About 32% of Europe’s fish are caught by industrial fishing vessels that rake the sea floor with enormous nets in a process called bottom trawling.
Studies indicate that these nets can suck up to 41% of all invertebrate life from the sea floor and cause grave damage to marine environments such as cold water coral reefs and seagrass beds.
Bottom-trawling is already banned by the EU at depths of more than 800 metres but the European Commission has promised to implement whatever restrictions it deems necessary to further limit the practice, which it called “the most damaging activity to the seabed”.
New trawling curbs could create a supply squeeze with the potential to price many common fish species such as sole, turbot, plaice, halibut and shrimps out of European menus, EBFA says.
“We don’t want to see an industry catering for the rich,” said Ivan López, chair of EBFA, who runs a trawling business in Spain.
“It would not be fair if fish became a luxury product.” Seafood is a “culture and identity” issue in Spain, he added.
Bottom trawling is an indiscriminate fish harvesting method, capturing all in its path and scraping vital marine growth off the seabed.
Others are critical of these arguments.
While trawling restrictions could raise prices for a period, said Joachim Claudet, a senior scientist at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, “ecosystems would recover quite quickly if we stopped trawling, and that would mean there would be more fish to catch with more sustainable practices.”
Rebecca Hubbard, programme director of the Our Fish campaign group, described the new industry offensive as “a desperate greenwashing initiative in defence of the indefensible”.
The issue is escalating into a battle, said Nicolas Fournier, campaign director of the Oceana conservation group, which argues for practices such as long-line fishing, and eating more locally-caught and less threatened species.
“If we are to seize this opportunity to tackle bottom-trawling, it’s basically now or never,” he said.
Brussels has pledged to establish protected areas for at least 30% of Europe’s seas but, under EU law, MPAs have specific objectives, such as protecting seabirds, crustaceans or other marine features.
Their effectiveness is contested, however. Fournier said that their benefits often exist mainly on paper and that shipping, dredging, oil and gas drilling, aquaculture, harbour developments and windfarms can still be permitted in MPAs.
One tenth of Europe’s waters have marine protected status but more than 2.5m hours of bottom trawling took place within them in 2020, according to research by Oceana.
“In some areas, bottom trawling is prohibited in order to protect the seabed, but many other [MPAs] focus on other features and therefore don’t regulate bottom trawling,” said one EU official, who did not want to be named. “It’s a nonsense that ‘protected’ areas can allow trawling, which is one of the most damaging human activities at sea,” Claudet said.
The EBFA cites studies by the University of Washington academic Ray Hillborn to support its case for allowing bottom trawling in MPAs on a case-by-case basis – in areas where seabirds are being protected but the seabed is not, for example.
However, “if seabirds are eating fish or organisms from the seabed, you can’t treat them in isolation from the rest of their ecosystem,” said Prof Clare Bradshaw of Stockholm University.
A European Commission spokesperson said it had to weigh any new measures against the economic effects they could have on an industry sector that makes up a quarter of the EU fishing fleet.
“We will not aim for a blanket approach by banning all gears in all waters,” the official said.
“Instead, we will look at how best to protect the seabed and work on the basis of science to see how to balance the decisions.”
Since early november, more and more vessels navigating in chinese waters are disappearing from the tracking systems normally used in maritime transport, likely following the introduction of the new chinese law on the protection of personal information, which came into effect last 1st november.
This law compels all handlers of chinese data to get government’s approval before any transfer of data to foreign countries.
Although the law does not specifically mention sea freight, maritime companies could be withholding information just to be “on the safe side” while waiting to know exactly what they are allowed to share. The enforcement of this law and the blockage of information are worsening the current shipping crisis and congestion of ports.
From 21 to 28 of last november, unseenlabs made several satellite acquisitions in east china sea to highlight the ships now missing from ais screens.
For 8 days, Unseenlabs made several satellite acquisitions in East China sea to highlight the ships now missing from traditional geolocation systems.
Since early november, a growing number of ships seem to vanish from conventional tracking systems as they approach chinese coasts.
According to vesselsvalue, the number of ships broadcasting ais signals from chinese waters has dropped by 90% since the entry into force of the new law.
Normally vessels can be identified via their ais transponders, which broadcast the ship’s geolocation as well as other information such as its mmsi number (a unique 9-digit number associated with each ship) type (carrier, tanker, fishing vessel), nationality, course, speed… the ais identification system was made compulsory for most ships by the imo (international maritime organization) to all signatory flag states of the solas convention (safety of life at sea) to facilitate traffic and avoid collisions.
But since its implementation wider uses of the system have developed, and it has become an essential tool for port management, by providing information on berth availability and anchorage waiting times among other things.
