Things get busy in the weeks leading up to a major offshore race, no matter who you are in the crew. In the case of boat captain Ben Galloway and sailing master Jamie Hilton, aboard Dorade, it's a full-court press.
The boat has been hauled out at LMI Boatyard in Portsmouth, R.I., and as I dropped belowdecks with Jamie and Ben on a day dripping with rain, workers were engaged on a deck covered with wood shavings, fitting a revised bow pulpit and modifying the deck hatches to make them more watertight. As a watch captain, I was there to attend our race inspection, observing as inspector Kim Roberts worked his way through dozens of items on the Bermuda Race's five-page checklist.
Some points were easy to cover for this 1929 Sparkman & Stephens yawl. "Emergency tiller?" asked Kim, then looked at the cockpit and realized the boat uses a tiller all the time. "The second one's in the forepeak," said Ben, which he later pointed out.
Other points were trickier and would require follow-up, like satisfying the committee that this boat had been built (and rebuilt) to proper scantlings. "I'll check on how to handle that with my boss," Kim said, after we'd discussed the question for a while.
"Two anchors, ready to use?" Kim asked. Ben produced the primary anchor, then pointed out the fortress anchor, disassembled and stowed. "Needs to be assembled, ready to use," said Kim. A debate ensued: Could we assemble the Fortress and still get it out of the hatch? We decided we might have to bring a different anchor.
We looked at the washboard in the companionway, which Ben had attached to a lanyard so it couldn't wander too far, and Kim prescribed an additional locking mechanism to keep it in place if the boat inverted. Dorade, which is as narrow and deep as they come, isn't a likely candidate to flip, but the rule makes sense, and we discussed whether to drill a hole for a pin or add another lanyard that could be cleated below.
I was glad to listen in on the discussion and spend a bit more time getting to know the boat I'm going to call home from June 15th until we land in Bermuda, 635 miles later. I wasn't surprised by the length of the inspection list, but I was impressed that dozens of volunteers like Kim will board and inspect all 168 boats in the fleet. Dorade was his 11th inspected, so far.
"It's a great list to help anyone who is going offshore think about safety and preparedness," Kim said at one point as Jamie pulled out the emergency running lights. "Now, do you have back-up light bulbs for these lights?"
The inspection booklet, with its five-page list, can be downloaded from the Newport Bermuda Race 2012 website.
Stay tuned for updates from the race course after the June 15 start. In the meantime, you can read about the practice and preparation that has already gone into both boat and crew.
Dorade Log No. 1: Skinny Genes
Dorade Log No. 2: Like Dating Marilyn Monroe
Dorade Log 3: Lessons in Light Air at St. Barth