We just completed the Newport Bermuda race on my 1988 Swan 46 Mk1 “Flying Lady.” In a race which featured lots of 80-100 foot ultra light speedsters packed with burly young professional sailors, while our crew included 3 doctors, a dentist, an EMT fire lieutenant, an aeronautical engineer, a carpenter, and a sixty-plus building inspector. While we all freely released our ISAF class data to the race committee (all class 1), none of us would have released our body mass index data to any racing authority. Let’s just say that if had we wanted to lighten up the boat for racing we should have started with diet and exercise for the crew.
Yet, who do you think were called to do one of the few sailboat to sailboat rescues of a sick sailor in the history of the Bermuda Race? One of the sleek speedsters with 20-something trained athletes manning the decks? Or the Naval Academy Navy 44” Defiance” (who have smoked us repeatedly) with nobody over the age of 22 onboard and some barely shaving? No. the middle-aged doctor boat.
You see, the distress call came over 16 that the race committee doctor had told the crew of double handed Sea biscuit (J46) to find a boat that had the capacity to administer IV fluids. The owner had become dehydrated due to seasickness and hadn’t kept anything down for 36 hours.
So how do you prepare a boat for offshore racing if you know more about spinal stenosis than spinnakers? Of course you make the boat a floating hospital, with not only IV fluids, but enough stuff to do surgery in most body cavities. Neurosurgeon, plastic surgeon, urologist, dentist, EMT: the potential for high seas medical mischief was endless.
Combine our floating hospital with mandatory satellite phones for all competitors, a list of medical personnel aboard every boat filed with the race committee, and a Harvard doctor in Boston coordinating medical emergencies—now you have a perfect recipe for “Flying Lady” to see some real action.
Of course we answered the call, checked in with Bermuda Rescue and the RC doc by phone and sped off under engine to rendezvous with “Seabiscuit.” Naively we thought we’d put out fenders,transfer to the boat, start an IV, give some fluids, and be back to racing. However, those of you with offshore experience know that there is no way in hell we were going to have a simple tie-up with another 46 footer in sloppy seas 240 nm from Bermuda, even with only 14 knots of a backing NE breeze (compared with 30 in the Stream). What we were able to do after a couple of passes with fenders out but with masts swinging like 65 foot high windshield wipers, was to toss them our IV bags and needles and talk them through the administration on the VHF.
These amazing guys got the IV started with excellent coaching from our EMT and after a little fluid, the dehydrated sailor felt better and “Seabiscuit “started motoring to Bermuda. Bermuda rescue asked us to stay within VHF range until he was transferred to “The Spirit of Bermuda”, the Bermuda Schooner who had been turned back to redezvous and take him on their ship (which apparently had even more of a hospital on board than ours).
Unfortunately after a brief period of improvement, the sailor felt worse again and Bermuda Rescue arranged for him to be evacuated by” Enchantment of the Seas”, a cruise ship, who plucked him off the sailboat in no time, displaying real professional seamanship. I’ll save you the details but don’t believe that there are no big ships that can stop on a dime or turn like a dinghy. The crew then sailed” Seabiscuit” solo to Bermuda and finished respectfully despite all the drama.
Bermuda Rescue released us to start sailing again, and after our 7 hour rescue ordeal, we put up the symmetrical kite and took off in darkness in 18 knots true, aluminium starboard pole forward, on the edge of control. We finished a little over 24 hours later in a dying breeze and it took us 4 hours to complete the last 5 miles, while most of our competitors had finished in 12 knots. To our satisfaction, the Jury awarded us all of the 7 hours in redress and we finished 6th IRC out of 13 in our class.
To our surprise, the RC notified us that” Flying Lady,” “ Seabiscuit,” and”Spirit of Bermuda”would all receive Special Seamanship Awards and we all beamed with pride when we accepted our award from the Governor and the RC brass at the “prize-giving” Saturday evening.
Lessons learned: 1) feel privileged to be on an older boat with a bunch of older doctors and other guys. Even if they may not be able to change sails as quickly as the Navy guys and girls, and even if the speedo never hits 20, you may get a chance to do something few of us ever get to do—participate in a rescue at sea of a fellow sailor in need, and 2) age and treachery trump youth every time!
Phillip Dickey MD, Captain,
Flying Lady, Swan 46