While it has its flaws as a surveillance tool, the ais system has become essential for the management and monitoring of sea freight flows worldwide.
Chinese authorities invoke national security and sovereignty issues for this measure, saying that foreign intelligence agencies and companies use the ais system to keep track of chinese military vessels and gather sensitive economic intelligence, according to a chinese state media report.
Although nothing in the law refers to ais data, maritime transporters are being cautious and withholding the data while waiting for more information.
As a result, most ships are not visible from traditional surveillance systems once they get close to chinese shores. In this new context, the ais system doesn’t provide an accurate picture of traffic at sea, as shown in unseenlabs’ series of satellite acquisitions in that area (space-based radiofrequency signals detection): In the sample below, more than 60% of ships in the area have disappeared from ais screens.
Blind zone: Disruption of global maritime traffic
an important consequence of this new regulation is the disruption of sea traffic due to a lack of data on ships positions: Six of the world’s ten busiest container ports are in china, it is therefore essential to have visibility on ships departures, arrivals, and general flow of activity around chinese shores.
An exhaustive picture of traffic at sea with space-based rf signal interception.
Unseenlabs conducted an eight-day satellite acquisition campaign in east china sea, revealing a consequent gap in ais data: Up to 80% of ships located with rf detection don’t broadcast an ais signal (ais beacons turned off or data transmission blocked by chinese authorities).
Unseenlabs’ radiofrequency detection system allows for an exhaustive picture of marine traffic near the chinese coasts, revealing the number and location of all ships in the area, with or without ais.
This new disruptive technology provides all maritime stakeholders in need of precise and up-to-date information on marine traffic with a new type of data that contributes to a new level of accuracy in maritime domain awareness.
The new situation around chinese shores illustrates the limits of current data sources such as the ais system and highlights the need for alternatives, such as space-based rf detection, for a thorough picture of human activities at sea.
Some childhood dreams can become realities, others remain just that- dreams. For a 10-year-old boy growing up in Bendigo Australia, his childhood dream was to go faster than anyone else had done, powered by the wind.
Speed has always been at the centre of Glenn Ashby’s existence, on yachts, motorbikes- or land yachts. The quest for speed has won him 3 America’s Cups, an Olympic Silver Medal and 17 World Championships in 4 different classes of boat.
After the 36th America’s Cup victory in 2021 the stars aligned for both Ashby and Emirates Team New Zealand, who he has been an integral part of for over 10 years, bringing together his lifelong ambition with the depth of design, technology and innovation of Emirates Team New Zealand. All the while utilising the window of opportunity that existed with the usual lull in AC activities during the transition from the 36th to the 37th America’s Cup.
Emirates Team New Zealand has always commissioned external contracts to keep the design team sharp and engaged during these periods. So, when the independently funded project to attempt to beat the Wind Powered Land Speed World Record emerged it was not hard to find willing designers, engineers and shore crew to put their talents to the test from being fastest on the water of the America’s Cup to being fastest on land ever.
The speed record attempt has been a common point of discussion for a number of years between Ashby and ETNZ CEO Grant Dalton, who himself has had a long-held interest in such a record shot. “The wind powered land speed record is something I have always been interested in, so when bringing a design challenge like this into ETNZ I knew it would be beneficial on a number of fronts to keep the technicians and the innovators of the organisation engaged during a down time with new, complex technical issues to solve with a cool project.” said Dalton
Glenn Ashby has been like a cat on a hot tin roof on the end of dozens of Zoom calls back to the Emirates Team New Zealand base unable to re-enter New Zealand for the past 10 months.
“I have never spent so much time on the computer as I have this past year,” explained Ashby. “Basically, from the point that Dalts said ‘let’s look at it’ after the finish of AC36, we have been all go. First job was a two-week in-depth feasibility study to ensure enough of a global understanding that this was something that could be done in a positive way for ETNZ and would not impact the team and its America’s Cup objectives financially or resource wise.”
Since then, the core group of Guillaume Verdier, Romaric Neyhousser, Benjamin Muyul, Jeremy Palmer, Romain Gard, Tim Meldrum, Sean Regan, Adrian Robb, Jarrod Hammond and Dave French have been working through the new design and engineering challenges entirely focused towards beating the existing Wind Powered Land Speed World Record of 202.9km/h (126.1m/h) which was set in 2009 by Richard Jenkins in Greenbird.
A British man, Richard Jenkins (today CEO SailDrone), has broken the world land speed record on the wind powered vehicle Ecotricity Greenbird, reaching the amazing speed of 126.1 mph, becoming the fastest person and vehicle of any kind under sail.
