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Stanchions? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Stanchions
First Aid

Stanchions? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Stanchions

Our departure from St Helena marked several transitions. We left behind a crew member, the remaining crew was far more familiar and comfortable with Wild Rumpus, and the temperature gradually transitioned from chilly to biting-into-a-freshly-microwaved-hot-pocket, noon-on-a-sunny-day-inside-a-roadside-porta-potty HOT.

Oh, and one of the crew decided we had too many damned stanchions.

The trip from St. Helena to Fernando de Noronha, about 1800 miles, was largely sedate. The sea was calm, with mild though sometimes large swells and winds held out despite our approach to the equator — an area known for the doldrums.

Watch Schedule

Although we were down a person, we were all now familiar and comfortable with Wild Rumpus. As a result, the watch schedule was altered a bit. We switched to single-person watches during the day. At night, we were back to two-person watches, but the crew was now free to split those watches so that one could take the helm for half and then nap nearby though they remained dressed with their PFD at arm’s length.

We continued the galley slave model for our watch schedule. The person listed at the top of the column for each day is responsible for all meals but is otherwise off the schedule. I like this model with enough crew and a long passage. For some, the day of galley duty is a day off, and for others, it is the more stressful part of the trip. Either way, it shares the responsibility and ensures that whoever cooks cleans their mess.

Also, if we left the galley only to those who wanted to cook, then Dinna would forever be fattening us up by making . . .

fresh cookies

fresh naan

And cinnamon rolls from scratch (thank you for the recipe Lisa Alspach!!!).

Daily Walkabout

All crew checked bilges and watched for chafe. Nevertheless, somewhat compulsively, I walked the entire deck every day, at least once, regardless of weather or sea conditions. I was looking for stanchions giving way, loosening of the lines holding the jerry cans, and anything else I could see. Overall, the cumulative familiarity, I hoped, with everything would alert me when something changed or suddenly looked off. When the weather permitted, I went up to the coach roof and looked around a bit -though once away from the mast, it felt precarious.

Eventually, I became considerably more comfortable on the coach roof, which was good for setting the preventer and fixing the topping lift shackle, which had come loose because it wasn’t locked down (seized) properly. Underway, almost all of my time on the coach roof involved tethering to the traveler sheet, followed by a lot of undignified scooting like a dog with a bit of tinsel hanging from its tailpipe.

Personal Safety

Although we relaxed considerably by this stage, personal safety remained our priority. We all kept our PFD on or next to us at the helm and on any time we left the safe confines of the helm or cockpit. We continued to use jacklines and notify the helms person if we left the cockpit. I didn’t do anything in particular to make this happen; it was just the culture on the boat.

Great Stanchion Removal Project

My initial inclination was to make this a bit funny and tease the crew member involved. But, after some consideration, this is a serious safety issue, and since nobody got hurt, a great learning moment.

Wild Rumpus has electric winches. They are large, strong, and their convenience is alluring. The temptation is to use the electric winches for everything, normalizing their use and making them seem safe. This leads to complacency. And complacency is dangerous.

In our case, a crew member was sitting at the helm while another crew member and I were on the bow. We asked for one of two guy lines to be pulled in. Unfortunately, both lines ran to clutches very near the winches and were easily confused. The person at the helm put the incorrect guy line on the winch and pressed the button. The winch did its job and started pulling. Unfortunately, the line it pulled was not being used, was not under tension, and was tied off to a stanchion on the starboard side where it could not be seen from the helm.

If you ever wondered whether a 1.5″ thick stainless steel stanchion or an electric winch would win in a fight, wonder no more! The winch wins without even a change in its sound. No fuss. No straining. Just bye, bye stanchion. The stanchion was bent in half and broken before the crew member took her toe off the button. It is worth noting that the crew member got no feedback from the winch- it wasn’t straining. And, unlike a manual winch, she didn’t have to grind harder on the winch handle.

Breaking a stanchion sucks. Thankfully, the thing being torqued by the electric winch wasn’t an arm caught in a line, or a finger tangled in the wraps on the winch.

The take-aways we came up with on Wild Rumpus almost immediately after the stanchion event were :

  • never use the electric winch until you pulled the line by hand or otherwise confirmed it is the correct one
  • always ensure that the “safe” button is engaged (turning off the electric winches) when the winch is not actively in use
  • use the electric winch for the macro jobs and the winch handle for the micro jobs (lifting the main 95% electric, 5% by hand)
  • listen to the winch, the lines, the sails, and the boat.

Only one of those takeaways — the first– would have prevented this particular damage, but in combination, they will avoid most possible misuse of the electric winches.

Stay Tuned

Next post, we land at Fernando de Noronha, enjoy the beautiful island while enduring the extreme heat, and lose yet another crew member.

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