This is the text of the article that I submitted to Pacific Yachting. The magazine came out yesterday.
In July of 2012 while delivering Turicum from the Vic Maui race we had to evacuate a crew member who was having medical problems. We rendezvoused with a 335 meter container ship, Navarino 1000 miles north of Hawaii. The experience is one I will never forget and from which I learned a lot.
Before he signed up for return Andy Dawes conferred with his doctors who indicated that that the trip should be OK. Even then he did provide a set of medical supplies, in case.
After departing Lahaina, there was the usual period of adjusting to the motion and the majority of crew did suffer from mal de mer and did have some issues rehydrating. This led to some further complications. Andy had asked that we stabilize the boat to deal with his issues; so we hove-to a few times.
On day 7, Andy approached me and indicated that his condition was not improving and that he did not think that the rest of the trip was feasible. I indicated that I would seek assistance. After I tried a call on both the SSB
, I used the satellite phone to call the Coast Guard in Honolulu. After Andy conferred with the Coast Guard Flight Surgeon it was determined that medical evacuation would be necessary and that they would seek assistance from another vessel. We went onto a 6 hour call back.
Initially the Coast Guard in Honolulu contacted the Hanjin Vancouver destined for Long Beach. That rendezvous would have taken place 30 hours later, in the dark. Fortunately the Navarino, a 335 meter container ship headed for Los Angeles was available in 20 hours for a daylight meeting. We arranged to meet at 39° 10’ N 150° W. That meant that we headed north on a beat.
We arrived at the rendezvous a little early and watched the horizon and the AIS for signs of the Navarino. The AIS was invaluable as we were able to see the container ship when it was about 25 miles away and noticed that it was not headed straight for the rendezvous point. After a failed attempt to reach the Navarino on the VHF
, we called the Coast Guard in Honolulu who directed the Navarino to us. The Coast Guard initially told us that a rescue boat would be used for the transfer; we were then told that we would be pulling alongside to a pilot boarding point 1.5 meters above the waterline. Because the Navarino was travelling light the boarding point was actually 4.5 meters high.
After establishing radio
contact with the Navarino we were informed by the captain that they would put the vessel in a position in which we would be in the lee. They would be maintaining steerage way at a speed of 3 knots. We lowered our sails and set up our fenders
for a starboard approach. They set out two “balloons” to act as fenders
I had seen what can happen when these situations go wrong and was especially concerned about the “suction” that would bring Turicum in close to Navarino. This was an unnerving situation.
As we brought Turicum alongside, the crew of Navarino dropped a line
with which we could hold ourselves alongside. They also dropped a Jacob’s ladder
and a safety harness
. Dave Maskell helped Andy into the harness
, a process complicated by the fact that the harness
had never been deployed before and needed to be assembled. We fought be keep Turicum somewhat stable and eventually Andy was able to get onto the ladder
and climb up. The crew dropped another line
on which we sent a bag with some of Andy’s belongings aloft.
The rendezvous was by and large successful. In the process of keeping Turicum alongside the starboard sidelight was destroyed, the rubrail was scratched and two fenders
were deflated. After Andy was taken aboard he was given a hot bath to help alleviate some of his symptoms and then provided a roast chicken and potatoes lunch. He then got some much needed rest.
On arrival in Los Angeles, an ambulance met the ship and Andy was taken to a hospital for examination. He was released and flew home the following day.
While medical evacuation at sea is a not a common experience, it does happen. Like all emergencies it probably needs foresight and forethought to ensure it goes smoothly.
We would like to thank the Coast Guard in Honolulu for all their help and Captain Athanasios Pagkalos and the crew of the Navarino for coming to our assistance. It is reassuring to know that a system like the Automated Mutual Assistance Vessel Rescue System (AMVER) exists and that fellow mariners are willing and able to come to our assistance.