I have a cockpit hardtop and aft of the cockpit]
# poor design again – too easy for water to come in the cockpit and go into the salon
# monohulls having only one space below or at most – two, while multihulls have around 6 separate spaces
# underwater hazards, e.g. shipping containers which fell off just below the surface, the whale, the rogue wave, falling off a big wave and splitting
# inadequate general maintenance
… to name a few. That last one strikes the fear into me – not a lot I can do about that except for seamanship and communication gear. If that one’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. Yet there are measures one can take and I’m with the boat Safety people here – tell me to jump and I ask how high. Tell me what I need to put in there.
Look, scenario – I’m at sea, with big grey, angry waves rising and falling and blotting out the horizon, no land for hundreds of miles, I know I have only a half inch cladding, albeit strengthened, but I know I’ve taken all recommended measures. Time to stop worrying – the worrying should have been in the design phase. There’s a reinforced keel and two skegs to deal with leviathans from below.
Yet I saw a clip of a Colin Archer and it freaked me. It’s a case of the more you know, the more you realize what can happen.
In this clip, the Colin Archer – one of the greatest sailing vessel types, designed and built around the North Sea in all its treachery, came off the wave and down into the hollow, with waves all about it. Being super-heavy, it went down into that hollow like a stone. They say it’s a wonderful boat as, being so heavy, it is hardly affected by waves and wind and the Archer has a magnificent reputation for seaworthiness and yet, and yet …
A cat would have ridden through the hollow and up the other side, then flipped. The Archer was down there a long time. It only needs a couple of waves from a slightly different direction and it’s swamped. Even with all hatches closed, water can force itself in – sometimes 8-10 gallons a minute. I mean, we’re talking bloody big waves, weighing tons, crashing down here. Half inch cladding? The Archer has about two inches.
The bottom line is that these things do go down all the time, including the Colin Archers. It’s a feature of monohulls, which is why the RYA is so maniacal about safety and so they damn well should be.
So I eliminate the engine altogether but outboards have issues too. I eliminate bilge pumps, thru-hulls [the loo is a porta-potty or two], I eliminate ship to shore power and only use the generator and batteries, the batteries are 2 x 90Ah, all that’s coming off them is nav lights and interior lights, the electricals are in their own compartment with ventilation.
There are three separate living/working compartments, the outboard and fuel are separated from the main hull by a firewall, so that if the fire is put out quickly enough, only the stern is lost. The bulkheads under the cockpit are like crumple zones in cars. Even if the entire end of the boat is burnt away, the front two thirds are independent.
One can only do so much.
I see so many times, skippers saying it is common sense and sailing for the conditions rather than bending the conditions to us. Amen. I hugely respect the elements and shall try to ride them only. If they say, “Not today,” then it’s not today.
If you think this post is thinking on the run, it is. Just a bit of free thought regurgitated onto “paper”.