lucky to be alive
A scary story from anarchist Sheep of the Bow…
After an enjoyable Cork Week 2010 my Uncle, Rachel our tactician and myself left to deliver Jeez-Louise back to the RSrnYC, Hamble on the Saturday morning. The forecast was due to build from a WSW F5 to a F6 and swing to the SW that evening, and so we set out expecting an interesting night of it.
By 0100, we were around 35nm NW of Lands End, making our way through fairly large seas in a solid F7, with the odd gust hitting 34kn. Illness had unfortunately confined the Uncle to a leeward bunk, and seen me tucking him in with a bucket and bottle of water for the night at about 2000. Rachel and I had just had a discussion about what our options were if the weather deteriorated further, as we were already under a fully reefed main with no headsail, when the previously silent VHF sprung to life.
One of the two Reflex 38s belonging to Sailing Logic, Puma and Jaguar (I’m afraid I forget which), was broadcasting a mayday relay from Buccaneer, a First 40.7 – one of their crew had gone overboard. Luckily, the J109 Jukebox was a little closer to Lands End than we were, and spent the rest of the night doing a fantastic job of coordinating the rescue with Falmouth Coastguard. The MOB position was about 10nm back up our track, and so after discovering that we were the closest boat to the scene, turned about.
During the 90 or so minutes it took us to broad reach over to Buccaneer, a fair amount happened. Only one of the Logic boats was able to assist, the other being to windward and very rightly deciding that running in the conditions would be too dangerous – we made a gybe and it was obvious that many more would destroy the mainsheet setup fairly quickly. Rescue 169, an RAF Sea King had been dispatched from Wales via Culdrose and arrived on scene a few minutes before we did, while two Cornish lifeboats had departed. A French yacht returning from Cork had diverted and Jukebox were a few miles on our stern. Buccaneer had fallen utterly silent since their initial broadcast, with all of us trying in vain to get more details.
During those ninety minutes, we broke out all our safety kit and tested things such as our searchlight, with me quietly thanking God that a failed Fastnet attempt last year meant the boat had one, and a JonBuoy on the stern. Rachel did a fantastic job of manning the radio and, in the odd quiet moment, hitting a bunk and sleeping (I’m desperately jealous of her capacity to sleep in any shituation…). She also made the welcome point that a parachute flare in the presence of a helicopter may not have been my brightest idea (in my defense, I was shattered) and there was the odd moment of amusement. As I drove, Rachel appeared at the hatch asking how to turn on a flashlight. Before I had a chance to reply I was blinded by the thing as she figured it out whilst aiming it directly at my head. Then there was the Logic boat who was asked by the helicopter as to the sea state. He immediately replied ‘rough,’ waited a few seconds whilst I assume thinking he’d been out in worse th
an this, and very composedly corrected himself with a ‘moderate to rough.’ At least someone had seen worse than this!
During the odd darker moment, we judged her survival chances as being non-existent, and that if we did find her body, we were only capable of marking it – with just two of us, getting anyone aboard in such a vile sea would be too risky. I made an arbitrary guess at the drift rate of a person in the sea state and so we headed for just below it, with the plan of working upwind from there. Read on.