Safety, a major concern for the IMOCA class

This week in La Trinité-sur-Mer in Brittany, around fifteen IMOCA skippers had a special safety training course day with theoretical and practical units...

This week in La Trinité-sur-Mer in Brittany, around fifteen IMOCA skippers had a special safety training course day with theoretical and practical units. There was a lot of discussion and feedback, so this compulsory course allowed them to refresh their knowledge and was also an opportunity to tackle important subjects that are too often neglected due to a lack of time to deal with them. We look back at this useful day during which safety was examined in a convivial atmosphere. 

There was a lot of useful discussion around the table and everyone brought along their experience, told stories and offered occasional tips.  No fewer than sixteen IMOCA skippers attended. Some were old hands in the class like Vincent Riou and Samantha Davies, while, others were newcomers like Alexia Barrier, Edouard Golbery, Manu Cousin, the Finnish sailor, Ari Huusela, the German, Anna-Maria Renken… Louis Burton, Stéphane Le Diraison, Alan Roura, Giancarlo Pedote, Fabrice Amedeo, Yannick Bestaven, Paul Meilhat, Romain Attanasio and Boris Herrmann were also present. A top class line-up for this safety training day organised in La Trinité. 

A different way of looking at safety in the IMOCA class 

All ocean racers must attend a World Sailing survival course proposed by the International Sailing Federation. But IMOCA class sailors require more detailed information on their boats and way to do things. That is why a compulsory course dedicated especially to them was set up offering a different way of looking at safety. This rule was proposed and voted for at the IMOCA General Meeting.  

It was the CEPIM (European Marine Incident Prevention Centre) that worked on the schedule for the day. “In the morning, we ran through the theory with various themes being dealt with,” explained Manuel Guedon, instructor at the CEPIM. “IMOCA skippers are business managers. We explained to them the risks they need to think about and the measures they need to adopt. We then talked about rules at sea and what attitude to have when encountering a cargo vessel, oil tanker or trawler…  Then we looked at the means of identification and details about boats using the AIS and radar. We also made the most of all the feedback, in particular looking at the accidents that recently occurred in the Volvo Ocean Race.”

A desire to share ideas

The sailors were invited to talk about all these matters and to make the most of their own experiences, discuss their ideas and when possible present any new systems they may have tested. These discussions were very much appreciated, as Sam Davies tells us. “It is interesting to work in a group with people with a wide range of experiences. Some learnt a lot, while for others like Vincent Riou, who is the most experienced among us, it was a revision exercise. What he has to say is always useful for the newcomers. It is in the spirit of the class with everyone playing trhe game, particularly when we are talking about safety matters.”

We should remember that time is always tight for IMOCA skippers. “We always have thousands of things to do, so it is important to set one day aside to look at safety,” explained Stéphane Le Diraison. “That enables us to go through various situations and look at how to tackle the risks that we may encounter on a boat. We also talked about details, which can make all the difference in terms of planning ahead and being well prepared. I took down some notes with various points to work on later, particularly concerning the use of the radar.”

For those discovering the IMOCA class, looking at how others prepare and seeing which techniques they have been able to develop was very useful. “This day opened up my eyes to things I don’t yet master and I am going to be able to work on all the safety gear on my 60-foot boat,” confirmed Alexia Barrier for example. “We had a special time together. It is great to be able to talk things through together without having to deal with partners and the stress of the start of a race.” Consequently, throughout the day, there was a very friendly atmosphere amongst the sailors, who were pleased to be able to get together and find out more about each other. 

Climbing the mast alone, exercises on diving in a survival suit: getting into real situations

After all the discussion during the morning in the classroom, the sixteen skippers attending spent the afternoon carrying out practical exercises concerned with safety. There were two workshops on the programme, starting with climbing the mast alone. “I have never had to do that out at sea. It’s a bit of a nightmare. situation you don’t want to find yourself in. But you need to prepare for that,” explained Boris Herrmann. By training how to climb the mast, everyone was able to adjust their climbing gear and look at the latest equipment available. When they have to climb up out at sea, they will probably all be pleased to have gone through this full rehearsal in La Trinité-sur-Mer…

The second exercise in the afternoon involved the use of “spare-air,” the portable air bottles for diving, which can be used when the boat capsizes and fills with water. So far, no IMOCA skipper has had to do that and we hope that will continue to be the case. But it is something once again they need to prepare for, just in case… Fitted out in their survival suits, those taking part in the course threw themselves one by one into the water and were able to test the spare air with a professional diver. That brought this safety training day which is compulsory for all of the IMOCA skippers to an end. Another session is scheduled for September for those who were unable to attend this week. Once again, there will be people from a wide range of backgrounds and sharing their experiences is bound to be enriching.