Friday, August 07, 2009

Rescue Complete, what worked and what didn't

TIME MACHINE was fortunate to be able to assist a couple of very lucky dinghy sailors who were in serious trouble on Lake Huron. See the whole story in the next blog entry (OH NO...not again). Many things went right, but as always there were some things that we could have been done better.

  • Keeping a constant watch, even in rough conditions and under power with autopilot
  • Cockpit VHF radio remote allowed for 25W transmissions to Coast Guard from at the helm
  • Quick crew work on dousing and securing the mainsail, enabled us to maneuver as needed
  • Crew followed orders without hesitation, enabled the skipper to think ahead and to anticipate the next steps in the process
  • Taking a pass to assess the victims status, determine what they wanted and to look for floating lines and rigging that could hamper close approaches
  • Patient support from Coast Guard, they monitored the transmissions, acknowledged copy and facilitated by not making requests while we had our hands full
  • Clear and consistent radio protocol. All transmissions from TIME MACHINE were in the format... Station Sarnia - Time Machine (the body of the message) OVER and they responded Time Machine - Station Sarnia (the body of the message) OVER. You always knew who was being called and who was calling.
  • Lack of a boarding ladder. TIME MACHINE has no boarding ladder. In this case the victims had enough strength that they could have used one. We did deploy the loops of dock lines to be used as footholds, but mainly relied on grabbing the victim and hauling them up by brute force.
  • Did not get the cold victims out of wet clothing. In this case getting the victims under blankets and out of the wind was sufficient. However, we should have been prepared to get them dry to speed the warming process.
  • Did not take victims temperature. In this case the lack of uncontrolled shaking and the immediate return of color to lips and cheeks was a pretty good indicator that hypothermia and shock were not a primary concern. However, taking a body temperature reading would have been helpful in the assessment process.
  • Did not maintain contact with the victims after they got to their car. In this case the victims were stable and in the care of a family member. However, we should have gotten a cellphone number, where they were going and probably the make model and plate of the car.
  • Use of rescue gear on the boat. In this case we were able to pull the victims aboard. We have a Lifesling system (on the stern rail) and a lifting tackle system (at the mast) specifically for helping to haul victims aboard. Had we been more practiced with the LifeSling and Hoisting Tackle we would have thought to use it.
  • We were not prepared to have a crew member enter the water if needed. In this case we were fortunate that both victims were conscious and moving. We needed to be prepared for the possibility of a victim in shock, not moving and listless. This could, as a last resort, require sending a crewman over the side. Doing so without endangering the crewman and in a pre-planned manner was not an option. We may have needed to wait for outside assistance.
  • Use of medical books and information. We have several medical references aboard that we could have consulted. In this case we were lucky that the victims symptoms were pretty obvious and quickly cleared up.
The lessons learned from this experience will be used to make sure we are practiced and confident with ALL the tools, resources and gadgets aboard. You just never know when you will need one of them!

Robert Gordenker,
TIME MACHINE Sailing Team.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

OH NO.... Not Again!

Last year TIME MACHINE was involved in a MAYDAY situation (see previous posting). So what are the chances that anything like that would happen again. Slim to none..... NOT SO FAST!

During the transport from Duncan Bay Boat Club to North Cape Yacht Club, TIME MACHINE and her crew were involved in a rescue. TIME MACHINE was crewed by her skipper, Robert Gordenker, a long-time team member, Dennis Maurer and a team member new to boat this year, Dee Adkins.

We had been motor sailing 28 hours, with only a short stop for fuel, ice-cream and pizza at Presque Isle. Conditions were tough with 20-25 knot winds nearly on the nose and lumpy seas. It was just after 1600 hours on Saturday August 1, 2009 and we were approximately 17 miles north of Port Huron, East of Lexington. We were attempting to reach the shelter of the Black River (Port Huron) before a cold-front that was expected that evening came blasting through. We were taking a beating, but were making good progress.

