As the old saying goes: fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Pro sailor Sam Goodchild gives his top tips for prepping your boat for an offshore race
Every serious offshore sailor has more than one story to tell about when it all went spectacularly wrong. Sam Goodchild has experienced multiple breakages in the past year, firstly with Spindrift 2, whose mast broke in January 2018 before the giant trimaran had even crossed the start line of her round-the-world record attempt, then more recently in the Route du Rhum in November when his Class 40 Narcos Mexico dismasted, and then again with Spindrift when rudder damage ended their second Jules Verne attempt.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Goodchild’s approach to preparation is about thinking ahead through all the possible scenarios, and doing everything within your power to make sure that such a race ending breakage doesn’t happen.
A lot of this approach depends on your goals and ambitions for the project. If it’s win the race at all costs – death or glory – then you may want to leave a few spares and repair options on the dock to keep the boat as light and as uncluttered as possible. But if finishing the race is a victory in itself, then you need a back-up plan for all eventualities.
1. Do your research
Before stepping on board a boat that’s not familiar, I always try to speak to someone with inside knowledge, someone you know and can trust. What’s the boat like? Is it a production boat where all the problems are well known or is it a prototype?
It’s worth asking the rigger about the history of the mast and the rigging. PBO has a lifespan, for example, so you want to be sure you are operating within the lifespan of the rigging. If the rigging is stainless steel, it’s good to dye test it for any cracks. Also, it’s good to do a thorough rig check for any possible points of chafing, and to make sure the electronics are all in good order. Get up the rig before you leave the dock to make sure everything is secure and safe. This isn’t a job you want to have to do once you’re at sea.
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2. What’s your goal?
I’m looking to understand two things: what’s the condition of the boat and equipment, and what is the ambition for the race? For example, on the Phaedo3 MOD70 campaign we had very few spares because the boat was very 5 well maintained, but also the aim was only to win races, nothing else. It was all about performance and keeping things to a minimum, so we had a very small, specific tool kit of spares.
On the Transat Jacques Vabres we knew we didn’t have a very high chance of winning, and the aim was really to finish, so we had spares for everything, a spare rudder and so on. If your aim is to finish the race, go down the list of what you believe would be the most likely ‘race enders’.
For example if the engine is your only source of power, then what engine spares will you bring? That’s maybe less important if you have some alternative energy source like a hydrogenerator or a solar panel. If you’re sailing short-handed, what is your back-up for the autopilot? Without it you’re unlikely to finish the race. So run through those ‘what if?’ scenarios and plan accordingly.
3. Rings, rope and lashings
With rings, rope cover and lashings you can fix most running rigging problems. Lashing is like the duck tape of running rigging, and a ring can be used to replace a lightweight block. These three things don’t take much space or weight.
If sails are brand new, you probably don’t need too much repair material, but bring some spinnaker and mainsail repair tape in case you snag something. You can use Sikaflex to stick a sail back together with some large pieces of fabric, whatever the sail is made of. And bring one of every kind of spare sheet, or at least enough rope to make up a new one.
4. Heavy forecast? Go heavy on the spares
If it’s a windy race, you don’t mind the boat being heavy. So now you can bring along an extra set of spares, which you might be unlikely to use, but are still useful. They can be good ballast, provided stacking is permitted in your class.
5. Stay dry
The key to going offshore is not getting wet. Once you get wet, you’re never really going to dry out again. It’s easy to think you’ll be warm when doing a race in the tropics like the Caribbean 600, but if you get wet you’ll still get surprisingly cold at night. Don’t let that happen.
I use a Musto MPX dry top, with wrist and neck seals. I also take a spare set of mid-layers and tops. It’s good to have a couple of layers of waterproofness as well, just in case you spring a leak. For cold weather I wear boots with gaiters. In warm weather it’s plastic shoes which don’t absorb water, and you can have some Gore-Tex waterproof socks too if you need the extra warmth.
Skin doesn’t always take kindly to being at sea for days on end, so bring along some talc and some skin repair cream like Cicalfate.