Cup crew death inquest held - Social media clamour restarts search

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 22 May 2014

Cup crew death inquest held - Social media clamour restarts search

The upturned hull of Cheeki Rafiki as seen from the Maersk Kure. The search for the liferaft has now resumed  
Welcome to New Zealand for May 21, 2014

Editorial:What price a life?

International outrage has pressured the US Coastguard into resuming the search for the missing Beneteau First 40.7, Cheeki Rafiki, which has been listed as missing in the Atlantic Ocean about 600nm off the east coast of the USA.

To recap, two personal distress signals were picked up off the stricken yacht, and the crew are believed to have made a planned departure. The first was set off in the early hours of last Friday morning, local time. The second was reported to have been set off when the first had run out of power.

2014 Barclays 52 Super Series, Capri Day 2 - Provezza  © Max Ranchi Photography

The area in which the search for the Cheeki Rafiki is believed to be focussed  
A search was mounted by the US Coastguard, but that was suspended 59hours later, on Sunday. A key factor in the suspension of the search by the US authorities was the calculation of survival times in the area. Those had been exceeded by a factor of two, with nothing sighted. But it appeared those were for someone in the water - not in a 12 person liferaft.

Well not quite nothing was sighted, in fact a container ship had come across the upturned, keel-less hull, had stood alongside it overnight and was then stood down by the US Coastguard and allowed to continue on her way.

That prompted outrage from the families who harnessed the power of social media to make their point, collecting a massive 200,000 signatures in a Facebook petition.

That in turn carried a lot of weight with UK politicians who made a formal request to the US authorities to resume the search, which happened on Wednesday morning (local time), and it is now ongoing. UK planes have been dispatched and have joined in.

We have several stories on the searches and reaction in this edition, and pray that the four crew will have, by some miracle, have survived.
Phoenix - Rolex Capri Sailing Week 2014, day 2  © Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi

A 12man liferaft in which the four crew are hoped to have boarded.  
Life saving measures have been getting an airing locally with Auckland Council officers proposing to mandate that the wearing of lifejackets on all craft under 6 metres should be made compulsory.

The measure was based on statistics, but a closer examination revealed that the numbers may have been right, but were not being interpreted correctly.

That too, prompted an outrage amongst boaties, although not to the same magnitude as the parents and friends of the Cheeki Rafeki crew. It would seem that the outraged have carried the day, with around 90% opposing the Council measures.

Most seemed to be in favour of the skipper making the decision to don lifejackets.

To be honest, we've never been able to understand that attitude. It is a personal and individual decision.

If you find yourself in the water and are drowning, there is no point in blaming the skipper. It was your decision not to wear a lifejacket, and you alone are responsible for the consequences. It's your life, no-one else's. We are a society notorious for blaming others - to wear or not wear a lifejacket is an individual decision.

For sure there are times when there is minimal risk, and these were caught up in the regulatory trawl by the Auckland Council – prompting the adverse reaction.

But at other times there seems to be a level of bravado, that is completely misplaced.

Lifejacket demonstration - Hutchwilco NZ Boat Show 2014  © Richard Gladwell

The days of bulky kapok filled lifejackets are long gone.

Hans Horrevoets (1974-2006) on the dock in Vigo.   Volvo Ocean Race©
Modern lifejackets are generally slim fitting and can be adjusted to be very unobtrusive. Quite why there is such objection to their use, is quite irrational, particularly when there is no reluctance to tog up with the latest wet weather gear, heavy jackets, long pants and boots.

How many have tried jumping into a swimming pool in their wet weather gear and no lifejacket?

The salutary fact is that it you go over the side it happens very quickly and is usually completely unexpected. Hopefully you don't get a blow on the head along the way, and enter the water stunned and lifejacket-less.

It always a surprise as to how quickly an incident happens. You soon find out if you are going to be OK, or have a problem.

Ironically it was almost eight years to the day, of the Cheeki Rafeki incident when Volvo Ocean Racer Hans Horrevoets (NED) lost his life in the 2005/06 Volvo Ocean Race after he went over the side off ABN Amro Two about 1300nm off Lands End.

The wind had picked up unexpectedly, the crew had just decided they should be wearing harnesses, and were proceeding to go below and get properly dressed, when the incident happened.

Kiwi Yachting: safety gear - Hutchwilco NZ Boat Show 2014  © Richard Gladwell

Quite why they would not have gone on deck for their watch, properly dressed, is not explained. Maybe it is just a different attitude. For sure the amount of time you lose searching for someone who has gone over the side is enough to cost you the race – which is way more than the small amount of time lost in pulling the right gear on from the outset, and being able to drive the boat hard when the wind kicks in.

The other issue is why so many people go onto a boat relying on the boat to supply them with a life jacket. Why don't they have their own? Even a top of the line model is only a few hundred dollars – a few tanks of gas. At least you know that it is properly serviced, and should work, rather than rely on something that was probably bought at a discount rate, just to fit a regulation as to the quantity that should be on board.

Steinlager 2 will head to Fiji with a full paying crew aboard  © Richard Gladwell

Junior Grinder - YNZ Have-a Go - Hutchwilco NZ Boat Show 2014  © Richard Gladwell
As my father used to say: 'You never get a second chance with the sea.'

But then I never saw him once in a lifejacket.

Good sailing!

Richard Gladwell
NZ Editor

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