Suddenly, as I looked around, I spotted what looked like a kayak paddle rising and falling. But we were at least 5 miles off shore and in big seas. Anyone out this far was probably in trouble. Right away, I called the other 2 crew (we were only 3 on board) on deck. We dropped the mainsail and turned toward the spot. All of a sudden it became clear what we were seeing. There were two people in the water, clinging to the hull of small sailing boat (a Club Flying Junior) that was just barely afloat. The people in the water were wearing PFDs. There was no mast or sails and they had been waving a short paddle, normally used to paddle up to the dock.

At this point instinct took over.
  1. Contact the Coast Guard. I called to CCG Station Sarnia (thinking were were in Canadian waters) on VHF channel 16. Advised that we thought we had persons in the water and Sarnia should stand by. They answered immediately and did not bother us.

  2. Get TIME MACHINE ready for a rescue. We disconnected the mainsail from the boom and stuffed it down the companionway hatch. Not elegant, but it got the sail out the way. we could then deployed several dock lines over the side as a make shift ladder.
  3. Check on the victims. We called to them and asked if they need immediate medical assistance... NO, we are just cold came the answer. We called to them and asked if they intended to abandon their vessel.... YES, we are very cold. We called to them and asked them to collect the lines trailing in the water so they would not foul our prop when we made our close approaches.
  4. Make the first approach. As we made the first circle, I advised CCG Station Sarnia that we had 2 people in the water and were attempting to take them on-board. As we came head to wind just next to them, we called for one to swim to us. The younger sailor took several strong strokes and reached the dock lines. The two TIME MACHINE crew grabbed his arms and hauled him up and under the lower life lines.
  5. Make the second approach. We made another turn and advised CCG Station Sarnia that we had one person aboard and one still in the water. As we returned to a position just to windward of the victim he tried to swim, but it was clear that he had no more energy. He also had the paddle and some of the lines in his hands. Having positioned TIME MACHINE to windward, we drifted down to the him and soon he too was lifted through the life lines. There was a moment of concern that TIME MACHINE and the hull of the small boat would crush together with the victim between us, but by carefully motoring forward a few feet, very aware of where the victim was so that he did not get into the prop, he stayed clear.
    Get the location of the hull. As soon as the two sailors were secured in the cockpit, we noted the coordinates from the GPS.
  6. Get the medical condition of the victims. Even before relaying the position of the incident to CCG Station Sarnia, we wrapped them in blankets and did a quick assessment for hypothermia. We knew that they were very weak. Their lips were blue, they were shivering but not shaking, they were talking but not very clearly.
  7. Relay the situation to CCG Station Sarnia. We contacted CCG Station Sarnia and relayed the Lat-Lon of the hull that was now adrift.
    We also relayed our initial medical assessment of the two victims and advised that no immediate medical attention was required at this time, but that we were monitoring them closely.
  8. Move the victims down below and monitor them. We moved them down into the cabin, still wrapped in blankets. The combination of getting out of the wind, the warm cabin and blankets seemed to help a great deal. We were soon able to get their names and a contact phone number. They were a Father and Son.
  9. Decide on where to make landfall. We continued to warm the Father and Son, providing them with small amounts of hot coffee (just sips) and keeping a close eye of them. They requested to return to Lexington Harbor, which was the closest port. However, Lexington is a fairly shallow harbor and there was doubt that TIME MACHINE could make a safe entrance. The cardinal rule of a 1st responder is DO NOT become an additional victim. After several radio contacts with Harbor Lexington and a text message with a local sailor, we determined that we could probably make it.
    Continue to update the Coast Guard. Now that the immediate danger was past, we continued to update CCG Station Sarnia. They requested to know the nationality of vessel TIME MACHINE and as soon as they knew we were US flagged, they transferred control to USCG Station Port Huron.
  10. Make landfall. Very carefully we nosed into the harbor and were able to reach the gas dock without grounding. Once secured in the harbor we advised USCG Station Port Huron of our status.
  11. Releasing the Father and Son. I was not willing to release them on their own. It took several minutes for me to be comfortable that they were not in medical distress. Even then, I was not willing to let them walk to their car alone, so I sent one of the crew along. Communication at this time was hampered by a lack of cell phone coverage. The Father and Son were re-united with the Mother and we lost track of them.
  12. Followup with the authorities. I was soon called to the harbor master's office for a phone call from the Sheriff. A deputy was soon at the boat and I detailed the facts for him. He had other officers already searching for the victims and advised us that a good samaritan had recovered the hull and towed it back to Lexington Harbor. From the registration number he knew the names and address of the family. They matched with the names we had. The deputy congratulated us on a job well done and instructed the harbor master to provide us dockage at no-charge. Soon USCG Sector Detroit was heard hailing us on channel 16 and a full report was made to them by VHF radio.

