Captains Calamity - the dilemma
by Des Ryan on 24 Mar 2012
Why is it that would-be adventurers without the first knowledge of seamanship think they can go out on the ocean with a sailing boat under their command, and not run the risk of perishing? Apart from gross ignorance, the answer may lie in the proliferation of rescue authorities and volunteer rescuers around the world meant to be called upon by those who suffer from genuine misfortune, but sadly also by those who are simply careless.
Whoops .. .
Here is yet another incident which occurred this week, with the places and names suppressed, but the story otherwise completely true.
Emergency service crews rescued father and son sailors on Monday this week after they were stranded on their 36-foot boat for more than 13 hours about 20 nautical miles from land.
The two sailors left their home port on Saturday for an intended passage of around 200 nautical miles but headed for shelter behind an island when wind conditions picked up.
The men dropped anchor but soon noticed it had dragged them closer to the rocks on the island.
They tried to start the boat's motor but realised it wouldn't work so they headed to a nearby resort to see if anyone had a spare battery pack.
'We had to cut the anchor chain at about 9pm and put up our jib to try to get away from the island,' the skipper said.
'The wind was so strong it ripped our jib, so then we had no sail.
'We had to use two little tarps to sail with.'
The men's radio was also playing up, but luckily Mr Chappell had enough phone battery charge for them to phone the water police for help.
A local Water Police sergeant acted as the men's eyes, guiding them away from the rocks and into a safer passage of water where a Volunteer Marine Rescue vessel was able to reach them and tow them to safety.
The two men hadn't eaten or slept since Sunday morning.
'The rescue crews were absolutely terrific, we would have been gone without them,' the skipper said.
Their boat was then moored safely in an appropriate place, with the men brought back to dry land on Monday afternoon.
'We only bought the boat two weeks ago and it is still in very good condition. We're not sure what went wrong,' the skipper said.
Well, as you have been reading this, as an only mildly competent sailor, you could have told them what went wrong.
1. They obviously underestimated the effects of, or didn't know, the weather forecast when they set off.
2. They left port with a motor with a flat battery
3. They somehow anchored on a lee shore, and would therefore have been better off to stay at sea if that was the only alternative
4. They then abandoned their yacht while it was on a lee shore and was getting close to rocks
5. They had anchored in such a way that they couldn't get their anchor chain up and had to cut it.
6. They had gone to sea with a jib only and no main, so they had little or no ability to go to weather.
7. The had gone to sea without a reliable radio, and without a back-up.
8. The water police had to act as 'the men's eyes' so it is obvious that they had no ability or navigational equipment on board
9. They had little or no food supplies on board
10. They had not had any watch-keeping arrangement for an overnight sail, so were both exhausted
11. When it was all over, they still believed that the boat was 'still in very good condition' and they were 'not sure what went wrong'.
In short, according to the description, they never should have set to sea at all.
This is an ongoing dilemma for the sailing fraternity as a whole. The ocean is well known as 'the last great freedom' but if there is not serious responsibility taken by the sailing world for its own self-regulation, the day may come when one is not allowed to leave port without undergoing stringent checking by government-appointed authorities.
In addition, why should rescuers be asked to potentially risk their own lives because irresponsible sailors risk theirs?
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