James Stevens answers your Questions of Seamanship. This issue - Mike and his crew are unable to use the sails and no battery power. Is it time to use the EPIRB?


Mike and his crew of five have been sailing overnight from Milford Haven towards Kinsale on the south coast 
of Ireland.

The intention
is to enter the Regatta with Mike’s J/111,
a fast yacht well suited for racing, 11m long with a draught of 2.2m.

The crew is keen
 and experienced though quite tired after 
the 120-mile trip.

Mike, trusting his crew as he rested, has failed to notice the lights dimming as the batteries try to cope with plotters and other instruments, along with bunk lights and no real attempt to conserve power.

They are off Kinsale, broad reaching on port tack in 20 knots of wind from the SSE. It’s low water and the tidal stream is weak at sea outside the harbour. It’s coming up to the time to gybe on to starboard and sail in.

In the dawn light, one of the crew notices that 
the starboard cap shroud 
is parting from the mast.

A gybe would almost certainly bring 
the mast down.

Mike immediately drops the sails and secures the main and spinnaker halyards at deck level on the starboard side to support the mast. It seems reasonably secure but probably wouldn’t support even 
a storm jib.

Time to start the engine. He 
turns the key; nothing happens. There’s no battery power. Somehow, the engine battery is as flat as the domestic batteries.

Suddenly, a simple trip has turned into a tricky one.

The VHF isn’t working and his mobile phone has no signal. The 
crew thinks it’s 
time to use the EPIRB. Is it?


They are not in grave and imminent danger, so the EPIRB can wait.

While they have been sorting out the jury shroud, the yacht will have carried on sailing under bare poles.

James Stevens

James Stevens, author of the Yachtmaster Handbook, spent 10 of his 23 years at the RYA as Training Manager and Yachtmaster Chief Examiner

A light, fast yacht is surprisingly manoeuvrable with just the windage on the mast.

Obviously it will only sail downwind 
but it is possible to steer on a broad reach, certainly well enough to enter Kinsale with the tide and get to within striking distance
 of the marina where they can anchor and phone or signal for help. Progress will be quite slow but not unsafe.

Anchoring outside the harbour is a very uncomfortable option and continuing to sail somewhere else on port tack with a parting starboard shroud is asking for trouble.

For the time being, this is not a Mayday situation, but Mike should be prepared just in case.