This year there was a Dart Sailability official-unofficial team entry
Round the Island Race 2017
This year there was a Dart Sailability official-unofficial team entry for the Round The Island Race, raced on Saturday 1 July, organised by the Island Sailing Club. This is reputed to be the fourth largest participation sport activity in the United Kingdom, attracting some 1,600 entries with an estimated 16,500 individual sailors taking part. And in 2017 our new member Keith White, fresh from his triumphant solo circumnavigation of the British Isles (marks to starboard!) entered the Marathon to race the 50+ nautical miles round the Isle of Wight (marks to port!), and invited Tim Trent, volunteer and our Safety Officer, to join the crew.
The race did not go as planned.
On Friday 30 June Keith met Tim from the RedJet ferry at West Cowes at lunchtime and they planned getting the Marathon ready for the race. There was to be a crew of seven for the race, no bad thing, she's a big boat and heavy to operate even though Keith sails her solo on challenges, but racing is a very different thing from solo challenges. During the afternoon that seven dwindled to four, but four was fine to race her.
Friday afternoon saw Keith and Tim rigging a new staysail (the inner jib, Marathon is cutter rigged) and changing the configuration of the mast cars for the luff of the newly acquired pre-loved mainsail to get the best out of the sail, a sail Keith had not set before the race. They made new battens, and did several hours of substantial boat readying.
At about 6:30pm they were joined by the two other crew members, another Keith (Keith II), and Rob, who'd come over with Rob's other half, Donna, in a gorgeous Fairey Spearfish. We have two of these in the harbour in Dartmouth, they are a true 'Gentleman's Powerboat'.
Race start on the first for the class was at 6:40am, so the traditional early night was missed by all, also a tradition! 5:30am saw Tim waiting on Shepards Wharf for a space to appear in the vast number of competing yachts for Keith, Keith II, and Rob to collect him. The aim was for a 6am collection, and that was only missed by the equally traditional ten minutes!
Then the Marathon with Tim at the helm made it to the start line, all three sails set, bang on time. She spent some time filling the screen of the Island Sailing Club's live feed, too, Tim's wife reported later. The start signal was given and the race started. Bizarrely, the majority of the fleet, about 120 boats in the 6:40am three class start, were well upwind, perhaps hoping for a close reach to The Needles, where every boat was to turn to port and start the second sector of the race. Earlier fleets were well ahead, the first start having left at 5am! The bopat that set the new record had almost finished! Those were the big boats the ones who would fly around the course. The rest of the fleet was expecting to take about nine hours, give or take.
With wind at force 4 gusting 5, and easing to 3 or less at times, there wasn't enough wind to get the best out of the 20 tonne 44+ foot Marathon, she needs a good force 6 or ideally more, and goes well in a nastier sea than the other boats like, but she was still making over 8 knots over ground, and pointing a little higher than the fleet as she and they closed together, all aiming for the narrowing bottleneck in the Solent off Hurst Castle. About half way there Tim swapped with Keith II who helmed for the next five miles or so.
During that five miles Keith W started to feel feverish. He took a couple or paracetamol and settled down to be a passenger on a pleasant cruise until he felt better, allowing the others to do the work. But things were about to take a dramatic turn. Keith II handed the helm to Tim and went below with Rob. They had both sailed with Keith often before and were becoming concerned.
As they reappeared Keith crumpled to the cockpit sole in agony. He's had a grumbling appendix since at least December and the sudden severe pain led him to thing two words,
“Appendix” and “Ruptured” the latter meaning EMERGENCY. Then he said “Call the RNLI.”
As the skipper was in a foetal position on the cockpit sole Keith II was on the radio to Solent Coastguard, declaring a Pan Pan call for Medical Assistance. The challenge he had was to explain the Marathon's position to the coastguard in a way that would distinguish us from the racing fleet! Not a simple thing to do, that. The emergency was declared just north of the Sconce cardinal buoy (located at 50 degrees 42.54 minutes North, 001 degrees 31.43 degrees West), but where the Marathon was and all around her was also where the entire fleet was heading West, the Marathon included.
The first decision was to furl both jibs. It was then immediately obvious to everyone else that the Marathon was different from the rest of the fleet, and then to start the engine to give the manoeuvrability needed for what was to be the forthcoming RNLI rescue.
Next step was to find a gap in the fleet to turn around to face back to Cowes, necessary again to make the vessel unique to observers. Keith II traded the radio with Tim and swapped to the helm. The only radio in the boat that worked was a very crackly hand-held, the two main radio aerials having been disturbed and made unusable south of Ireland in Keith White's solo challenge when a fishing boat rammed him.
Tim found he was talking to Lymington Coastguard who acted as a communications relay to Solent Coastguard because the Marathon's radio transmissions were difficult to decipher. Even better, Lymington Coastguard had the Marathon under observation. They had identified her from the team's efforts to distinguish her from the rest of the fleet, plus her sail numbers, GBR3803L which Tim gave to the coastguard. Otherwise it was justr a sea of mostly white sails, all alike. He had earlier regretted not having his pe
rsonal hand-held vhf because it has a GPS in it for full lat/long, but he hadn't expected to need it! Lat/long had to be relayed from the main chart plotter down below.
Yarmouth Lifeboat, an All Weather Lifeboat, was in view heading at full speed towards the Marathon and also heard on vhf and Solent Coastguard requested orange smoke be made to identify the casualty absolutely. Rob got the canister from below, but the top was jammed, seized solid. No smoke was available. Yarmouth Lifeboat closed from ahead as the crew of the Marathon concentrated on her, to be joined by a smaller RNLI RIB which closed on the Marathon unseen and from astern. Lymington Lifeboat was also in attendance. Tim hadn't heard them on the radio, but lifeboats communicate using channel 0, the private Search and Rescue channel, and the Pan Pan call was on channel 16
Solent Coastguard had already discussed with Yarmouth Lifeboat that a helicopter medical
evacuation was required and Tim had heard that being set in motion over the radio. Meanwhile Keith II steered under motor to an upwind position clear of the racing fleet to give the RNLI the best possible access.
The paramedic crewmember was transferred from the Yarmouth Boat to the smaller Lymington Boat, and then to the Marathon, where he assessed Keith as being very sick indeed, requiring immediate hospital transfer. The challenge was then whether to do it from the yacht or from a lifeboat. Since Keith, with support, could just about stand and walk, a ship to ship transfer was made to the big Yarmouth Boat helped by many RNLI hands grabbing hold.
Then all the three sailors left aboard the Marathon had to do was to watch and wait for the helicopter transfer. Keith had instructed them to complete the race, but two things were against that. First, hearts were no longer in it because everyone was worried about him, and second the Marathon had received outside assistance, and also could not finish with the same number aboard as she started with. Retirement was the correct option.
The Marathon's 2017 Round the Island Race ended up with an autopilot motor-sail home and her skipper in Southampton General Hospital being assessed. Fortunately his appendix had not ruptured, but any further medical details are private. The suspected condition is only public because it was broadcast for the world to hear on the radio to Solent Coastguard.
After mooring up back in Cowes, Tim called Solent Coastguard to thank them, and also called Yarmouth and Lymington Lifeboats to thank them. As each said, their involvement usually ends when a casualty is rescued, It's great to be thanked, and great to hear the outcome as well.
The timings of the whole thing were amazingly compressed. The race started at 6:40am. Keith's tracker shows that conversations with Solent Coastguard started at about 06:50UTC, of 7:50am, and the lifeboat was preparing to come alongside at 8:20am as the Marathon got clear of the fleet. Not long after that Keith was on his way to hospital.