Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Clipper Round-the-World Race and the Failed Tether

Some of you are likely aware of the Clipper Race, where amateur sailors ranging from considerably experienced to land lubber pay for a slot on a race boat. There are two paid crew for 18 guests, so hand holding is limited. This is quite different from either the pure amateur or pure professional models, where the crew must earn a place on the boat.

During the last race, a 60-year old retired lawyer fell off the bow and drowned. He was tethered, but the carabiner on the tether failed. Forensic testing of identical clips confirm that because of the way the tether was pulled, instead of failing at over 4000 pounds as expected, it failed at about 300 pounds, a force easily generated in a modest stumble.

That is a staggeringly low failure strength. How could that happen? Unfortunately, if I told the full story, my editor would choke me, so I will just have to refer you to Practical Sailor. We've been deeply involved in investigation. There is an interesting post on Facebook right now (link below) and the full story will be out in a few weeks.

Practical Sailor Clipper Up-Date, Facebook

I will share this, however. My tethers don't look like that. I have a few spare hooks left over from testing but they won't be going on the boat. In fact, if you showed any rock climber this sharp-edged monstrosity and asked him to trust his life to it, he would tell you to get stuffed and pitch it deep in the woods. Honestly, it looks like a toy carabiner to me. The metal is too thin, the edges are sharp enough to cut rope and even steel climbing slings, the internal lock can jam on rope and webbing, and the nose snags everything in sight.

I use something a bit different. The carabiners are from rock climbing and via ferrata. They are better proven, more thoroughly tested, and subject to a tougher standard. The lanyard is 8 mm climbing rope and absorbs impact, keep the force on my chest comfortably low. I'm hoping the standards for marine tethers and carabiners can be changed to be more like these.

I'm thinking that the sailor might still be here. But make no mistake, off-shore sailing is dangerous, and if you fall over the rail, the ocean can beat you to death in short order. Keep your tethers short.

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