Offshore Safety
Ocean Navigator|Ocean Voyager 2020
Voyaging on the boat they built together

Australian voyagers Mike and Gay Lewis are longtime live-aboards who built their own boat and have sailed extensively, including having passed all of the five Southern Ocean great capes. They started their voyaging career by building their 36.5-foot ferrocement boat Expeditus in their backyard. The building program of nights and weekends took the couple four years and nine months before the boat was launched in December 1977.

From 2005 to 2008, the Lewis’ did a major refit of Expeditus that included a new engine, rigging, cabin top, cockpit, new paint, sails, solar panel and more.

In a series of multiyear stints, they sailed in the North Sea, the North and South Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, including the U.K., Cape Horn, the Falklands, the Canaries, the Caribbean, the Bahamas, the U.S., the Azores, Madeira, Gambia, Brazil, Cape Town, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, Borneo, peninsular Malaysia and Thailand. They are presently in Langkawi, Malaysia.

OV: How do you approach the subject of safety? Has your experience sailing offshore affected your thinking on safety?

M&GL: To us, safety has two major components: keeping your boat off the rocks, and keeping yourself on the boat.

Keeping your boat in its element instead of on the rocks requires many things — planning sheltered anchorages, allowing for wind shifts, squalls or unexpected gales, avoiding rocks and reefs, having adequate ground tackle, having a “let’s get out of here” plan, and much more.

We use a 90-pound fisher-man/Admiralty anchor on our 36-foot yacht, and dragging anchor is an exceptionally rare event for us. Laying down a track on a chartplotter upon entering an anchorage can be a big help in getting out safely, if required, on a dark and stormy night. Having redundancy in electronic charts and devices, and not relying on electronic charts to be accurate or show all details is also critical.

Being able to spring off a dock against a side wind and waves is also an important thing to learn, but it is better to not get pinned there in the first place.

On our offshore voyages, we are often amazed at how quickly a ship can appear from over the horizon, and this is the one thing most constantly on our minds.

At sea, apart from having a strongly built and rigged boat, it is obviously all about ensuring that you never fall overboard. We have lost more than half a dozen yachtie friends who have had this misfortune.

On our home-built yacht, we installed higher-than-normal stanchions (30 inches), through-bolted, with backing plates. The stanchions are closer together than many boats and have double safety lines, although today we would use triple.

Strong jack lines are secured to our stern bollards and staysail deck fitting. Beware of UV damage and aging of webbing strops.

We have short jack lines in the cockpit that are through-bolted with U-bolts and large backing plates to take the load. Our safety harness lanyards have fittings to current standards now, compared to our original gear that we made ourselves in 1977 from seatbelt webbing, stainless-steel ring loops, three-strand rope lanyards, and an eye spliced to a standard carabiner hook!

Situational awareness when on deck is critical, as well as below. The ability to be able to judge how your vessel will pitch or roll in response to a particular wave is important for retaining your balance. Plenty of adequate handholds above and below decks, and the ability to hook onto jackstraps before exiting the hatch are essential.

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