Ashby paid tribute to Richard Jenkins whose record he is trying to conquer. “In doing our research and digging deeper and deeper into the intricacies of the design challenges, it became very apparent that Richard really did an incredible job with his world record design.” said Ashby. “As a team we explored some pretty creative and innovative conceptual ideas in the quest for more speed, however in the end our design and performance principles evolved into a concept reasonably similar in basic layout to the existing record holder, which really emphasised to us what a huge challenge this will be.”
Without a silver bullet in terms of a revolutionary design, and very much like what is predicted in the 37th America’s Cup with the next generation of AC75’s, the gains will come down to the small improvements and refinements that add up to overall advancements and success.
“Like the America’s Cup we just need to be doing it better across the board by utilising our experience, skills and tools gained as a team to date,” explained Ashby, “And then, like sailing, there is always the weather gods and doing everything we can to be ready when the right conditions are presented at the location.”
Emirates Team New Zealand Principal Matteo de Nora, who is a significant supporter of the world record attempt, is clear on why now is the right time for the challenge.“We are seeing some very close collaborations now where the design is crossing into Formula 1 territory with Ineos Britannia and Mercedes and Alinghi and Red Bull Racing for a start. This isn’t a coincidence and is focused on the top line speeds and lessons that can be learnt the faster you can go. So, this project will be beneficial in continuing to evolve and learn so much more in the aerodynamic realm which was a significant factor in AC36.” said de Nora.
From a design and engineering perspective, Guillaume Verdier explained “this project is a really compelling one for all of us involved.There are a lot of similarities to what we do with fast sail boats in terms of the aerodynamics and structural forces, construction methods, materials etc, so we are well placed in many respects. But without doubt, no boat we ever design will go anywhere near as fast as we need our land yacht to go. So, with the increase in speed comes increased complexities, but we are sure these are complexities that we can learn from so we can make our next AC75 go faster.”
The obvious element of uncertainty and point of difference for all the Emirates Team New Zealand designers is tyre technology and the dynamic forces associated with tyres on the ground, as opposed to hydrodynamic forces on foils in the water.
“This is the big unknown for us,” explained ETNZ Mechanical Engineer Tim Meldrum. “Tyres on a flat salt surface going at over 200km/h is a whole lot different to foils in the water at over 50 knots. The rules stipulate we must run on a flat natural surface. The best ones we know of where it can be windy are dry salt lakes. With the tyres being the only point of contact to the salt it is a pretty important factor in finding the sweet spot in maintaining sufficient grip- with the least amount of rolling resistance.”
Our craft when compared to a speed record motorised car has a lot of differences. Firstly our “motor” – a wing in our case really delivers a small thrust force compared to a racing combustion engine. So, anything working against that thrust – wheel rolling resistance and aerodynamic drag has been a high priority to reduce if we want to hit high speeds. Secondly our wing creates a lot of side load over the main back wheels – so we need to provide grip to keep it tracking straight. A downforce aerodynamic wing like those used in F1 to assist cornering grip would rob us of too much speed, so we have opted to add variable ballast weight to allow us to tune our grip level. Extra weight mainly affects our acceleration time but does not compromise aerodynamic drag. The trade-off is we can go faster but we end up using more runway to get to our top speed. Luckily our racetrack is 8km across.”
Another contradictory problem to the norm in the America’s Cup is around weight. In the AC75’s the less weight in the boat the easier it will be to fly and faster it will be. With a land yacht, weight is a positive in certain respects explains Construction Manager Sean Regan: “In land speed, weight will be our friend if used in the right location. So, we can refine our construction techniques that account for additional weight in certain aspects and not be so focused on weight savings. On the outrigger pod we are actively adding weight or ballast to counter the wind force on the wing sail, without which, the craft would just tip over. Not something we want for Glenn approaching such high speeds.”
But like a scale measuring gold, the weight still needs to be precise. Too little the outboard tyre will come off the ground losing contact, too much it will add unnecessary resistance and lose valuable clicks of speed.
It is these sorts of design problems that will have to be overcome in the typically condensed lead up to a shot at the World Record in July / early August which Ashby and the team are working towards attempting on one of Australia’s vast salt lakes with Lake Gairdner in South Australia or Lake Lefroy in Western Australia as potential locations.
Any world record needs to be stringently verified and will require officials from the North America Land Speed Association to measure and record the run with a specific set of rules that must be adhered to in order to qualify for the World Record.
For now, the craft is already under construction at the Emirates Team New Zealand build facility on Auckland’s North Shore. “The build is scheduled for completion in late March, for assembly and commissioning and preliminary testing in Auckland subsequent to that.” said Sean Regan. “The plan is to then pack the craft and equipment into containers and ship it all to South Western Australian and truck to the record attempt location where a small team will be based from July for testing and then ultimately a shot at the World Record speed run.
