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Mackinac boat Sociable honored with Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medal

by Jake Fish on 11 Nov 2011
US Sailing awards Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medal to crew of Sociable US Sailing © http://www.ussailing.org

US Sailing has awarded the Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medal to the crew of Sociable in Portsmouth, Rhode Island for their rescue of six sailors from the yacht WingNuts which capsized on Lake Michigan in the midst of a storm during the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac on the night of July 17-18, 2011.

This Hanson Medal was awarded on Saturday, November 5th to Sociable’s skipper, Robert Arzbaecher (Brookfield Wis.), and his crew at the race’s awards dinner at the Chicago Yacht Club. The presentation was made by Janet Baxter, former President of US Sailing. Sociable’s crew included Brian Nagle, Matt Younkle, Greg Adams, David Patrick, Pete Duecker, Adam Flanders, Chris Miotke and Max Riesing.

Sociable received three nominations for the Hanson Rescue Medal, including the surviving crew of WingNuts, Commodore Joseph S. Haas of the Chicago Yacht Club, and from a Florida sailor who was part of Sociable’s crew during the rescue.

Late on the night of July 17, Sociable, a Beneteau 40.7 out of Milwaukee Yacht Club, was sailing in a large group of Chicago-Mackinac Race boats off Charlevoix, Mich. when they were buffeted by severe squalls with wind speeds over forty knots, steep seas, blinding rain and frequent sheet lightning. At approximately 11:15 p.m. CDT, navigator Brian Adams heard the faint sound of a whistle. Alerted that something might be wrong, the crew soon spotted lights about half a mile away.

Dropping out of the race, Arzbaecher sailed toward the lights and found a competitor, the Kiwi 35 sloop WingNuts, capsized and upside down. Five sailors were on her upturned bottom holding on to the keel and waving lights, and a sixth person was in the water, hanging on to the rudder, most were wearing inflatable life jackets.

Arzbaecher would marvel at how effective this basic, mandatory equipment was at saving the sailors’ lives. 'A life jacket, a whistle and a light. My God, how simple it can be? But that’s what it was,' Arzbaecher said. 'This experience really re-energized our focus on safety. You can never stop learning about safety and never stop thinking about what could go wrong in these situations.'

The Sociable crew deployed the boat’s Lifesling rescue device and dragged it around WingNuts. A race requirement for all entries, the Lifesling allowed the rescuers to get a buoyant connection to the distressed sailors without entangling Sociable in the web of lines and gear floating around the capsized hull. The six sailors were pulled to safety one or two at a time to the Sociable’s transom, where they were helped on board.

'The Lifesling worked very well and the boat’s scoop transom worked similar to a swim platform on the back,' recalled one victim, Stanton Dent. Sociable’s crew worked as a team under skipper Bob Arzbaecher’s supervision to get the WingNuts crew safely out of the water without endangering Sociable in extremely challenging conditions.

Two of WingNuts’ crew were submerged under the boat and had died from severe head trauma suffered during the accident. Their bodies were removed by divers after dawn on Monday.

All the WingNuts' people were chilled after almost an hour of exposure to 70-degree water and were given blankets and dry clothes. One was hypothermic and was treated by crewmembers Amy Marshall and Cathy Patrick.

While the rescues were being made, navigator Adams was below making VHF-FM radio contact with other boats and the Coast Guard, which had also been alerted by signals from two SPOT Messaging Devices that had been triggered by WingNuts crew members. The Coast Guard sent a helicopter and a 41-foot boat to the scene, and later sent an icebreaker, a small boat, and two other helicopters. At least 23 racing boats stopped racing and stood by WingNuts. A U.S. Coast Guard official familiar with the rescue has said of the Sociable crew, 'They’re one of the Read the official report and watch the presentation on the 2011 Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac conducted by US Sailing.

The Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medal is awarded by US Sailing’s Safety-at-Sea Committee to any person who rescues or endeavors to rescue any other person from drowning, shipwreck, or other perils at sea within the territorial waters of the U.S., or as part of a sailboat race or voyage that originated or stopped in the U.S.

Since it was established in 1990 by friends of the late Mr. Hanson, an ocean-racing sailor from the Chesapeake Bay, the Arthur B. Hanson Rescue Medal has been presented to more than 165 boat s. Any individual or organization may submit a nomination for a Hanson Rescue Medal. For more information, including nomination forms, please visit the Hanson Rescue Medal site.

For the most authoritative daylong seminar on safe seamanship, heavy weather tactics, weather forecasting, communications and boat preparation, register for an upcoming US Sailing Safety-at-Sea Seminar. Please visit the US Sailing Safety-at-Sea Seminar site for details on these certification opportunities.

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