Friday, April 20, 2007

Don't leave your boat

There’s a sad story playing out off the east coast of Australia, where a 12m catamaran, the Kaz II, has been found adrift and its three-person crew missing.

When the Coastguard boarded the boat, via a chopper drop and a good swim, the engine was found idling, table laid for dinner, a laptop and other computers open running, but no people. The headsail's shredded and the main sheet looks as though it's parted company with its traveler, but it doesn't take much to do that on an untended boat. Interestingly, there's also a reef in the main, and that could be a whisper pole hanging from the mast on the port side - perhaps they'd poled the headsail out on a down wind reach.

Media is reporting that the liferaft is missing, but there’s yet been no confirmation whether the cat did have a liferaft or not. I can't see an empty cradle anywhere on the foredeck where a liferaft would normally be secured. There is a RIB hanging from the stern on davits, still with its outboard.

This tale is a poignant reminder when at sea in a kayak or a yacht – don’t leave your boat, unless it’s sinking from under you. In most cases, the boat will survive. And always wear a lifeline.

When I was skippering a bareboat off the Turkish coast in 1990, we were told of a charter yacht that had similarly been found adrift. The Med had been flat calm and nor were there any signs of a struggle. What rescuers did find though, were lots of finger nail scratch marks along the side of the hull, just above the waterline. Apparently the crew had all jumped overboard for a swim, but had forgotten to hang a boarding ladder.

I thought that perhaps this is what had happened in this case, but watching the video, you can see that the Coastguard swimmer has little trouble climbing up one of the hull’s low transoms. But what I do find curious is that there’s one fender hanging over the starboard side of the cat, and another three hanging over the port side. Dad never let us leave our fenders over the side of the boat for more than a minute once we’d left the jetty!

Prior to this year’s Everglades Challenge, EC superstar SandyBottom had advised me to have a line of some sort attaching me to my kayak. And I took her at her word. In fact, Andrew McAuley’s loss compounded that decision. I had an old climbing tape, less than a metre long, looped around the side of my PFD, with a carabiner to clip the other end to the kayak’s safety lines. I felt just that little bit safer, knowing that if anything really bad did happen, I wouldn’t be separated from my boat, or at least I’d be found with my boat.

* Six hours later: The more I think about this case - and it's been plaguing me all day - the more I believe that this is probably a very sad case where one of the crew has fallen overboard, another tried to help him (two were brothers), and the other fell over trying to save all of them. I've seen it before where a person's fallen overboard, and another has automatically jumped straight over the side without a thought in the world in an attempt to save them. And I have a sneaking suspicion that this could have happened shortly after first leaving port when winds were gusting 30knots, particularly because the reef is still in the main. It appears that conditions have been perfect for sailing once that 30knots blew over.


Dawn (aka SandyBottom) said...

12 aircraft are searching for the crew. I wish Andrew McAuley had half that many looking for him.

Kristen said...

Sadly, but fortunately for these chaps, Australia's a much bigger country than NZ with far more resources, and that includes planes.

Michael said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

Thanks for this post, Kristen. You know, I've never thought about a boat tether. Why not? Another secret death wish I suppose...
The deleted post above is a mis-spelled version of this one.