“Obviously the objective is to design a craft that becomes the fastest wind powered land yacht ever.” said Glenn Ashby “And no one would have ever been that fast in a wind powered craft on or off the water. So that’s a pretty bloody exciting thing to try to become.”
A new "Seabed Warfare Strategy" was unveiled by French Minister of Armed Forces, Florence Parly and Joint Chief of Staff, General Thierry Burkhard on 14 February.
The strategy aims at broadening the capabilities of anticipation and action of the French Navy (Marine Nationale) up to 6,000 m depth.
The seabed constitutes a new field of conflict in the same way as exo-atmospheric space, cyberspace and the information sphere:
“The second exclusive economic zone in the world, France wants to be able to guarantee the freedom of action of its forces and to protect its sovereignty, its resources and its infrastructure even in the depths of the ocean” French Ministery of Armed Forces
Maritime areas are governed by a corpus of international standards, foremost of which is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
This text stipulates that the rights of States diminish as one moves away from the coast.
In recent years, however, some States have developed extensive interpretations of the convention, for the purpose of appropriating resources (mining, biological or fossil) or maritime areas with regard to the geopolitical situation of the area.
Faced with these assertions of power, the resurgence of hybrid actions in the seabed and the emergence of the concept of “seabed warfare” (mastery of the seabed), the protection of France’s strategic interests in this space is a decisive issue for :
Guarantee the freedom of action of the French Armed Forces in the face of submarine surveillance and interdiction strategies potentially deployed from the seabed
Protect France’s underwater infrastructures such as communication and energy transport cables (electricity, gas, oil);
Protect France’s resources. The immense French maritime territory is home to biodiversity and resources that should be known but above all protected
Be ready to act and pose a credible threat in the face of diverse, evolving and hybrid modes of action.
Seabed Control Operations aim to integrate these new challenges into the French defense strategy.
This doctrine will be articulated around three functions “know”, “monitor” and “act”.Marine Nationale illustration (translation by Naval News).
The French Navy already has mine warfare and hydro-oceanography capabilities contributing to the control of the seabed.
For expanding its investigation and action capacities down to 6,000 meters deep, France is going to equip itself with deep-sea exploratory military capacities, made up of underwater drones (AUV – Autonomous underwater vehicle) and robots ( ROV – Remotely operated vehicle).
The ambition to control the seabed to protect France’s strategic interests:
Support innovation in the development of sensors on board deep-sea AUV and ROV
Accelerate studies on physical variables for the detection of submarine installations.
Study the particular modes of ultra-low frequency acoustic propagation.
Increase our undersea search, surveillance and intervention capabilities to meet the needs inherent in maintaining freedom of action for French forces in areas with depths down to 6,000 metres.
Continue to analyse ways of deploying underwater surveillance vehicles in order to broaden the range of military options: air-portability, combat ships, submarines, etc.
Make CEPHISMER a centre of expertise capable of implementing a military capability complementary to SLAMF for depths greater than 300 metres.
Complete the project to revise national regulations on the laying of submarine cables (system of authorisation in the territorial sea and of notice in the EEZ)
Integrate the supervision of “autonomous vessel/maritime drone” activities into the regulations for State representatives at sea.
In an order issued by the French Prime Minister, define the areas within the protection of national defence interests for the purpose of marine scientific research.
Support DTIB development in command of sensitive capabilities, by taking advantage of solutions developed for civil needs and in line with the France 2030 plan.
“We are obviously not the only ones interested in the seabed. There are many powers that display their ambitions more or less clearly, even if it is under the seal of secrecy for the majority of them. China is known to have an advanced project for a great underwater wall, or more openly, the British have expressed their ambition for the seabed in the Integrated Review of 2021.” Florence Parly
The strategy of the Ministry of the Armed Forces will support the development of innovation with the private sector and the emergence of a national sector responding to its needs in the great ocean depths.
French defense companies likely to be involved in the new strategy include Alseamar, ECA Group, Elwave, Forssea Robotics, iXblue, Naval Group, RTSys, Thales…
The IFREMER’s deep diving (6,000 meters) UAV “Ulyx” designed and produced by ECA Group. IFREMER picture.
For example, ECA Group designed and produced the new generation deepwater AUV for IFREMER, (French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea), an oceanographic institution.
Ulyx will be deployed from French and international oceanographic research vessels for deep water exploration and research. A military variant of such an AUV could be designed for the French armed forces in the future.
