Rich and Cat Ian-Frese recently returned from an 11,000-nautical mile northeast Pacific Ocean loop aboard their Tayana 37 cutter Anna. Based in Seattle, they found Anna eight years ago in the San Francisco Bay area. They have spent those years refitting Anna, from stem to stern, with open-ocean voyaging in mind. Each year, after completing some significant refit project on Anna, they sail the boat on a two-month shakedown, either making their way to British Columbia’s remote west coast, or circling Vancouver Island, or working their way across Hecate Strait and through the Queen Charlotte Islands.
Rich Ian-Frese has a background in research engineering and computing. He worked on research-project grants from the National Science Foundation, NASA and Battelle that explored emerging areas of technology. He seems to enjoy technical problem solving and Anna insures that he always has a technical problem that needs solving. Cat Ian-Frese has taught primary school for the last 18 years and currently teaches kindergarten. When she recently took her one-year sabbatical to go sailing around the northeast Pacific, she made the commitment to her school board to teach the kids in her school district remotely, by posting updates to her educational blog (www.ian-frese.blogspot.com
This summer they plan to take Anna north, via the inside passage, to southeast Alaska. After spending some time around the glaciers and ice fields, they plan to return south to Seattle, via the outside passage.
OV: How do you approach the subject of safety? Has your experience of sailing offshore influenced your thinking on safety?
R&CIF: Safety at sea is complex and multifaceted; many notions of safety coexist. We’ve heard of people backing up their paper charts with electronic charts in the event that the paper charts get wet and turn to pulp — just the opposite of backing up your electronic charts with paper charts in the event of water damage or electrical surge to the computer. Safety is a relative term dependent upon circumstance and point of view.
In our way of thinking, safety is one of the natural extensions of keeping things simple, uncomplicated and using basic common logic when we find ourselves under difficult conditions. Less is more. For example, before rough ocean conditions kick in, we try to respond by reducing sail — setting our bright orange storm trysail and hanked-on storm staysail. We get onto a favorable angle to the wind and waves and then engage and tweak our Monitor self-steering device. This routine generally allows us to keep the boat under control and moving along at a safe pace when seas get big and difficult. We do not mind going out of our way adding extra miles if it makes the ride more comfortable. Keeping off the decks in rough weather and remaining highly visible are two simple, low-tech and practical ways to reduce your risks — in other words, increase your safety.
Additionally, we swapped out our hanked-on headsail for a reliable roller-furled headsail so that either one of us could safely and effectively shorten sail, or let it out incrementally, from the cockpit as conditions changed, thereby saving a trip to the bow when waves are washing across the decks.
With a self-steering device engaged and tracking well, we can concentrate on tasks other than driving the boat. This makes it possible for the most part to stay out of the way of oncoming waves spraying across the cockpit, and inevitably down the insides of our foul weather gear. The ability to keep warm and dry certainly increase your comfort level, and in turn your ability to stay alert — important factors for instance on a five-hour watch during the night in raw weather and poor visibility.
The storm trysail is an underrated sail when winds increase significantly or in the case of isolated squalls. It effectively takes the potential for a wild, out-of-control boom completely out of the equation. More important, the boat will be far more stable, and the crew will be far more relaxed and comfortable — less stress is a good thing for both crew and boat. Less stress on the boat means less risk of rigging failure. You may reach your destination two or three days later with storm sails set in anticipation of heavy weather, but in the big picture, why stress out the crew and boat for 22 days when you could make landfall comfortably in perhaps 26 days on a 3,000-nautical mile passage?
When belowdecks, we make sure that everything from the floorboards to the books and utensils are adequately secured. Taking a big wave athwartships can set objects and crew in motion. If conditions are heavy and you are down below, secure yourself in your lee cloths. It makes sense to attach your lee cloths securely, e.g., we attach our lee cloths to through-bolted pad eyes that can withstand the stress of a crew being violently launched into the lee cloth’s webbing.
When making our final approach to a designated landfall we almost always, with few exceptions, try to time our landfall to occur during daylight hours if the landfall or anchorage is unfamiliar. We will also wait for slack tide if there is the possibility of strong current at the entrance to an anchorage. We will slow the ride down if moving too fast (not usually our problem), or heave to or drift slowly offshore if we arrive a few hours early.
OV: How do you plan for medical emergencies?
R&CIF: We believe that medical emergencies, well offshore and out of range of helicopter evacuation, have a somewhat smaller window of opportunity for successful resolution than similar medical emergencies that may occur on land, e.g., in remote wilderness, and so there is a real need to spend some time in putting together a good first aid kit, and to spend some time learning and practicing some basic lifesaving skills before you find yourself in a remote location at sea. The offshore ocean environment imposes profound limitations with regard to quick access to a hospital for serious injury or illnesses.
