Sunday, 9 August 2009

Saturday 8 August 2009 -- Mayday!

22 nautical miles
Not my favourite experience to recall, but I must say the emergency services were excellent. I wish it had been an exercise rather than 'for real'. Here's the report to the Marine Accident Investigation Division of the Department of Merchant Shipping:
Incident relating to open boat Galini: a 16 ft Wayfarer. Saturday 8 August 2009.

Skipper: Richard - 4 years sailing experience, approx 1100 sea miles mostly in open boats in Cyprus waters. In 2009 studied for and passed RYA Day Skipper theory and practical.
Crew: Skipper, crew A and crew B all adults and crew C 11 year old son of crew A, who I have been teaching to sail during the summer of 2009. Crew A has diabetes and knowing him well understood this to be under control. Crew B was a friend of crew A and this was a day sail as a gift for crew B. All the crew were wearing 50N buoyancy aids appropriate for open boat sailing in inshore waters. I was also carrying a serrated safety knife on a lanyard attached to my buoyancy aid.

We left Larnaca Nautical Club at approx 10:00, two open boats Galini and Saga sailing to Cape Pyla and back. Both boats had marine band handheld radios and we were using channel 11 for inter-boat communication. Conditions were moderate and crew C helmed for most of the first 1.5 hour towards Capy Pyla. During this time I noticed a sluggishness in crew A that concerned me and I asked if he was OK. He tested his blood sugar which was very low and he then ate some fruit which he said would replenish his blood sugar.

I took over the helm as we approached Cape Pyla and in communication with Saga we decided to turn back and find somewhere to beach the boats and have lunch. We turned just after the Pyla 1, 2, 3 buoy line. There was further deterioration in the condition of crew A and so I placed him in the bottom of the boat where if he did pass out he would be safe. I looked at Romanzos as a safe haven but decided that getting in there with the sea state as it was would be unwise and then proceeded to Dhekelia Sailing Club, where I also knew there would be medical back up if needed. Crew A started to vomit, which I assumed just to be sea sickness, but later discovered was related to his diabetic condition and not sea sickness.

I tried to make contact with our partner boat, but was unable to. I later discovered they had a battery problem with their marine band handheld radio. We tacked back a couple of times and then ran into the Dhekelia Sailing Club bay, gybed and came round and picked up the tripping line. I got the crew on shore and crew ate lunch and in particular crew A recovered, he re-tested his blood sugar, which I was told was then OK.

The wind rose from Bft 4 to Bft 5 over lunch and I watched the wind gauge at the club, and also watched carefully a smaller Laser dinghy from Dhekelia Sailing Club go out. The conditions appeared to be very similar to those I have sailed in before, in particular the conditions of the previous Saturday. I therefore decided it was OK to sail back to Larnaca. Crew C and I reefed and prepared the boat for the sail back. As is my normal practice when the wind is more than Bft 3 I attached my marine band handheld to my body, so that if we get into difficulties the radio would be with me and not the boat.

The wind had moved to South-South-West, so we would have to sail close hauled into the wind the whole way. As we tacked back I had problems with crew B. Firstly wanting to relieve himself and then having problems understanding the basic instructions to change sides of the boat when we tacked. Repeatedly I was getting 'Where am I supposed to go?'

At approx 16:00 we were at our final or near final tack to get back to the Larnaca Sailing Club and as we tacked we caught a wave and went over, within a few seconds the boat went 180 degrees. In previous sailing experiences in Bft 5 with experienced or inexperienced crew even if we have taken water on board we have not capsized. Generally the Wayfarer has proved itself a very seaworthy boat.

I later heard from crew A that on this particular tack crew B had remained in his seat on the wrong side of the boat and had not changed sides at all. When we started to capsize because of the wave his extra weight on the wrong side of the boat and even then not moving his body exacerbated the problem and took us over to 180 degrees. Crew A grabbed crew B who was in danger of being trapped under the boat and dragged him free.

I have a 'masthead buoyancy' system as recommended by the RYA for open sea sailing and this should prevent or reduce the possibility of going 180 degrees. Because it appeared to have failed and bringing a boat back from 180 degrees can be difficult I tried to get assistance by first calling Larnaca Nautical Club on channel 16 and Dhekelia Sailing Club on channel 8. Neither responded. After a few minutes the masthead buoyancy did work bringing the boat to 90 degrees. I therefore tried to right the boat by climbing onto the hull/centreboat, but slipped and went under.

I realised that having been sailing for over 5 hours the entire crew were weary and that being in the water everyone was using up energy. Because of my concerns for crew A, and being unable to make contact with my partner boat or either sailing club I decided to make it a Mayday call: I was worried that if crew A did use up too much energy his blood sugar would drop and he would become unconscious, where a buoyancy aid would not help him. I therefore called Mayday on channel 16 and RCC answered almost immediately. The marine police arrived within approx 15 minutes and they rescued crew C [child], crew A [diabetic], crew B and finally me. They were very professional and very good.

Dhekelia Sailing Club then sent out their rescue boat and tried to right Galini, but in the conditions found they could not so towed her and beached her north of the Lordos Beach Hotel, where we later recovered her with the Larnaca Nautical Club rescue boat.

Things learnt from this event:
1) Inexperienced crew (crew B) who fail to follow simple instructions can become a significant liability in sea states that might otherwise be sail-able.
2) Masthead buoyancy did eventually bring the boat back to 90 degrees, but took a few minutes to do so. Had the crew been less weary then we might have been able to self-rescue.
3) The bright orange 40 litre balloon of the masthead buoyancy assisted the emergency services in locating the boat.
4) Having the marine band handheld radio attached to my body made it easy to call for assistance.
This is the Secumar Masthead Buoyancy unit inflated with a 30cm ruler alongside to show size.

It took a few minutes [difficult to estimate but probably between 3 and 5 minutes] to bring the boat to 90 degrees, which would have been too long had a crew member been entrapped below the boat inverted. However, the Wayfarer does have a significant air pocket when inverted.

This photo shows the masthead buoyancy unit deflated, also with a 30cm ruler, which shows it has little impact on the sailing ability of the boat.

There was very little water entered into the rear buoyancy tank of the Wayfarer - maybe half a litre - which showed the seal on the tank still to be good. I don't have test gear for this seal, so it was kind of a baptism by fire, but the Wayfarer did stay buoyant throughout.

The wind was Bft 5 for the afternoon and gusting, but pretty similar to normal wind conditions for Cyprus in August and very similar to the week before. I would have had to wait till approx 19:00 for the wind to drop below Bft 5 and I didn't have the masthead lighting with me.

Other non-safety related things we found out were: The 'dry box' was not as water tight as anticipated. Possibly the lid had not been screwed tight, but there was significant water ingest into the box [maybe half a litre again, but significant in a dry box!] which damaged and possibly destroyed my mobile phone. Strangely the matches also in the dry box were still dry! Probably the mobile phone should be in an AquaPac as well as in the dry box, which is what Tim does.

Because of untying the bucket to let crew B relieve himself [we went 'hove to' and he used the bucket as the sea conditions were not possible to go over the side], some items had not been re-secured to the bucket, eg camera in waterproof case, hand-bearing compass etc. These were all placed on the shelf under the foredeck, but I haven't found if they floated off or not.

We will have to get the outboard motor serviced/cleaned out as soon as possible as it was under water for quite a length of time.

1 comment:

Brian (UK) said...

Well done Richard sounds like you're even more experienced now and did a top job. Ruth not encouraged to sail again but does however now feel that her seasickness was not so bad after all having read this!