The Chief of Staff of the French Navy, Admiral Vandier, shared on Twitter pictures showing a French Navy officer during a demonstration aboard IFREMER’s Nautile deep-submergence vehicle (DSV):
“2152 meters under the sea. Lieutenant Arnaud is the 1st French navy active officer to reach this depth with the Eledone demonstration on board the IFREMER’s Nautile, to inspect a submarine cable. A success which is part of the French strategy to control the seabed.”
2152m sous les mers. Le LV Arnaud est le 1er officier d’active à atteindre cette profondeur à bord du Nautile de l'@Ifremer_fr pour inspecter un câble sous-marin lors de la démonstration Eledone. Un succès qui s'inscrit dans le cadre de la stratégie🇫🇷 de maîtrise des fonds marins pic.twitter.com/XQ36fxcsal— Chef d'état-major de la Marine (@amiralVandier) February 15, 2022
New U.S. regional sea level scenarios developed by NOAA and partners will help coastal communities plan for and adapt to risks from rising sea levels.
This photo shows flooding in Norfolk, Virginia, on May 16, 2014. (NOAA)
From NOAA Report projects a century of sea level rise in 30 years
The United States is expected to experience as much sea level rise by the year 2050 as it witnessed in the previous hundred years.
That’s according to a NOAA-led report updating sea level rise decision-support information for the U.S. released today in partnership with half a dozen other federal agencies.
The Sea Level Rise Technical Report provides the most up-to-date sea level rise projections for all U.S. states and territories by decade for the next 100 years and beyond, based on a combination of tide gauge and satellite observations and all the model ensembles from the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The report projects sea levels along the coastline will rise an additional 10-12 inches by 2050 with specific amounts varying regionally, mainly due to land height changes.
A suite of federal tools are using this data, including the NOAA Sea Level Rise Viewer, which are critical to the Administration’s commitment to tackle the climate crisis by making actionable climate data accessible to those who need it.
On average, the U.S. will see as much sea level rise by 2050 as seen in the last century.
Sea level rise leads to increased coastal flooding, even in the absence of heavy rain or storms.
Find an accessible version of this infographic under Resources in the sidebar to the right. (NOAA)
“For businesses along the coast, knowing what to expect and how to plan for the future is critical,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo.
“These updated projections will help businesses, and the communities they support, understand risks and make smart investments in the years ahead.”
“This new data on sea rise is the latest reconfirmation that our climate crisis — as the President has said — is blinking ‘code red,’” said Gina McCarthy, National Climate Advisor.
“We must redouble our efforts to cut the greenhouse gases that cause climate change while, at the same time, help our coastal communities become more resilient in the face of rising seas.”
At least two feet of sea level rise is likely by 2100 and reducing emissions now can lower future risk. Earth-monitoring systems are vital for tracking future sea level rise.
Find an accessible version of this infographic under Resources in the sidebar to the right. (NOAA)
“This is a global wake-up call and gives Americans the information needed to act now to best position ourselves for the future,” said Rick Spinrad, Ph.D., NOAA Administrator.
“As we build a Climate Ready Nation, these updated data can inform coastal communities and others about current and future vulnerabilities in the face of climate change and help them make smart decisions to keep people and property safe over the long run.”
The report also finds that the sea level rise expected by 2050 will create a profound increase in the frequency of coastal flooding, even in the absence of storms or heavy rainfall.
“By 2050, moderate flooding — which is typically disruptive and damaging by today’s weather, sea level and infrastructure standards — is expected to occur more than 10 times as often as it does today,” said Nicole LeBoeuf, NOAA National Ocean Service Director.
“These numbers mean a change from a single event every 2-5 years to multiple events each year, in some places.”
“This report supports previous studies and confirms what we have long known: Sea levels are continuing to rise at an alarming rate, endangering communities around the world. Science is indisputable and urgent action is required to mitigate a climate crisis that is well underway,” said Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator.
“NASA is steadfast in our commitment to protecting our home planet by expanding our monitoring capabilities and continuing to ensure our climate data is not only accessible but understandable.”
This multi-agency effort is a product of the Interagency Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flood Hazard and Tool Task Force, composed of NOAA, NASA, EPA, USGS, DoD, FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as several academic institutes.
How John Quinn survived nearly six hours in the Bass Strait and lived to tell about it is a miracle, but in the miracle there are lessons.
In Sydney, Australia, it’s called a southerly change, and it does what it says on the tin. It’s a shift from a northeasterly summer sea breeze to a southerly wind, often driven by the arrival of a cold front and an associated low-pressure system sweeping up from the Southern Ocean. The waves meet the shallowing floor of the Bass Strait, and the southerly wind meets the East Australian Current, flowing south at around 2 knots along Australia’s east coast. The combination can make the ocean off the southeastern tip of Australia one of the roughest pieces of water in the world. And as it’s about halfway between Sydney and Hobart, the words “southerly change” can have an ominous ring for sailors preparing for the start of the annual Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
John Quinn was lucky to survive after he fell overboard during the 1993 race.
