On the subject of safety

Published on July 29th, 2019

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
I grew up as a kid without a cell phone, roaming canyons unsupervised, and riding my bike during those teen years along highways and homeless encampments for summer work. And unlike generations that followed me, I didn’t grow up being told to wear a lifejacket as a youth sailor.

The range of personal flotation devices are far better now, so perhaps poor gear then formed my habits. I don’t know… I just know I didn’t grow up being in fear. Maybe it was ignorance, as later on I faced some snotty weather in the Bermuda Race, SORC, Mexican Races, etc without strapping on a harness or PFD. It just was rare.

I recall thinking about safety gear more once I became a parent and would reach for it sooner. Was 24/7 cable news getting to me? We certainly were regularly reminded about danger. Were we ill-informed then or hypersensitive now? Accidents in the sport were being better reported… maybe a reaction to that?

The habit to evolve our sport has touched all corners. You can’t win big regattas without huge investment in time and money, you can’t run races without training and certification, and you can’t go offshore without hours of education and equipment. While all this is great, it does create barriers. I know my gear bag now is ill-equipped for any big time distance race.

I can accept that my “it depends” approach has unnecessary risks. Certainly boats have gotten faster and more dangerous, and this is a huge factor for how to make these decisions. And definitely if I was sailing with a skipper who required certain standards, I would accept that.

It is an interesting topic which surfaced when the J/125 Hamachi, overall winners of the 2019 Transpac Race, produced a video from their effort, and faced criticism due to the lack of PFDs and harnesses.

My guess is the cameras get put away when the conditions are unsafe, and as co-owner Jason Andrews reported, the crew did wear gear from sunset to sunrise, while on the bow during maneuvers, but it was optional during daylight. While accidents can happen to anyone, this was a well-trained team that know danger from their Pacific Northwest home.

I will give Frederic Laffitte, the team’s strategist, the final word on this topic:

“I am getting tired of these non-stop comments of wearing life jackets, helmets, etc. I am not against it by any means but please let us live our lives the way we want. I have been sailing on all this world’s oceans for 50 years and over 350,000 miles, and I wear my life jacket and my harness when I judge it necessary, and I do not tell others how to live your life.”

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