GSSR#2 – Final Preperations for the Big Trip

 

Greetings all!

In just three weeks the Great Siberian Sushi Run starts, and final preparations are underway. 

We are on the home stretch getting Sans Souci ready. When I spoke with the team on the boat yesterday, they were taking off all the protective cardboard that had been taped around the interior of the boat. The headliners have been put back up, and the boat is starting to once again “look like a boat.”

Whereas a few weeks ago, the work list had tasks like “Swap the generator” or “Install a dive compressor”, tasks now are more in the finishing details category. For example, I’ve been working on the getting the television and internet working. We swapped to Dish Network, from DirecTV, because we believe the odds are greater we’ll get reception in the extreme north. Will it work? I have no idea. Also, we swapped how I get internet on the boat. Once again, there is no guarantee. I spoke with KVH about whether or not my expensive new satellite internet system would get internet in the Bering Sea, and they said “We think so, but really have no idea. We’re looking forward to you telling us.”

Next Wednesday and Thursday I’ll be doing a two-day final checkout run on the boat. My goal is to stress every system. We’ll run over 150 miles, and I’m busily making check-lists of everything I want to do. Any problems I can identified now can be fixed prior to departure. I’m also curious to see whether or not our effort to re-pitch the props actually gave me any extra fuel efficiency. If the water is relatively smooth, and current isn’t an issue, I’ll run at a wide range of speeds, tracking engine load and fuel burn. I also want to look system by system at what spare parts I have on board, and try to identify anything that is missing. It will be a BUSY couple of days.

After the checkout run, we’ll have just two weeks to do final tweaking, and then that will be that. We’ll be headed north.

Meanwhile, it’s a cold winter in Alaska…

As I type this, I’m sunburned from a hard day of golf in Cabo San Lucas, and Alaska seems a million miles away. I’m looking out the window at dozens of boats, calmly anchored. A 40’ sport fisher just passed by pulling two spring-break kids on boogie boards.

It’s hard to comprehend where we’re going.

To help refocus me on reality, Bill Harrington, an Alaskan fisherman going along with us on the Bering Sea portion of the run, just sent this picture of the view looking out his front door (in Kodiak Alaska):


   

Bill has been trying to get out fishing for a week, but the weather has been ugly this year. This report shows what he is looking at in the Gulf of Alaska:

…GALE WARNING TODAY…

  .TODAY…SW WIND 35 KT. SEAS 30 FT. 

.TONIGHT…W WIND 30 KT. SEAS 28 FT. 

.FRI…SW WIND 30 KT. SEAS 22 FT. SNOW SHOWERS. 

.FRI NIGHT…SW WIND 25 KT. SEAS 18 FT. 

.SAT…SW WIND 35 KT. SEAS 12 FT. 

.SUN…S WIND 45 KT. SEAS 26 FT. 

.MON…W WIND 45 KT. SEAS 29 FT.   


“…Hi Ken. I can't believe this weather. Non stop gales forever. We're heading out, and it is not looking good. We may have to go anyway if we can play it right with fair wind out and back. Due east out, NW back to Homer. So we need westerlies on the way out, southerlies on the way in. Once on the grounds it can be fished uncomfortably but it's the traveling that makes the difference. I'll let you know what's up when I get it figured. Hope all's well in the sunny south. Best regards. Bill  …” 

Thirty foot seas! Forty-five knot winds! And, this is in the Gulf of Alaska, well south of where we’re heading in the Bering Sea. There are days I ask myself “What the heck am I thinking to be doing this????”

That said, we don’t leave for a couple more weeks, and it will take time to get north. The weather gods are working hard now, and will hopefully exhaust themselves before we get that far north.

Of course, it does have me thinking about safety… 

I ordered Roberta and I survival suits yesterday. We already have suits on the boat, but Roberta’s petite, and I’m “big”. I think I might fit into one of the suits we already own, but I’d hate to be wrong, and I was worried that Roberta’s might be so large on her that she could swim laps inside it. With a bit of googling, I found a supplier that makes small, and oversized suits, and ordered new ones for Roberta and I: http://www.stearnssafety.com/dyn_prod.php?p=STRI590&k=80887

I also decided that I needed to get serious about medical supplies for the boat, and contacted a pharmacy about medical kits. Here’s an email I sent to the other two GSSR captains:


 Braun and Steven: 

 I just spoke with Mike, at: 

 Lafferty's Pharmacy
(206) 783-5133
5312 17th Ave NW
Seattle 98107 

 

 Lafferty’s provides the medical kits and drugs for much of Seattle’s fishing fleets. 

 As Captains, with our licenses, we can buy and carry prescription drugs, as long as we keep them locked up until an emergency. Coincidentally, Lafferty’s (Mike) put together the medical kits and recommendations for the Nordhavn Atlantic Rally in 2004! 

 I asked Mike if he had a list a list of what we want, or if I should speak with my Doctor, and he said “come see me”; that he has a great list, and can take care of us. 