“When we saw the race [weather] briefing, it was a little bit fuzzy,” Hobart veteran John Quinn says. He had been speaking to me earlier this year but recalling events almost three decades ago, back in 1993. “It could have been tough; they were a bit uncertain.”
The crew’s biggest concern the morning of the start was the new mainsail. “We were tossing up whether to use it or not, and we came to the decision to use it. As it turned out, the [southerly change and accompanying low-pressure system] was a lot worse than what we thought it was going to be.”
With winds reaching over 70 knots, it was equivalent to a low‑grade hurricane, and Quinn and the crew aboard his J/35, MEM, hit the full force of the storm in the Bass Strait on Monday night, December 27, 1993. Before midnight, a wave came out of nowhere. “It came from an odd direction. It was a big wave. Picked us up, threw us straight over on her side. We had three down below, fortunately. All of us on deck, I think bar one, went over the side. I got washed straight out of the cockpit. And when my weight hit the harness, it busted. It was a harness inside the jacket that had been well cared for; it must’ve split the webbing or whatever happened. But anyway, I ended up in the water,” Quinn says.
The crew hit the man-overboard button and recorded the yacht’s position, which was transmitted with the mayday call, and the search started. The water temperature was about 18 degrees C. The predicted time to exhaustion and unconsciousness is between two and seven hours at that temperature, with the outside survival time at 40 hours. It was the only thing he had going for him. “We’re talking about seas of on average 8 meters, and they’re breaking,” Quinn says. “So, the chances of seeing one individual off a yacht in that sort of condition in the middle of the night—and it was in the middle of the night—are sweet f— all.”
It was around 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning when the oil tanker Ampol Sarel arrived at the search zone. The captain, Bernie Holmes, started at the original point where Quinn had gone overboard, then shut down the engines and let the ship drift downwind. He turned on all the lights so she would coast silently through the search area lit up like a Christmas tree.
Brent Shaw, a seaman aboard the tanker, heard Quinn’s cries. “I was on the wing of the bridge, portside lookout, wearing my raincoat and rain hat when I thought I heard a scream,” he told reporters. “With all the wind and rain, I wasn’t sure, so I took off my hat, and then I positively heard the scream. I directed my searchlight toward the area—and there he was, waving and screaming.”
Quinn was about 20 meters away from the 100,000-ton tanker. “The scary part was we spotted him, and then he drifted out of the searchlight, and then he was in the dark again,” Shaw said.
The Ampol Sarel crew radioed to other search boats that they had seen Quinn, and one that heard the message was the 40-footer Atara. Its crew had already had their own share of adventure that night. One of the crew was 21-year-old Tom Braidwood, who would go on to a career with America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race teams. “It got to that stage where you couldn’t see the waves in the troughs. The white foam was filling all the troughs up. And the only way we knew—you’d hear the wave coming like a train and you’d be like, ‘Here we go.’”
Eventually, one of those waves had rumbled in and hit the sails of Atara with such force that it snapped the rig. They cut it away, but not before it smashed a hole in the hull. Atara was now in serious trouble. They started pulling the bunks off the side of the boat and using them to try to shore up the structure because it was caving in under the wave motion. It was at this moment that they heard about Quinn and diverted to the search area—even as they struggled to keep their own boat afloat.
“We got to the area, and we’re all on deck with torches down each side of the boat. And we’re motoring around and next thing you know, we saw him and it was like… Talk about the luckiest guy on Earth. Well, unlucky falling in, but…”
They struggled to get him out of the water, lost him once, and had to do a couple of passes to get back to him. “He was drifting on and off the boat, and it’s hard to keep him there,” Braidwood says. “I had a harness on, so I turned around to the guys and said, ‘I’m going to go get him.’ I had my harness tied to a rope as well. I dove in and swam out to him. And as soon as I got him, it was like, uuuuhhhh, you know, like complete collapse.”
Braidwood got him back to the boat, and after an immense struggle, they got him on board. “We dragged him down below, and he was hypothermic because all he had on was thermals and a dinghy vest, like a little life jacket, a bit padded. That’s the thing that saved his life, you know, because he didn’t have a jacket, a wet-weather jacket, or anything.”
I first heard this story in Sydney, not long after that Hobart, which I had raced aboard Syd Fischer’s 50-foot Ragamuffin. It took me nearly 30 years to get around to tracking down Quinn and asking him what he was doing in the water in hurricane conditions with no life jacket on.
