The vessel is a 1939 100’ Camper & Nicholson sloop. It was built in Gosport, England and was reportedly purposely sunk during World War II to prevent it from being damaged. After the war it was raised and put into its designed purpose as a “proper gentlemen’s” yacht, it was raced extensively and it entertained extravagantly.
Its ½” teak planks are bronze bolt fastened onto steel frames and the lines of the vessel are truly classic.
My job was to determine the condition of the basic structural components, as a restoration project had begun a decade prior and had been aborted. My client is an Australian interested in restoring the classic yacht to its previous glory.
The vessel is tall, no ladder or scaffolding structure had been erected and thus I was lifted onto the vessel with a mechanical “cherry picker”. I had a lot to do and requested a “pickup” three hours after I was deposited on the deck.
The vessel is in rough condition as a result of the aborted restoration project and the decade of neglect. As is my custom in situations like this, I carefully proceed as I may encounter hazardous conditions, open hatches, deteriorated soles, corroded supports etc…
As I entered the port V.I.P. cabin, I noted a hatch in the sole which was partially covered by the cabin door. As I swung the cabin door shut, to access the hatch, I noticed there was no knob on the inside of the door. Great!… Brilliant!… Idiot!… Oh crap!…were all thoughts that went through my head as a realized I was locked in a cabin, in the far corners of a boat yard, high up on an old project boat that had been around the boat yard for a decade. It was unlikely I would be able to contact anyone directly if I needed help escaping. I knew the cherry lift operator would return eventually and of course, I had my mobile telephone as a back up plan.
I attempted to open the door using a wooden hanger, bent and clamped around the square stem for the door knob. I couldn’t turn the latch but I was able to push the stem of the handle out of the door, so it was no longer accessible.
Plan two developed quickly as I noted a bilge access hatch which was open. As fate would have it I was unable to lift the hatch that I had closed the door to access. The bilge hatch was small and I did not think I could fit through it. I thought about becoming stuck or lodged in the hatch and decided I would keep my mobile phone at the ready in case my embarrassing predicament was increased by getting stuck trying to escape.
I was amazed at how easily it was to fit through this relatively small hatch and I was quickly (and luckily) able to extricate myself from the predicament.
Of course, this is not the first time, that hatches and hatch covers have presented problems in my career.
An unsecured lazarette hatch once fell and struck the back of my head. The impact from the hatch did nothing but my instinctual flinch caused the front of my head to strike the hatch edge, resulting in ten stitches above my right eye.
I once became trapped in the head of a relatively small express cruiser during a sea trial. The door latch mechanism malfunctioned after I had entered it and though others aboard the vessel were not far from me, they likely mistook my knocking for help as normal percussion testing, which had been ongoing throughout the survey. Eventually they did come and rescue me after I patiently waited on the only available seat.
A few basic safety lessons I have learned regarding hatches, doors and openings in the decks and soles of vessels:
1. Announce that you are removing any deck or sole hatch to everyone around and if possible provide a watch to prevent anyone from falling in the open hole. This is all the more important with a greater number of passengers.
2. When entering a hatch or any enclosed space opening, take precautions to prevent reductions in your options for egress. i.e. make sure the door or hatch stays open. Even though a hinged hatch seems to be securely open, a rocking boat can change the gravitational influence and shut the hatch. Some hatches latch or lock when they are shut.
3. Follow confined space protocol to maintain health and safety, consider possibilities for slippery surfaces, low oxygen levels, sudden change of lighting conditions and whether the benefit of entering that space is worth the risk.
When we enter spaces such as tanks or barge holds, we have the area inspected by a chemist and declared safe for entry. We also maintain a watch while we are in the area, so that assistance can be rendered if/as needed for any unexpected occurrence.