The skipper of Mirabella V, David Dawes, of Newport, R.I., reports on the successful rescue of the three-person crew of Compromise, a 32-foot sloop taking part in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers.
When you receive a Mayday by satellite, you always wonder if you are the closest. We plotted ourselves as 160 miles from the scene but going generally that direction. We informed Falmouth Coast Guard of our position and what sort of vessel we were. FCG asked us to divert, which we happily did. We did expect to be released from this within a few hours when a better asset checked in and made itself available. But alas, nothing came up, so we carried on.
Next day we got an updated position from FCG. The yacht had moved significantly as they wrongly thought we were doing 16-18 knots and didn’t think their speed mattered. They then hove to and we started our second engine and increased speed to 13 knots with a jib out. At this stage, we realized that is was in fact going to be us doing the rescuing and made preparations.
I calculated that we could get to them an hour before dark. A nighttime transfer was doable but that much harder.
By the time we reached them, I had permission to evacuate them from FCG, and agreed to take all three crew aboard MV. We ran through several ideas for getting Compromise back to safety, because we were in fact only 300 miles from Cape Verde Islands. I had crew eager to sail her there and claim her as a “prize”, then fly to Antigua to meet us. We eventually rejected all these ideas.
We came upon the yacht at dusk. VHF contact began at about 8 miles and radar contact was made at only 4 miles, a distance that surprised all of us on the bridge who rely heavily on radar for detecting small vessels at night. As we approached and circled them, I broke out the red ensign and blew the horn. I was so pleased to find them before dark that I felt like the Calvary riding in.
I discussed the situation with Sophie Quinney, a 30 YO doctor who was a friend of the captain and monitoring his condition onboard the yacht. She said they were prepared to abandon, he was in good enough shape to participate and they were getting ready. I instructed them on how I wanted to do it by their liferaft, so much safer than using our fast rescue boat. I didn’t want to risk my crew and it is just another aspect that can go wrong.
Light was falling and I dearly wanted to wrap this up. Our crew had previously been briefed and was ready. We had lines ready, man overboard gear and a rescue swimmer, and medical aid prepped. I have to admit the toughest part of it as captain was seeing the crew leave the safety of their yacht and climb into the liferaft. The second they let the line go, they relinquished control of their situation to me, and it was a moment of transfer of responsibility that was not lost on me. Every second until the final person came over our rail was eternity.
We circled in the falling light until the raft drifted away from the yacht so I could approach it. Seas were rough but not breaking. Wind was about 25 knots. I approached head to wind and stopped MV with the raft abeam the cap shrouds. We threw lines across, hauled them to us and they began disembarking up the rope pilot ladder. I lost control of the bow in the wind and we started to drift down on the raft but its design allowed it to bounce along to leeward of us and we dropped the rope ladder right into it.
I had agreed to take some bags of belongings off, within reason as long as it didn’t compromise their safety. Well bag after bag came over the rail. I should be charging excess baggage! But this boat was this man’s home for a few years and you can’t begrudge him bringing personal stuff.
We were relieved when all were aboard. It looked easy to me to climb up. Sophie told me later that looking up the towering topsides of MV from the raft was the most terrifying thing she had seen. I blew the ship’s horn to show everyone my relief and thanks for a job well done. Nothing went wrong, I am hoping it’s thanks to good planning.
The decision to abandon the yacht adrift in the ocean was not an easy one, given the potential hazard it presents. I could not ask this man to sink his home in front of us. She seemed to be coping well and there is that glimmer of hope that she may survive whatever is in store for her. I reckon she will be around for months. I asked the crew to leave a note on the chart table to say they had abandoned to safety and not perished. One could imagine a rescuer coming aboard and left for days to wonder what happened to the crew.
We left a masthead light on and put her astern of us in the dark.
Our new shipmates are real characters and having a boat ride to Antigua now, not St Lucia. It is easy to criticize their captain for going offshore with his condition. He will have long enough to reflect upon that without me adding to his difficulty. I find him to be a man with a fantastic spirit and life in him and given his situation, I just might try to taste the same adventure as he did.
We are humbled that Mirabella V has once again been in a position to assist a fellow seafarer.
Master, Mirabella V