 Specifically, I’m looking for things related to trauma, allergic reactions, food poisoning, diarrhea (and, the opposite), dehydration, extreme seasickness, etc. 

 My thinking is that we need three minor medical kits (just the normal band-aids and stuff) plus one SUPER-kit, that the three boats share access to. That said, since we may fragment after Japan, there could be an argument for three complete kits. When we are together next week we can discuss this. My guess is that prescription drugs have a shelf-life and anything bought now can’t be relied on after Japan anyhow. 

 So… I tentatively set that we’d drop by to talk with Mike about what our options are. I’m happy to go alone, or with you guys. 

 All thoughts appreciated. 

 -Ken Williams 


One very clear thing about this trip is that we need to be self sufficient. If we get into trouble, our best chance at getting help fast, is to help ourselves.

Here's a semi-interesting thing we are doing, which we also did on the Atlantic Crossing:

Everyone is preparing a sealed envelope with their medical history. These envelopes are being locked away, and will remain confidential, but will be available in case someone becomes incapacitated. If someone passes out, or becomes unconscious, we need to know what we’re dealing with.

All of this said, it is unlikely there will be any problems. Everyone is healthy, and has been to sea before. It would be interesting to know the aggregate sea-miles of the crews on the three GSSR boats. I am positive it is a VERY big number. There will certainly be some seasickness, and someone may take a tumble down the stairs in rough seas, but overall, the odds are heavy that our medical kits will arrive safely in Japan – unopened.

On a trip like this, you prepare for the worst, and then work like heck to ensure that it was wasted effort. Here’s just a few of the many reasons why this is going to be a safe trip:

  • The experience and competence of the crews
  • The seaworthiness of the vessels
  • The fact that we are three boats traveling together, and keeping an eye out for each other. We’re tripling the chances that if someone has a mechanical issue that the right tool, or skill, to solve the problem will be available.
  • The fact that we will have onboard, during the trickiest bits, a commercial fisherman, who has been there before, and knows where the well-sheltered anchorages are.
  • That we are going in the best possible month. We’re not expecting to see flat calm seas, and don’t feel a strong  need to bring suntan lotion, but we’re also not expecting the kind of crazy weather that fisherman regularly experience in the Bering Sea. July is not January.
  • We have excellent weather routers, and a schedule that provides plenty of time for hiding when the going gets tough. We’ll be using Bob, at Ocean Marine Nav, who all of us have used in the past, as well as having direct contact with the weather team at NOAA.

So, overall, I guess the message is that we are taking safety very seriously, and trying to leave no stone unturned if it helps lock in a safe trip.


Thank you!

Ken Williams
Nordhavn 68, Sans Souci
http://www.kensblog.com/


PS: I just discovered a new website devoted to Passagemaking: http://www.oceanlines.biz/. The site has a lot of interesting articles, including one about the GSSR: http://oceanlines.biz/2009/03/great-siberian-sushi-run-prepares-to-weigh-anchor/


 

12 Responses

  1. Jerry:

    Seabird has a blog – http://www.seabirdlrc.com (http://www.seabirdlrc.com) . Steven only posts to it randomly. Grey Pearl usually writes a great blog update, but only sends it to friends/family. I think Tina writes it.

    I’m going to lobby both to write more often, and offer to help them get their blogs out. As I type this I’m hours from boarding a flight to Seattle. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll all be hanging out daily, whereas over the last six months we haven’t seen each other. I’ll be able to ask what they are thinking and see how I can help.

    -Ken W

  2. Sam:

    Check out the splints in this article:

    http://www.madmariner.com/e (http://www.madmariner.com/equipment/safety/story/MARINE_MEDICINE_QUICKCLOT_GAUZE_SAM_SPLINT_022309_ES)

    My hope is that Lafferty’s carries them. They must be good, as they are named after you!

    As to going outside…

    I have no jack lines (is that what they are called?), such as you would see on a sailboat. The bridge on Sans Souci is surrounded by a very tall portugese bridge (approx. four feet tall). Falling overboard would require an effort, except in heavy seas. And, in heavy seas, no one is allowed outside except in an emergency.

    If we do get into a situation where someone must be on the bow, or somewhere exposed, in rough seas, we will be watching that person closely, and will work out some sort of a lifeline system.

    -Ken W

  3. If I were you I’d make extra sure that you have splints/braces in case someone breaks or twists something badly.

    Also, what kind of harness/tether system do you have if you have to go out on deck in bad weather/big seas?

  4. Alasdair:

    Interesting point. How about this:

    In addition to the envelopes, I’ll ask all aboard if there are any allergies, physical limitations, or other issues that they believe I might want to know. I don’t want to know anyone’s private health issues, to the extent I don’t need to. As you said, this may be a case where safety may dictate disclosure, but I’m thinking I’d rather avoid knowing anything that I don’t need to.

