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GJW Direct 2020

Premature Inflation

by Liz Addis, Writer, Quokka Sports on 23 Sep 2000
The crews of the BT Global Challenge have been having fun the past few days as worsening weather
conditions have caused their lifejackets to automatically inflate.

The jackets, which are especially designed for the harsh conditions of the 30,000-mile
gruelling race, have an automatic device which is supposed to set them off if someone falls

But the high winds and large waves have been causing the jackets to set themselves off with hilarious
results as LG FLATRON crew volunteer Dickon Purvis describes.

“Waves of warm water were bucketing over my head so frequently that I was spluttering and trying to
clear my eyes when suddenly I saw a dolphin four foot below me, playing in the bow-wave.

“Then, just as suddenly, something tightened around my neck. ‘Oh no, I’ve got one of the lines
wrapped around my neck’, I thought. I looked left and right but couldn’t see anything and it wasn’t until
Archie, the bowman, said: ‘Your life-jacket’s gone off,’ that I realised why I could barely move my

“There had been so much water coming over the deck that the automatic inflation device had

The jackets, which are usually inflated by the crew member pulling sharply on a toggle, have a pellet
in the bottom of the gas cylinder which disintegrates when it gets wet and pushes a pin into the gas
cylinder automatically inflating the jacket. The idea is that they only go off in times of emergency but
due to the regular drenchings the crew receive while on deck they often go off unexpectedly.

By the end of the first leg most previous BT Global Challenge crews have removed these auto-inflators
as they get fed up with them inflating at every inconvenient moment. Over the past few days the
weather has worsened for the 12 yachts taking part in the Race and many crew members are now
sending back journals of their experiences of their jackets inflating at awkward moments.

Richard Thorpe, crew volunteer with Spirit of Hong Kong, describes the sensation of his liejacket
inflating when he least expected it.

“A sound of rushing air and the feeling of a weight being wrapped around your torso is followed by the
taste of salt. Very soon your fourth sense is aware of a bright flashing light on your right side.

“You stop for a second, take a breath and reacclimatize yourself with your surroundings. The world is
going up and down all at a peculiar angle and there is yellow sail cloth in your face.

“Further round to your right a huge ball of spray flies away from you and you feel water tricking down
inside your foulies.

“It is all OK. You've been hit by a wave on the foredeck during a sail change at night and your
lifejacket has automatically inflated!” he said.

June James, on BP, said it was very difficult for her to work her way around the deck with her inflated
lifejacket thrusting her head upwards and Logica crew volunteer Rob Bell’s top tip for the week is to
remove the auto inflation unit from the life jacket because you look like a complete spanner when it
goes off.

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