A medical emergency, such as a ruptured appendix for instance, would be rather dangerous because of the risk of internal infection if the appendix burst. This is an illness that would require access to an operating room within hours — not days or weeks. Evacuation from a vessel 1,500 nautical miles out at sea would probably consume more time than could be afforded before infection spread out of control. So, there is a potential for extreme medical risk that we must resign ourselves to when choosing to make an ocean crossing that may take a few weeks or more to complete. On the other hand, most voyagers will never require a medical evacuation that involves the immediate attention of an emergency room; a gash, hypothermia or even a nonconcussive blow to the head from a wild boom, while potentially serious, can be treated and stabilized on board, unless medical help close to shore is readily accessible.
We took an intensive, weekend-long, first-aid-at-sea workshop to learn basic emergency first-aid techniques, including CPR and wound and illness management. We also obtained a copy of a good, clearly written book that provides rapidly accessible guidelines for dealing with medical emergencies at sea. We carry a couple of medical reference books aboard. One of them is an illustrated, concise, and quick guide called First Aid at Sea by Dr. Douglas Justins & Dr. Colin Berry. We separated the pages of this book from its binding, laminated each page and then punched three holes along the top edge to accept rings so that the book would be waterproof and could be opened to any page and laid flat for ease of use when in distress. The individual medical topics in this book were already tabbed and color-coded for quick access to a particular topic.
OV: What type of life raft do you have? How often do you have it serviced? What do you include in your abandon ship bag?
R&CIF: Anna is equipped with a Viking RescYou Pro offshore life raft. Viking provides customers with a nice little demo DVD that walks you through their life raft manufacturing plant, quality control process and then step-by-step, the life raft deployment and entry process in a simulated storm. Of course they make it look easy, but you get the picture, and it brings the manual’s instruction set to life.
We wanted to stow our life raft in a soft valise, below decks, with easy access to the companionway. We believe that mounting a life raft container on the deck or rail exposes it to the elements. If seawater enters a container it can be hard on the equipment and may cause premature failure at a time when you really cannot afford equipment failure. The life raft is tested according to international regulations with specific tests that are required at various intervals every three years for the first 15 years after initial purchase, and yearly thereafter.
Our abandon ship bag is waterproof, cylindrical and red. There is no mistaking it for something else. Attached to our ditch bag, by carabineer, is another smaller, waterproof bag which holds a satellite phone with pre-programmed numbers set to search and rescue for the area in which we are sailing (e.g., Coast Guard North Pacific Ocean Command Center). Preset phone numbers may also be set for other emergency or non-emergency contacts. The important thing here is to make the emergency contact with as little effort as possible. We do not typically use our Iridium satellite phone for regular communications so if the battery is fully charged it will be good for at least a month. We routinely charge it about once a month to keep the batteries topped off, or before an ocean crossing.
Inside the abandon bag we have the typical essentials for survival, for a minimum of 10 days duration. This includes for each person: individual, one-ounce packets of fresh water; high-energy bars and freeze-dried food; fleece bottoms and tops; a heat-reflecting blanket; fishing lure and hand line; multi-tool with serrated knife; first aid kit with medications and an extra pair of prescription glasses; sunglasses, zinc ointment and sun hats; signal mirror and flares; EPIRB with GPS; VHF radio; spare batteries for the electronics; LED flashlights or headlamps; and a few other odds and ends.
If we had a few extra minutes before needing to abandon ship we would take our wet suits with us and a spare GPS, and we would bring along our portable watermaker. We installed a Katadyn PowerSurvivor 40E/12V watermaker (www.katadyn.com
) that can easily convert from 12V electrical power to manual operation. In addition to our ten-day emergency rations, we could extend our time further if necessary, with the ability to make fresh water.
We vacuum pack all of the items that we carry in our ditch bag to both conserve space and to protect them from the saltwater environment. We attach a carabineer on a short leash to the handle of the abandon ship bag so that we can clip it onto the life raft’s tether. This way we can enter the life raft first, and then retrieve the abandon bag from the life raft’s tether before cutting the life raft away from the boat.
OV: Do you have an EPIRB? What type of signaling devices do you have for use in your life raft?
