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STV Leader with RNLI standing-by and Portland Bill Light in the background
Sail training for young persons both youth and adults is an excellent way to teach teamwork learn about the sea and have a lot of fun in doing so.  NAUTICAL LOG fully supports the concept and as regular readers know takes an interest in sail training internationally.  Occasionally there are incidents which should draw the attention of everyone involved in these programmes and cause a serious debrief of the incident.  One has just occurred off the South Coast of England in the English Channel/La Manche which demands such a debrief it involves the STV Leader

Let us first look at what happened quoting (edited by NAUTICAL LOG) from the  "Daily Mail-Mail online":

"Sixteen young sailors  aged between 18 and 25 had to be rescued from a vintage ship after its mast snapped in two in near-gale force winds battered off the South coast near Portland Bill, Dorset.  The 10 metre mast broke off and the boom, sails and rigging went into the choppy 4 metre seas.  The crew being unable to recover the rig called Coastguards for assistance.

The STV Leader was built in 1892 and was a fishing trawler before becoming a sail training vessel (STV).  She was sailing from Dartmouth to Weymouth as part of of a training trip when the weather closed in 1.5 nautical miles from Portland.

The 16 seafarers on board were made up of three (3) crew, two (2) staff members from the youth center and eleven (11) young adults.  The Weymouth RNLI Coxswain stated that "When they arrived the crew had the rig lashed alongside and they were able to take the vessel in tow back to Weymouth Harbour."

Struan Cooper, the Chairman of Trinity Sailing Trust which operates the STV stated that " The crew are very seasoned professionals and were able to lash everything alongside so that it did not cause any more damage.   Everyone on board was wearing foul-weather gear and lifejackets and were inside during the tow to Weymouth Harbour."

Well that is all very nice and people who should keep quiet on these occasions seem to have done so and those authorised to speak made a simple statement.

Now NAUTICAL LOG does not know either the vessel, the people involved or the Trinity Sailing Trust other than a visit to their website.  The only detail we have of the incident is from "Mail-online" however we do have some 60 years of seafaring of which 50 is as a professional (the details are right alongside in the righthand column).  So lets take a look at things:

1.  The STV Leader was on passage from Dartmouth to Weymouth through an area well known for  changeable weather.  It is an area of outstanding weather reports.  Were these not known by the Command?

2.  If the weather reports were known, why did the vessel not head for shelter?

3.  Mr. Cooper describes the crew as "seasoned professionals". The Command decision to remain at sea with two-thirds of the crew young trainees was not that of a "seasoned professional".

4.  Mr. Cooper is rightly very relieved that no crew member was hurt "Not even a scratch just a bit seasick".  Surely there is a higher standard than that in operating these vessels particularly one 120 years old.  This vessel should have been in shelter.

5.  As to "seasoned professionals"  what exactly does THAT mean?  Does Command have a Certificate of Competency as Master under Sail.   What training does Command have in operating a 120 year old sailing vessel in heavy weather with two-thirds of the persons on board trainees.  Has Command and Officers completed a course in Command level decision-making under adverse conditions.

NAUTICAL LOG would suggest a serious debrief and suspension of operations while the Trinity Sailing Trust (TST) is investigated by the United Kingdom Maritime Authorities with particular regard for:

  • Certificates of Competency under Sail of all personnel serving in the STV's.
  • Review of the TST Operating Procedures Manual.
  • TST Passage Planning Procedures, including shelter from weather.
  • Command and Officers adverse conditions and emergencies decision-making ability.
  • Any other points raised in the Investigation of TST.

The risking of human lives in what should be a responsible, learning and fun experience is a most serious affair and requires the closest of investigation and examination.  Unfortunately it reflects on all Sail Training operations and in placing youth on board for this very valuable experience.

It should perhaps be explained that a "serious debrief" is a formal gathering of those involved at TST with outside monitors.  The purpose is not to punish but to find out what happened, the reasoning behind decisions made by Command and others in charge, the results so as to learn from and make necessary changes to operating procedures.  It should be formally written-up and as necessary incorporated in the Operating Procedures Manual and of course followed in the future.

The Maritime Authorities Investigation will follow its own path as proscribed by that Department of Government.

Good Watch.

Once again we ask that you remember your fellow seafarers held captive by pirates both ashore and off the coast of Somalia.


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