The flotation vest Quinn was wearing enabled him to handle the breaking waves—so long as he was strong enough to keep himself afloat with its limited support.
Quinn was no naive newbie to sailing, neither the Hobart nor the risks. He was brought up in Sydney and spent his childhood in and around the water. “I did my first Hobart race at the age of 21, so I started ocean racing probably about the age of 18,” he told me. By the time he was in his late 20s, he was part owner of a 33-footer, his first ocean racing boat, and over the next two decades he upgraded a couple of times, did a lot more Hobarts, and then bought MEM.
“I had on a Musto flotation vest. They were more for warmth, but they gave you a little bit of flotation. I also had on a normal jacket, but it was weighing me down, so I got rid of it. And I had sea boots on, which I got rid of.”
But what about the life jacket?
“We had normal life jackets. You remember how bulky those things were. You can’t get around the boat on them. They’re terrible things.”
The life jackets on board MEM were of the type that relies on closed-cell polyethylene foam for buoyancy. They were big and could be awkward to wear, and made it difficult to move around the boat. So, Quinn decided not to wear it—despite the fact that if ever there was a time to be wearing a life jacket, this was it.
“We were relying on our safety harnesses really. You don’t expect to end up in the water if you’re using a safety harness, not when you’re clipped on,” he says.
He chose the harness as his personal safety gear, and now the harness had failed him.
He tried a couple of survival techniques he had picked up, including sealing the foul-weather jacket and filling it with air to provide buoyancy. “There’s no way that that will work in real life,” he says.
He also tried pulling into a fetal position to protect himself as the waves hit him. “That was one of the worst ideas they ever came up with because you get one of these waves that picks you up and it chucks you around—you get a roller coming up, and it just picks you up and it just throws you. I mean, it’ll throw a 4-ton yacht. I tried that first, decided that was a really bad idea.”
The problem was the breaking waves, the dangerous part being the white water. “What I ended up doing was […] what we always used to do when the waves came at us when we were surfing: I just dived under it. The flotation vest wasn’t so buoyant that it stopped me [from] doing that, so I was able to get through them. I was looking around for lights all the time, of course. Doing a fair bit of praying, remembering all the fine things at home, and wondering what the hell I’m doing there, that sort of stuff.”
This technique would have been impossible in one of the life jackets aboard MEM. “[They’re] very buoyant—I would’ve hated to have been out there with one of those things on,” he says.
The flotation vest Quinn was wearing enabled him to handle the breaking waves—so long as he was strong enough to keep himself afloat with its limited support. “I was getting toward the end of it. I’d been through the shakes. I started to shiver and shake pretty badly, and the shakes were just going, and then all of a sudden, I saw all these lights, and I swam toward the lights. As it turned out, it was a great big oil tanker, and she was coming down at me. And I yelled, and then I realized this thing’s going to run over the top of me, so I ended up swimming away.”
There was another bad moment when the Ampol Sarel’s searchlight lost him. “No sooner had the light gone off me and I remember going, ‘Oh, s—,’ and looking around, and then I saw the port and starboard lights of Atara.”
It was 5:09 a.m. when Quinn was pulled out of the water, five hours and 27 minutes after he went overboard.
“How could anyone do that?” Braidwood asks, reflecting on Quinn’s feat of endurance. Exhausted and hypothermic, the crew of Atara got him into a bunk with one of the only crew who was still dry. “We had the space blankets around him, jamming cups of tea into him,” as they resumed the passage home, Braidwood says. They were ready for this—they had the equipment and knew what to do.
Quinn was lucky—lucky the flotation vest had allowed him to handle the waves, lucky to be found before he ran out of the strength needed to help its limited buoyancy keep him afloat, and lucky to be found by a well-crewed and prepared boat. But again, only just… “Atara was in a total mess,” Quinn says. “I don’t know what they were doing there. The mast had come down. She was totally delaminated. I mean, she was a total wreck.”
Braidwood was just as aware of the frailty of their position. “I remember he came to, and he just turns around and he goes, ‘Oh, thanks guys. Thanks fellas.’ You know, and I turned around and I said, ‘Well, don’t thank us yet mate because your ambulance is about to sink.’”
The indomitable streak that had got Quinn to that point came out in his reply. “When they told me that the ambulance wasn’t in too good a shape, I think I said something rude. Like, ‘Can I wait for the next one?’
“The first thing I did when I came back was I threw out all the life jackets,” he says. “And I put inflatable life jackets on board the boat for everybody. Because inflatable life jackets allow you to control your buoyancy in the same way as a diver can control their buoyancy. And that I regard as absolutely critical because I think with a full life jacket [and] those waves picking you up, I don’t think you’d last very long.
