Intense team effort evacuates Bermuda Race sailor

Details of the evacuation of the ill skipper off of yacht Seabiscuit


Talbot Wilson

Intense efforts on the part of many people came to a satisfying end before dawn on June 18, 2012 when an ill sailor was evacuated from the yacht Seabiscuit competing in the 635-mile Newport Bermuda Race. Assisting in this demanding exercise were a medical doctor, men and women standing radio watch, the skippers of several vessels, and the Bermuda Government Office charged with rescuing mariners in the western Atlantic Ocean.

Early in the evening of July 17, Nathan C. Owen (Norwell, Mass.), the owner of the 46-foot sloop Seabiscuit, racing in the Double-Handed Division, was suffering from complications from dehydration. A report of his condition was relayed to the race’s primary emergency physician, Barbara A. Masser MD, Associate Director of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess, in Needham, Mass.

Dr. Masser emailed recommendations for Owen’s treatment to the Race’s special team, called the watchstanders, who relayed the advice to Seabiscuit. “The racing crews are capable and resourceful, but should they need outside help, someone will be watching,” watchstander Sheila McCurdy explained. “The Bermuda Race Organizing Committee has procedures for providing assistance and making contact with search and rescue authorities in the U.S. and Bermuda.”


Throughout the race, seven experienced sailors take turns in four-hour watches to monitor the Race’s tracker and communications. These watchstanders alert the Race Committee, the Bermuda’s Rescue Coordination Center, and other services when problems appear.

Dr. Musser recommended that Owen remain on board and be treated for dehydration and other problems. Race Communications Chairman and watchstander Steven Thing reviewed a list of boats that had doctors in the crew, and asked the nearest one, Flying Lady, to rendezvous with Seabiscuit and assist in treating the patient. Although the sea was too rough to transfer the doctor, Flying Lady‘s crew did succeed in tossing medications and medical equipment across to Seabiscuit.

Steven Thing later asked the Bermuda Rescue Coordination Center to task a larger race competitor, Spirit of Bermuda, to turn back, cover the 78 miles to Seabiscuit, and prepare to give aid. Spirit of Bermuda is a sail-training schooner owned by the Bermuda Sloop Foundation.


Owen’s condition briefly revived. Dr. Masser, however, soon determined that he should be under professional care. She and Bermuda Race Organizing Committee Chairman John Osmond (who is also a medical doctor) requested the Rescue Coordination Centre to have the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Enchantment of the Seas, en route from Bermuda to Boston, effect an evacuation. The ship took Owen off Seabiscuit at approximately 3 a.m. on Monday morning. As Enchantment of the Seas carried on to Boston, Owen was reported to be recovering. His crew, Jonathan Green, sailed on to Bermuda, as did Spirit of Bermuda.

Said Bermuda Race Organizing Committee Chairman John Osmond, “The Committee is profoundly thankful to all who took part in this demanding and ultimately successful exercise. We especially thank Scott Jackson and his crew on board Spirit of Bermuda, Philip S. Dickey and his crew on Flying Lady, and the Captain and crew of the Enchantment of the Seas for their caring and able seamanship.”