Monday, March 7, 2016

RESCUE | Marbrisa Yacht Club Eyewitness Report

Two yachts from the 19-boat Marbrisa Yacht Club fleet circle #27 with a fallen mast. Photos © JT Marlin.
It is common in races to have mast problems, but rarely on such a relatively calm day. However, this mishap occurred earlier today during the Marbrisa Yacht Club Commodore's Monday Race in Vero Beach, Fla.

The skipper of #27 was not found on the scene.
I was an eyewitness to the sudden and startling development. Because of the relatively low wind speed, the rescue boat was not ready for action and had to be called in, so the rescue was delayed.

The major difficulty for other yachts that quickly arrived on the scene was that the mast was still held to the deck of #27 by three of its four stays, so it was impossible for the other boats to bring it in.

A major concern of the Race Committee was that the skipper of #27 was nowhere in sight. The two boats that reached the scene of #27 searched in vain for him.

Various theories have been advanced for the loss of the mast and the absence of the skipper.

Examination of #27 after the disaster suggests unusual stress on the port stay, which caused the screws holding the stay to the deck to come loose. The failure of the port stay resulted in the mast falling to the starboard side. A veteran boat-builder observed, shaking his head upon looking at #27:
The mast needs all four stays anchored to the deck; if one fails, they all fail. It's the same with the boat-builder–he is an absent member of the crew of every boat. Be careful who you pick to build your boat and maintain it.
The first boats on the scene left after a careful search
and an attempt to move the stricken #27.

Marbrisa Yacht Club officials speculated that when the mast fell over, it knocked the skipper unconscious.

The Club has contracted for a SCUBA team to search the area. A former Navy Seal who lives in Fort Pierce is leading the effort.

The Marbrisa Yacht Club is not releasing, and has requested me not to publish, any full names of race participants. A spokesman said: "The Club is conducting a thorough search of the area and we will not release any details until after notification, if necessary, of next of kin."

The U.S. Coast Guard has been notified.

The boats first on the scene abandoned their search and called for a power boat to come to the scene. Participants in the race were shaken up by the disaster and did not want to comment about the tragedy.

Postscript (Monday evening)

Two forms of rescue arrived on the scene. The Marbrisa Yacht Club (MYC) Commodore, Leo, arrived with a fan-driven electric-powered rescue boat. This is able to maneuver in shallow water because no below-the-water-line props are used, only the fan on the deck of the boat.

But before Commodore Leo was able to put his rescue boat into action, Fleet Captain Richard bravely stepped out into the water and – risking being sucked underwater by the quicksand – captured the disabled boat and hauled it to shore.

For his swift and successful rescue action today, the MYC at a special meeting has awarded Richard its highest honor, the Marbrisa Medal of Merit, for "bravery and pluck beyond the ordinary".
Richard lands the boat. Note
failure of port stay.

Photos of the dramatic rescue are below.
Fleet Captain Richard rescues #27. Richard is
awarded MYC's highest honor, the Medal of Merit.

Commodore Leo arrives with rescue boat #24 but is beaten to the punch.

The only remaining question was about the missing skipper.

The best explanation is that the boat was "borrowed" and that the skipper was never on it in the first place.

Further Postscript, Tuesday Morning

I was able to contact the missing skipper, Vice Commodore Tom, and he sent a note thanking the Fleet Captain for rescuing his boat.

He said that it was indeed "borrowed" and that he knew that the port side stay was in need of maintenance. He added:
And to think I missed this grand affair with Capt Richard wading into the great unknown with the possibility that the residual team would only bring home his chapeau as he was drawn into a nether world with a loud deglutition noise being the last of him! Methinks his reward was minimal at best but well deserved. Perhaps Leo's flat boat with its supra-aqua wind-blow propulsion becomes an essential stand-by for harrowing eventualities and prevention of the need for lockjaw inoculations.
For readers unfamiliar with the term of art "deglutition", it describes a three-stage sequence comparable (in the sense that the 2nd and 3rd stages are involuntarily linked to the first) to the three stages of the Moon Landing Launch:
1. Act of swallowing, ordinarily voluntary, with lip closure and tooth approximation. 2. Involuntary peristalsis, which carries the bolus of food or mouthful of water down the esophagus, with under normal conditions a synchronous blockage of the nasal passage and pharyngeal airway. 3. Passage of the bolus of food or mouthful of water through the length of the esophagus and into the stomach via peristaltic waves.
Commodore Leo has the last word:
We also generated three other findings in the wake of the disaster: 1. There are no alligators in this stretch of water. 2. Skipper Allen was great at pushing the disabled boat up to the point that the fallen mast acted as an anchor. 3. Capt. Richard proved beyond any further doubt among the officers of the MYC that manipulating the rudder of Boat A has no effect on the direction of travel of Boat B unless the two boats are in direct contact.

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