Listen to the whole sequence of the radio transmissions on VHF16.

Thanks to Dan Burgoyne at USCG Station Fort Lauderdale for assisting in creating the edited recording.

In one of most emotional moments of the whole incident, the Father thanked me for rescuing them and asked if he could do something as a reward. I looked him right in the eye and said, "just seeing you and your son, alive and here aboard TIME MACHINE is the biggest reward I could possible get. Helping you is what sailors do for each other".

TIME MACHINE and her crew of 3 commend the Father and Son for staying with their boat, having the wits to wave the paddle and staying calm during the rescue. We also wish to acknowledge Canadian Coast Guard Station Sarnia for their professional support as information was relayed and US Coast Guard Station Port Huron for their assistance in determining that Harbor Lexington was accessible. We wish to thank the Sanilac County Sheriff and his staff and the Lexington Harbor staff for their support.

2009 Mac Race, We saw it all!

The 2009 Mac Race is in the books. TIME MACHINE was once again a contender for a podium finish, but at the last moment the fickle winds of Northern Lake Huron favored MAJOR DETAIL. Having thrown everything we had into the attack on MAJOR DETAIL, we did not see NIGHT TRAIN sneaking across the line at the pin end. Well, when you have a chance to 'medal', fight for all your worth, and there is no real difference between 4th and 5th.

The race started in fine fashion. We got away from the line in clear air, but soon ended up in a sandwich of J-120's, who started with the J/35 - T/35 fleet. It turned out to be a great photo op and there was a great picture of us in the Port Huron paper the next day as we rolled over the top of the larger and faster J-120. Things settled down as we worked the Southerly winds. Watch schedules were established and everyone made it on deck for the fly-by of the Boat-pix helicopter. Jim kept a close eye of the weather radar as first one storm skirted to our south and then another storm started to work towards us.

Actually, it was coming right at us. Since we could not out run it, there was no real choice but to head directly across the path of the storm. The previous storms had been fairly mild, no warnings were issued and boats that we could see near the storms did not seem to get hit very hard. However, this one was different. The first big gust was a big knock and rounded us up. The wind had gone from 12-15 knots to 25 knots. The spinnaker refilled.... the wind picked up to 35 knots and the spinnaker failed. The clew of the sail tore off and the the sail tore across the foot. Immediately the crew pulled what was now a flag into the boat as the wind increased to 40 and then 50 knots. The greatest concern now was to keep the mainsail intact. With only the main, the boat wanted to head up into wind, which would cause the sail to flog. The flogging in such conditions would disintegrate the sail in seconds. The trick was to hold the boat down just enough to spill most of the wind and yet not flog the sail. The rain and hail was coming horizontally. The wind had actually flattened out the water and TIME MACHINE saw boat speeds of 9.8 knots, unheard of in flat water!

In the midst of all the chaos, Colin and Carol got the #3 rigged and ready to hoist. It was about 12 minutes before the wind speeds reduced to under 30 knots at which point we hoisted the #3 and resumed our course towards Cove Island. It was about another 5 minutes and we set the 'skreacher'. 20 minutes after the first blast, it was as if nothing had happened. Soon marine warnings started to come in over the radio, reporting 50-60 knot gusts. No kidding!