    You are, of course, right. Passengers are not always the best persons to decide what is, or isn’t, important. That said, I’m still leaning towards executing the original plan, with the added step of a verbal encouragement that anything possibly important (such as an allergy or weak heart), be disclosed immediately.

    -Ken W

  5. Hi Ken & Crew,

    A wee update…

    As Master of your Vessel you are duty bound to “Know” of any Ailments, Allergies etc that your Crew or Visitors may have.

    Whilst I admire your “not willing to know until there’s an emergency” – this is totally unacceptable for an undertaking that involves a vessel being more than 60 miles from shore.

    You are undertaking a crossing of the Bering Sea, not the Atlantic in the company of near rescue. If weather conditions are anything less than 40ft swells you may have to administer First Aid in heavy seas, there is no way that even an experienced Nordhavn skipper could be expected to rush down to a ‘safe’, obtain the relevant details and then deal with the patient.

    Know your Crew and make sure that your Crew know you, health wise.

    Stay Safe.

  6. this may have already been discussed but where are the boats officially leaving from on the GSSR? is it the marina in seattle where the webcams are located so people can view it? jon

  7. Chuck: Sorry, I missed your question about survival suits. Yes. I believe we have eight suits on the boat now, and I’ve just purchased two more. We’ll never have more than five people on the boat, so I can actually divide the suits to a couple locations, which could come in handy, in the wrong situation. – Ken W

  8. Chuck:

    A great question.. and, one I don’t have a good answer for.

    This topic was discussed amongst the GSSR captains, both from the perspective of protecting ourselves against claims from each other, and from the perspective of protecting ourselves against lawsuits from guests and crew.

    You may have noticed that there have not been subsequent Nordhavn rallies, despite the fact that it was one of the most successful PR events ever for a boat company. I think that as the rally grinded on, Nordhavn’s management realized what an immense business risk they were taking. Had a boat sunk, litigation would have been inevitable. We have been careful to avoid the word rally with respect to the GSSR. There is no rally organizer, or rally structure. We are simply a group of boats heading the same direction, who are traveling together, to reduce risk. That said, when things go wrong, lawyers are quick to file litigation.

    The three boats on the GSSR have agreed to indemnify each other, although we’ve been sloppy about writing that down. And, to be honest, it isn’t clear that it would have meaning. One of the basic concepts of the American legal system, as I understand it, is that you cannot disavow liability for negligence. In other words, I can ask you to sign releases all day, but then once you come on my boat, if I do not exercise common sense in keeping you safe, then I am negligent, and you can sue me. (I’m not a lawyer, so all the lawyers out there, please correct me if I have this wrong). I assure you that if anything goes seriously wrong, and there is litigation, release forms may help, but they will not absolve the ship’s captains of litigation risk.

    As to asking our crew to sign releases… We all agreed that this was not possible. Perhaps if we were hiring true professional crew, but to my knowledge, everyone, on every boat, is a friend. Money may change hands, but I would say the relationships on the boats are much different than with standard hired crew. I can’t really walk up to my crew and say: “I might screw up and get us all killed, but I’d really like you to sign this piece of paper saying that you’ll forgive me for it.” Actually, I guess I could, but it would be really tacky, and probably ineffective down the road were there legal action.

    My hope is that if something does go wrong, the judge will look at all the things we are doing to make this a safe trip, and agree that we are doing everything reasonably possible. I guess I have an irrational faith in the American legal system, and perhaps a misguided belief that as long as I exercise reasonable care, I will be fine. Perhaps I am wrong, and the sharks in business suits, have sharper teeth than those in the ocean. I hope not.

    100% safety is not possible. Everything that is done involves some degree of risk, and taking a boat across the Bering Sea is no exception. Anyone stepping onto any of these boats knows what they are getting into. I’ll revisit the issue of “release of liability” forms with my co-captains, but I suspect it will not happen.

    -Ken W

  9. Ken: I assume ALL personnel will have survival suits? Also, I am curious what you do for legal liability with crew, paid or unpaid, to cover yourself in case of injury/death? I imnagine with Jeff you have a contract spelling these things out, but what about others who do not work for Jeff? Do you use a written contract? If so, where or how was this produced?

  10. Richard: Great point. On the Atlantic crossing we needed to pass some medical supplies between boats, and it turned out to be much more complicated than expected. It would be very difficult in rough seas.

    And.. as it turns out, the medical supplies will cost less than expected. I asked Mike what he thought the worst case cost could be if we really loaded up. He said “under $1,000”. I pushed him on this, to make sure that he understand we wanted the most complete kit possible, and he said that what he was talking about was VERY complete.

    At that cost, it is easier for each of us to have our own kit.

    -Ken W

  11. Ken – on your consideration of the three boats sharing the major medical/trauma kit…do give some thought to the possibility that when the need for that kit arises on one boat, conditions may not be conducive to retrieving it from another boat.

    Hopefully no one will need the kit at all but if someone does, a considerable delay in its availability (or its total unavailability due to conditions) would justify duplicating it on each boat.

    Just my 2 cents.

    Richard.

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