“I made a number of fundamental mistakes,” he continues. “The first thing is that I shouldn’t have been racing a boat that night in the Sydney to Hobart Race. [It’s] a beautiful little coastal racing boat, the J/35, magnificent little boat, but [it’s] not designed to go into that sort of weather. The second mistake I made was when I realized we were going into that sort of weather, I should have pulled the plug and just simply peacefully sailed into Twofold Bay. Shouldn’t have allowed myself to get out of control, I know better than that. They were the two fundamental mistakes.”
These mistakes all had a theme. We could call it overconfidence—a deep belief that things were going to be all right, that nothing really bad was going to happen. It allows us to do things that, in hindsight, particularly after our luck has run out, seem reckless. At one point in the worst of the weather during that Hobart, I had unclipped my harness on the weather rail and slid down across the aft deck to get to the leeward runner. My luck held and I got away with it, but not everyone does.
There is an innate bias to overconfidence in all of us, and it’s so hard to overcome because it’s instinctive—we don’t stop to think things through properly.
It would only have taken a moment’s pause to realize how foolish it was to be sliding around the open aft deck of a 50-footer without being clipped. I did not pause. I just acted because I had this inner innate confidence that it would be all right. This instinctive overconfidence is a cognitive bias. These biases (and there are many of them) are hard-wired predispositions to types of behavior. The head of the TED organization, Chris Anderson, interviewed Daniel Kahneman (the Nobel Prize winner who, along with Amos Tversky, was responsible for the original work on cognitive bias) and asked if Kahneman could inject one idea into the minds of millions of people, what would that idea be? Kahneman replied, “Overconfidence is really the enemy of good thinking, and I wish that humility about our beliefs could spread.”
There is an innate bias to overconfidence in all of us, and it’s so hard to overcome because it’s instinctive—we don’t stop to think things through properly. In the conclusion to his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman says: “Except for some effects that I attribute mostly to age, my intuitive thinking is just as prone to overconfidence, extreme predictions and the planning fallacy as it was before I made a study of these issues. I have improved only in my ability to recognize situations in which errors are likely. And I have made much more progress in recognizing the error of others than my own.”
Despite Daniel Kahneman’s pessimism—and speaking as someone who has made some bad choices—I’m going to keep trying to do better. It’s surprising how often we can mitigate risks with little more than a moment’s thought. It can be as simple as putting a strobe light in the pocket of your foul-weather gear. Or as simple as throwing a shovel and a couple of blankets in the back of the car at the start of the winter.
There are a few strategies we can employ to help us overcome the pernicious bias of overconfidence, ways to learn to slow down and pay better attention. One of them is to build habits to review risk whenever there’s time to do so. I sailed in the 1993 Hobart Race with Neal McDonald, who went on to sail with six Volvo Ocean Race teams, twice as skipper, leading Assa Abloy to a second-place finish. He developed the habit of playing a “what if” game during any pause in the action. At any moment, he could start a pop quiz: “What do we do if that sail breaks?” or “What’s the repair if the steering gear fails?”
McDonald was constantly looking for solutions to problems he did not yet have, and it’s a powerful tool in raising everyone’s awareness of risk. A more formal mechanism that does much the same job is the pre-mortem, an idea that came from research psychologist Gary Klein. The principle is straightforward: Before any major decision goes forward, all the people involved in it gather for a pre-mortem in which they project forward a year after the decision was enacted. The basis for the meeting is that the decision was a disaster, and everyone must explain why. Klein thinks that it works because it frees people to speak up about the weaknesses of a project or plan.
While McDonald’s “what if” game and the pre-mortem are good at revealing what might otherwise be hidden risks—like the bulky life jackets—there is another strategy that can force a rethink on what’s an acceptable risk and what’s not. This one was prevalent within the OneWorld America’s Cup team in the early 2000s, where almost any assertion could be met with the riposte, “You wanna put some money on that?”
And I can tell you, the prospect of losing cold, hard cash forces one to reconsider any misguided optimism very quickly.
Annie Duke, a former professional poker player, goes into this strategy in some detail in her book Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts. Along with Don Moore’s Perfectly Confident: How to Calibrate Your Decisions Wisely, it’s an excellent book to help understand our disposition for risk-taking—no bad thing when you consider the consequences of hauling up an anchor or untying the dock lines. For all its wonder and immense beauty, the sea is fundamentally hostile to human life; without the support of a ship or boat, our survival has a limited time horizon. If you’re not convinced, just ask John Quinn.