The crew settled in for night and we continued to reach up the lake under spinnaker and full main. As the night progressed, the cold waters of the Lake generated thick fog, making for a real challenge for the drivers. Look away from the compass for 3 seconds and you would drift 20 degrees off course. It was cold. It was wet. But there was wind. Soon dawn arrived and with it the wind started to diminish. By mid morning we found our selves parked very near SNIPE (a T-35). The bubble machine and the cassette tape and all the other light air tricks were deployed as we tried to sniff out where the breeze might be coming from. Somehow we seemed to pick up the scent first and we hopped from puff to puff. In the mid afternoon we spotted BILL'S WILD RIDE and FALCON and NIGHT TRAIN all in our area. The breeze filled in from the Southeast and we all sped towards the Cove Island mark.

Approaching the mark we went through several fog banks and just as got with about 2 miles the fog cleared. We saw that boats were rounding at a point well to the east of where the GPS was pointing us. Well, better to go with what you can see, so we gybed twice and made a nice rounding of the mark just behind SNIPE and ahead of NIGHT TRAIN. Little did we know how lucky we were to be able to see the mark. Just minutes after we rounded, the fog descended again and many boats spent valuable time searching for the mark.

After rounding we were close hauled. Conditions were ideal, 12 knots of steady wind, flat seas and the boat was just flying. TIME MACHINE displayed great boat speed, passing SNIPE and pulling away from NIGHT TRAIN and we flew through the fog. Conditions slowly changed as the evening progressed and by 0100 hours on Monday we were pounding into 3-4 foot waves under the #3. Our couse was taking us into the lee of the Duck Islands, so we made a tack out into the Lake and the back onto port. The wind continued to build and the seas became 4-5 foot. At dawn we made a horrible discovery. The pounding of the waves and the shock loading on the rig had begun to tear the #3 sail apart. At some point the night the check-stay which had been well tensioned, had come loose. The pumping of the rig most likely delivered brutal forces to the sail.

We had to get the #3 down, so we set the #1 and put a reef in the main. Conditions were well above the normal range for the #1, but we were making it work. It took many hours before we made the better choice and put up the #2 and then shook out the reef in the mainsail. Boatspeed improved and the boat was much better balanced. Expecting a wind shift to the North West, we continued to sail on the Northerly route and then tacked out from behind Martin's Reef. In retrospect, it was the wrong move. A long tack back took us to the Eastern tip of Bois Blanc Island and then another series of tacks brought us to a point about 5 miles from the finish.

Then..... the wind died! We were dead in the water. MAJOR DETAIL came sailing up to a point about 50 yard off our starboard side and they too parked. So now it was game on. We knew from listening to the radio that BILL'S WILD RIDE and FALCON had already finished. If we could get moving before MAJOR DETAIL we could still get on the podium. All but Bill and Colin and Jeff sat below on the keel-bolts. We worked and worked for any advantage, but there was none to be had. Suddenly from the right side, cat's paws appeared on the water and the zephyr filled MAJOR DETAIL's spinnaker. 20 seconds later our sail filled. Now 3 boat lengths behind, we went into full attack mode. We pointed higher, they pointed higher, we went low, they went low, we faked a big turn higher and then dove lower, they matched it. This went on for 4.75 miles until we were within a 0.25 miles of the finish. Once again the wind died and we struggled to make way and to stay out of the current. At the last moment MAJOR DETAIL caught the slightest of breezes and was able to drift across the line, just as we pushed a bit too hard and ended up caught in the current. When we got going again, we saw NIGHT TRAIN drifting across the line at the opposite end of the line. BANG... was it us.... keep sailing.... BANG.... was it us.... keep sailing..... BANG.... well one of those had to be us.

As it turns out, we finished overlapped with NIGHT TRAIN in 5th. MAJOR DETAIL's crew paid us a great complement by commenting that they had not been attacked as hard or with such imagination as we had done. They did a great job of holding the advantage that the wind god's had given them.

We hope that all our fans and followers had a great time watching the tracking of the race.

The TIME MACHINE crew, for the second year in a row had an 'Old Goat' and a 'Newbie' aboard. Shawn was doing his 26th race and Colin was on his first. The sailing-crew of Robert, Bill, Rick, Fred, Jeff, Carol, Jim and Dennis were supported by a great ground-crew.

Robert Gordenker,
Skipper, TIME MACHINE Sailing Team.