Anna carries an ACR AquaFix 406 GPS I/O P-EPIRB (www.acraquafix.com
). The P stands for personal locating beacon (PLB). The difference between a PLB and a non-PLB EPRIB is size, battery longevity, strobe light and auto-deployment on impact with water. The PLB is smaller and can be carried in your pocket or stowed in your ditch bag without taking up a lot of space. The lithium battery pack life on the ACR PLB is 24 hours once deployed, however the user can replace the battery pack in the PLB after 24 hours if the battery runs down. Oddly, the manufacturer discourages this sort of thing by voiding the warranty on the unit. But the last thing I would worry about if I were in a life raft would be voiding a manufacturer’s warranty. The recommended replacement of the battery pack, if not deployed, is every five years.
We own the PLB version of the EPIRB with integral GPS. It has more versatility in our opinion and costs less. It transmits the emergency beacon via satellite and provides your GPS coordinates with the same efficiency.
In addition to the EPIRB we carry a signal mirror and flares. The satellite phone and spare VHF radio in our ditch bag are for long-range and short-range communications.
OV: What is your policy on wearing life jackets/harnesses while underway? Do you normally rig jack lines on deck?
R&CIF: Our first priority when underway on the open ocean is to make sure that we stay on the boat and out of the water. The rigidness of our policy for staying on the boat and out of the water depends however, on the severity of the weather, if we have daylight or not and if we are both awake and on deck at the same time. We do take safety on the open ocean seriously but we are not fanatical about wearing PFDs or strapping into jack lines while underway in benign daylight conditions. Nevertheless, when conditions are rough we do stay tethered and take the extra time required to complete the job at hand, inconvenient as it may seem. One hand for the boat and one hand for your self is never a bad idea. After dark, we almost always tether ourselves when on deck or in the cockpit to harness and jack line — and most especially if the seas are rough and confused or in advance of anticipated heavy weather. We use PFDs if conditions become dangerous. At this point we would put on our PFD, strap into harness and jack line and bring our life raft and ditch bag up to the cockpit.
OV: What type of weather information do you use when making an offshore passage? How do you gather the information?
To get a handle on what type of weather is coming our way while at sea, we download weather data to our laptop via HF-SSB radio and Pactor modem. This includes NOAA-interpreted weatherfax transmissions, e.g., 500 mb and surface analysis products (www.weather.noaa.gov/
fax/marine.shtml), as well as GRIB (gridded binary) files that are basically raw computer-generated WX models presented in a relatively low bandwidth, graphical format. With a GRIB, the interpretation of the data is the responsibility of the user — although, in the near future, forecasters at NOAA will evaluate the GRIB WX models prior to their release, which should make guidance more accurate (www.nws.noaa.gov/ndfd
). We use an ICOM M710 HF-radio linked to a SCS PTC-III Pactor modem, that is connected to our laptop, which in turn is loaded with the latest releases for the applications SailMail (www.sailmail.com
), and Winlink. With SailMail or Winlink installed, we can easily download or upload email and weather data files quickly and rather painlessly anywhere at sea. Occasionally, we will seek meteorological weather routing advice from a pro, if we are trying to make a critical decision based on a complex weather system or series of complex weather systems (www.commandersweather.com
OV: Do you attempt to avoid bad weather at all costs? Do you only make passages in favorable conditions?
R&CIF: Once we are well offshore and committed to the passage, we really cannot decide to continue on only in favorable conditions. When we are out there, we have to deal with what we get. It is as simple as that. But that is not the same thing as looking for a weather window to begin a passage or ocean crossing. Before we head out on a long passage or crossing we do a couple things: we check the pilot charts for the area we are sailing in — these charts are presented in graphic format, with averages obtained from data, meteorological and oceanographic, gathered over many years. This data is intended to aid the navigator in selecting the quickest and safest routes. We study the weather patterns for the areas we are concerned with by looking at current weather models for that region beginning a couple weeks before we anticipate leaving. If the weather trend looks favorable with no significant stormy weather predicted, we will leave on our target date as long as we have at least a two- to three-day window of good weather to get away from the coastline. Ideally, we would prefer to see a 15- to 20-knot breeze and seas of 10 feet or less, with sunny days and starry nights. But that only happens for us about ten percent of the time, so we get a bit more flexible and make our way out of the anchorage as long as the breeze is not piping up to near gale force (Force 7 on the Beaufort scale of wind force, or 28 to 33 knots with heaped up seas to match). And even if it is, we will sometimes leave as long as we believe the wind and seas will be following us. Our boat, a Tayana 37 cutter, is comfortable moving downwind in stronger conditions with storm sails set.
What types of safety gear do you plan to purchase and why?
R&CIF: There are two pieces of equipment that we do not presently own, but would buy and install if the cost became reasonable for a small boat. The first piece of equipment that we would install is wide-angle, forward-scanning sonar. The second piece of equipment that we would choose to install is an active radar transponder. We think that both of these pieces of equipment would enhance our safety on ocean passages and when making landfall.