Technically, the whole race is in contravention of the International Rules for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea, which require every vessel to keep a proper lookout. That’s something a singlehander can’t do, for he or she has to sleep some time or other. So I would imagine that an Admiralty Court would award substantial damages to any boat engaged in fishing that was struck at 20 knots by a sailboat. I hope the sponsors of those racing boats have deep pockets.
Sleep is definitely a problem for the Vendée Globe sailors, especially in the early days of the race, where shipping lanes are congested. Several boats were penalized for transgressing the international rules regarding one-way traffic systems and causing hazards to other shipping, but I would imagine they were there because sleep deprivation had affected their ability to make rational decisions.
With practice, I’m told, you can get sufficient sleep in short stretches. Many singlehanders sleep for 20 minutes at a time, keep watch for 20 minutes, then sleep another 20 minutes, and so on. On a normal cruising yacht, 20 minutes is taken to be roughly amount of time for a vessel appearing on the horizon to reach you, but, of course, if you’re doing 20 knots or more yourself, as the Vendée boats often do, the collision time is greatly shortened.
To state it briefly, lack of sleep on a singlehanded sailboat is dangerous. Recklessly dangerous, possibly, because without sleep you lose efficiency. Your temper becomes frayed and decisions are difficult. All this makes you a danger to others at sea and those who might be sent to rescue you if the worst happens.
I think there ought to be a lot more discussion about the ethics of singlehanding, particularly singlehanded racing. Much as I admire the guts and determination of the Vendée Globe racers, there is something else that needs to be discussed: in the old days, if a singlehander caused a collision, his or her own small, slow-moving craft was likely to come off the worse. So breaking the Rule of the Road was largely condoned. The rule was rarely, if ever, enforced. But nowadays, we have flat-iron-shaped 60-footers moving at lethal speeds under autopilot only and capable of wreaking all kinds of havoc and damage. We need to think about whether this makes sense.
Today’s ThoughtNo one when asleep is good for anything.
TailpieceTwo sweet young things were returning home late after a party when they discovered they’d lost the key to their apartment. They found a ladder, though, and put it alongside an upstairs window that had been left open.
One of them started climbing up the ladder and chirruped: “You know, I suddenly feel like a fireman.”
“Oh for goodness’ sake!” hissed her friend. “Where are we going to find you a fireman at this time of night?”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)