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Crew Rescued by RNLI ... Again

Thursday 5 January 2012
It saddens me when yachting companies give the industry a bad name by taking their clients out in dangerous conditions.

The shipping forecast for Thames, Dover, Wight, Portland and Plymouth on Tuesday was "Wind west to southwest force 5 to 7, increasing gale 8 to storm 10 later. Moderate or rough, occasionally very rough or high. Squalls in showers, rain later. Good occasionally poor.". Having been in storm force winds many times previously this is not weather that I would choose to go out in even with a full professional crew. The yacht was well equipped and skippered by a Yachtmaster Instructor but the rest of the crew were undergoing training.

Despite the forecast Hot Liquid Sailing undertook the training passage towards the London Boat Show. Their yacht, Liquid Vortex, got into trouble in storm force winds and called Dover coastguard to alert them to the trouble they were having. The RNLI's Dungeness lifeboat was called out and risked transferring a crew member aboard the yacht to assist her.

The details of the operation were summarised in a statement by the MAIB (note this is not an official report by them):

"Liquid Vortex and her crew set off from Shamrock Quay at 14:30 on Monday the 2nd of January bound for Ramsgate. The passage plan was to arrive at Ramsgate at approximately lunchtime on Tuesday the 3rd of January, weather conditions allowing, with possible safe havens of; Brighton, Eastbourne or Dover on route.

"Given the weather forecast prior to departure (West / Southwest Force 5/7 possibly Force 10 later), visiting one of these safe havens was becoming likely. The updated weather forecast at 19:30 remained the same.

"Liquid Vortex and her crew continued to sail along the South Coast during the day in winds of 20+ knots with gusts reaching Force 7 into the early hours of Tuesday morning. The sea state was increasing during the first few hours of Tuesday morning and whilst sailing past Dungeness the wind rapidly increased and sea state worsened. This caused four of the crew to suffer from sea sickness remaining below decks and no longer able to stand watch.

"Shortly after 04:00 Dover Coastguard announced an updated weather forecast that a Force 11 was imminent so an immediate decision was made by the skipper to head towards Dover for shelter. Soon after the wind started reaching Force 8 and the yacht was becoming more difficult to control so the decision was made to drop the headsail and motor towards Dover which at this point was less than 2 hours away.

"At 05:00 - 05:30, the skipper sent a Pan Pan message to Dover Coastguard as a safety precaution so that they were aware of his location and intentions. Dover Coastguard called the RNLI Lifeboat to escort the yacht into Dover.

"Shortly after the Lifeboat met Liquid Vortex she was hit by a large wave from astern. This caused the helmsman to fall against the wheel and subsequently bend the wheel which prevented further steering. The helmsman went below suffering an injured jaw and damaged ribs.

"Due to the lack of steering capability the Lifeboat secured a tow to Liquid Vortex with the intention of towing to Dover. Unfortunately, due to the yacht slewing with the given sea state and lack of helming capabilities, the tow line chaffed and snapped. A second tow line was rigged with the same outcome. The RNLI passed dedicated bridal lines to secure a third tow; unfortunately this tow failed by pulling a bow cleat from the yacht.

"The skipper along with a lifeboat crewman managed to straighten the wheel which allowed the skipper to helm and motor the yacht under her own power.

"A rescue helicopter was sent to evacuate the injured crewman. The decision was made whilst the helicopter was with yacht to also evacuate the three other crew who were feeling seasick. The four evacuated crew flew to the local hospital in Ramsgate and were subsequently released soon after. Fortunately the injured helmsman hadn't suffered any serious injury but had a bruised jaw and ribs.

"The RNLI Lifeboat then secured a final tow to assist Liquid Vortex into Ramsgate Harbour due to deteriorating weather now reaching Force 10/11 where she berthed under her own power."

This is the third time in a year that Hot Liquid Sailing have had to call on the authorities to rescue them (Liquid Fusion sank in January 2011 and they were found lacking in an MAIB investigation into an incident in May when a crew member had to be airlifted).

I would have hoped that if any company were putting safety first it would be them. At the very least going out in such conditions is not good seamanship training. Remember, "if in doubt, don't go out".

Update (2nd February 2012):
As a result of the three serious safety incidents the RYA has removed permission for Hot Liquid Southampton to run RYA courses.

Update (23rd February 2012):
The volunteer crew member of the Dungeness lifeboat who risked his life by transferring aboard Liquid Vortex, Garry Clark, is to be honoured by the RNLI for his "exemplary bravery and determination".

Update (16th August 2012):
Garry Clark has been honoured for his heroism in the first ever BBC 999 Awards with the coastal rescue award.