September 2008 Lost at sea
If you have been following this blog you may remember our friends on 'Blessed Be' that we left in Savusavu, Fiji, as the crew flew back to Australia for business. Bruce (Skipper/Owner) returned some time later with a new crew member to bring the yacht a 42 foot Morgan to Australia. Unfortunately when he was sailing back to Australia he ran into a major storm and both he and his crew member was lost at sea.
It was very sad for all that knew Bruce and unfortunately when a search was being made it did not go that well do to some circumstances many months later I wrote to the magazine Cruising Helmsman for the sole purpose of trying to ensure skippers are aware of shortfalls in the system and how they can ensure things may be better if they get caught in a storm and have to pass messages on the radio that may end up being important.
This is the letter to the editor of the Cruising Helmsman magazine:
- If you call a Coastal Radio Station with an urgent message in a concerned situation, make sure you add your official call sign and boat registration and ask for that to be passed on to the Rescue Coordination Centre in Canberra. Do not assume that the message will be passed on to anyone unless requested. Give a time that you will call back again, make it hourly when you are in a situation this should shorten the activation time if you run into trouble.
- Many yachts at sea do not plot their course on paper charts on a regular basis they rely on electronic charts, we use both and we plot our course hourly when blue water and coastal sailing. Make sure when you give information that you give accurate position that the Lat/Long matches the distance you are giving.
- Keep regular radio schedules with radio networks when blue water sailing, there are many out there run by volunteers, if possible make your own with other yachts travelling the same waters.
- Local boating should log on and off with the VMR or Coastguard radio stations around our coastline when leaving and entering ports. Talking to the Coastguard only about 40% of boats call in when leaving port and entering port. Coastguard do a wonderful job trying to keep us safe use them.
This letter is based on the information that I have received through the communication transcript, media reports given by the spokesperson from the Rescue Coordination Centre, the conversation I had with the Rescue Coordination Centre and what was reported by Graeme's son in the newspaper.
I have been continuously in contact with Graeme’s wife as she has used me as a sounding board for some of her questions that may come up at the inquest. She like me is concerned of the pitfalls in the system this is what brought me to write the letter to CH was to make other skippers aware. I was pleased shortly after the letter was published that some skippers came and saw me and asked about what we did in blue water sailing as far as routine safety.
We must remember that sometimes we do things without thinking about what the outcome could be. I can remember when I had my hobby farm of 10 hectares (25 acres), I used to give the children a ride on the carry-all on the back of the tractor one day the lift lever vibrated into the lift position and the children were hanging on for dear life as it went into the air fortunately no one was hurt and the kids thought it was fun. That was the last day I ever took kids for a ride on the tractor because I realised what the outcome could have been.
The sea can be a dangerous place and the sea deserves respect and can demand it at times so we need to be prepared. Sometime ago on two different occasion in two different places two yachts ran aground on reefs off the coast of Queensland and had to be rescued. Both skippers wrote to CH stating that the reefs were not on the charts. The following issue of CH had a letter from the commanding officer of the Hydrographic office stating that he was surprised to hear these claims as the reefs are marked on the Australian charts and he listed the chart numbers of these charts. The skippers were referring to electronic charts. Many skippers today do not carry paper charts this is playing with danger.
Another skipper ran aground off
The world of technology is great it gives us a quick reference but we have to consider that some parts of our ocean was last surveyed by Captain Cook and there is still some areas unsurveyed. I must say though that Captain Cook’s surveyed charts are very accurate considering they were all done with a lead line.
Global Positioning Systems (GPS) is a great tool we can put in waypoints to guide us from ‘a’ to ‘b’ commonly known as the rhumb line and we set this rhumb line at the shortest possible distance. One thing to remember is that someone else could be doing the same coming from the opposite direction, if you are both lucky enough to maintain your course on the rhumb line you are on a collision course. This happened to us on one of the largest stretches of water between Galapagos and
The list of things that can go wrong is probably endless, all I am trying to say here is think of the ‘what if’s’ when or before you do things and it does not have to only relate to the sea.