Thursday, July 17, 2008

How would you react when you hear...MAYDAY

The TIME MACHINE Sailing Team was faced with a particularly difficult challenge during this year's Port Huron to Mackinac race. As you read this post, please think about how you would react under similar conditions.

It's 12:30 in the morning, the skipper is half asleep down below. The VHF radio in the cockpit comes alive with calls from a vessel to the Coast Guard. It's really hard to hear on deck as the wind has piped up into the low 20 knot range and the boat is flying through water at 9 - 10 knots. Down below, the crew recognizes the voice on the radio... it's our friends on NIGHT TRAIN.

The skipper moves up on deck and turns the radio volume all the way up. Crouching down over the radio, he hears... "We have a man in the water"...."He is attached the boat".... "He's in the spinnaker"..."We have no engine".... USCG asks for the position. The skipper yells... write it down! The navigator, who was asleep was rousted and told to enter the waypoint, but he's too sleepy...the backup comes in off the rail and enters the point. The LAT LON has been changing during this time, as NIGHT TRAIN is still moving at a pretty good pace.

The DSC all stations alarm is triggered by the USCG. They send a MAYDAY relay and request assistance from all boats in the vicinity.

Within minutes we hear..."We are firing a flare" and all the crew on deck are told to watch all around the boat. We soon see, low on the horizon a flare, it's dead down wind of us. The GPS entry is made and for the first time we are pretty sure we know where NIGHT TRAIN is.... 2 miles downwind, we can get there in about 15 minutes.

So what's a skipper to do.....

The order is issued.... WRITE DOWN THE TIME.... STEER TO THE WAYPOINT... WE ARE SUSPENDING RACING! The helmsman pulls the tiller over and the boat surges through a heavy air gybe. We settle onto the new course. During a break in the radio transmissions, the skipper transmits..."NIGHT TRAIN, NIGHT TRAIN this is TIME MACHINE, we are 2 miles upwind and have diverted, we are coming!".... The transmissions from NIGHT TRAIN continue... "We have recovered the man"...."He is down below and we are trying to warm him"..."We have no engine"...."The MOB is conscious"... "We need a tow"....

So now what.... in these conditions, a J/35 under power struggles to make progress into the wind. the prop and engine are simply too small to consider towing the T/35. The USCG has scrambled a helicopter and the cutter BISCAYNE BAY. The ETA for the cutter is under an hour.

Skipper radios to NIGHT TRAIN...."NIGHT TRAIN, we are still coming. We don't think that we can assist you with a tow. We will keep coming unless you release us to continue racing". There is a short pause in the radio traffic as the NIGHT TRAIN crew considers the situation and then...."TIME MACHINE, resume racing... THANK YOU THANK YOU".

TIME MACHINE executes a "Chicken Gybe" and settles down on the course to the mark. The time is noted. We continue to monitor the radio traffic as the helicopter tries and fails to get a swimmer on-board NIGHT TRAIN. The cutter BISCAYNE BAY arrives and gets an EMT aboard. The MOB is transferred to the cutter and then lifted to the helicopter and transferred to the hospital. The initial medical evaluation is good. There are no serious injuries.

Upon finishing the race, TIME MACHINE files for redress. The international judges at the hearing ask to hear the facts of the situation. They then ask, "How much time are you asking for".... I am stunned! There is only one correct response..."I have provided you with the facts of the situation as accurately as I can. It's up to you the jury to determine the appropriate redress". The skipper is dismissed as the jury deliberates and the called back. The redress is granted and we are awarded 11:00 minutes. The jury also makes another comment which still rings in my head....

'What TIME MACHINE did should serve as an example to the whole sailing community. You are to be commended".

So what would you do????

RG, Skipper of the TIME MACHINE Sailing Team.


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