At the end of WWII, the Allies set-up PLUTO a ‘Pipeline Under the Ocean’ to supply fuel to their armies in France. In 2022 we have witnessed our own virtual ARC Pipeline Across the Ocean as a stream of ARC boats have formed a pipeline to refuel the yacht Take Off after the Grand Soleil 54 was dismasted five days ago, some 1400NM out from Saint Lucia.
The crews of fellow ARC yachts have shown amazing spirit rallying around the Wennberg family crew on Take Off with 21 different yachts offering fuel. Without their mast, and with only a small jury-rig set up using their stormsail and a spinnaker pole, Take Off is relying on their engine to get the crew safely to the Caribbean.
Aphrodite 1 was the first yacht to rendezvous on Sunday night, and as well as putting a doctor onboard to examine an injured crew member (subsequently evacuated with two others and now en route to the USA), Aphrodite 1 was the first to transfer spare diesel fuel to the stricken yacht. Take Off’s skipper Jorgen Wennberg had assessed their needs as close to 900L of fuel required to reach Saint Lucia.
A fleet wide call was made by ARC Rally Control, which received an overwhelming response and more than 20 yachts volunteered jerry cans or spare fuel from their tanks.
ARC Rally Control coordinated the generous list of offers, and the next fuel transfer was established for 29 November. Following difficulty reaching Take Off with their restricted VHF range, Rally Control were called on to assist in tracking down the proverbial ‘needle in a haystack’. All ARC yachts are fitted with a YB Tracker regularly reporting their position and it has proved a vital tool for tracking location, speed, and direction for coordinating transfers. “We used a floating line and attached a fender, a spare life vest with a little light, and the three jerry cans and dropped that in the water just in front of them.” Reported Marc skipper of Amanzi “At 21:45 Take Off successfully retrieved the jerry cans, we circled around them to make sure they were OK and then we set sail again to continue our course. It was much appreciated I think, it was so useful to have their exact position from Rally Control, they were very surprised we found them!”
On Wednesday 30 November, operations stepped up further with ARC yachts Joanna and Salt due to rendezvous with Take Off.
Louise Wennberg describes the day, “We knew we were to meet Joanna at between 14:00 and 16:00UTC, so we ate breakfast, chatting as a family when we saw a sail on the horizon – it amazing how the sight of a sail has different meanings according to which sailing condition you are in. It was like we had never seen a boat before and were surprised, euphorically happy, and relieved at the same time”.
"But could it really be Joanna? They are far too early for their rendezvous. As their masthead VHF antenna and AIS were lost with the rig, Take Off could only make contact at around 2 to 3NM. It was an anxious wait as the sail got bigger. Louise picks up the story “After what felt like an eternity, we finally heard “Take Off, Take Off, Salt, Salt…Can you confirm that you are sailing the orange storm jib?.... ‘Yes, yes, yes’ was the replied ..and now in Swedish “so happy to hear from you!”
After transferring 9 empty fuel cans to Salt, it was soon clear that their improvised pump, needed to pull up the fuel from Salt’s main tank into the cans, was not working well. Louise continues “Just as we got this message from Salt, we saw a blue parasail flying on the horizon. It felt like a scene from the movie ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’… the big ship arriving to save the ones in need! We understood that this must be Joanna and their electric pump ready to solve our problem. Salt kindly waited for them to arrive.
Very professionally and in no time at all, Joanna had set their dinghy in the very choppy water, diverting to Salt with the pump and then to us with 10 x 25L that were very smoothly handed over in no time at all. And the sweetest envelope in plastic with small dinosaurs, drawings of a hammerhead shark and a huge red heart with legs with the message ‘Dear Take Off A little something from us on Joanna to keep up the good spirit. All the best from Vincent (4) and Inés (7)’ as well as cookies and chocolate. There were tears in our eyes, and we have not enough words for what you have done for us. A huge ‘thank you’ to all onboard Joanna, younger crew as older ones!”
Meanwhile the Salt crew continued working on transferring their diesel into the cans; this done, they were then thrown into the water tied to a fender, a floating line and a second, non-floating line. The vital lines were hooked on the second attempt, but the secondary line went off course and got caught somewhere under the hull of Take Off, whose crew were struggled to drag the 9 cans out from the water. Once aboard the plan was to loosen the line, hoping that the secondary line would drop away, but no it was stuck out of sight. Once again a VHF call was made for help from Salt, still close by.
Very quickly Salt crew member Robert offered his help to dive under the hull, a very risky action in the choppy Atlantic swell. Once on board Take Off, Robert was equipped with their emergency diving gear – mask, regulator and mini-tank, plus a child’s cycling helmet – a sight that brought the whole crew together in laughter, despite the stress of their predicament. Louise explained “Brave Robert then plunged into the very choppy sea with a knife and, after what seemed to us to be very long minutes, he had freed the line from the propeller and the rudder. We all shouted “Hurray, Robert is our hero!”.
Louise continues, “As Robert was such a great guy and Edvard, the skipper of Salt, had offered to ‘give us’ one of his crew to help us out, we asked if we could keep Robert all the way to Saint Lucia, a suggestion that both Edvard and Robert agreed to. So, the line around our rudder turned out to be something good after all! The biggest ‘thank you’ to the crew of Salt for all your help and time devoted to us at sea when we know that you are in racing mode for your crossing!”
As Salt sailed away, having left full fuel cans and a valuable crew member with Take Off, the next link in the ‘Pipeline Across the Ocean’ appeared with the yacht Sima arriving. Another amazing act of seamanship followed, with Sima delivering their fuel whist under sail – an earlier propeller wrap having left their engine disabled. “We got 50L” said Louise, continuing “and on the big blue fender they sent with the jerry cans was written ‘To Take Off with Love’ …. More tears came and we feel so totally blessed by the warm love you showed. Thank you, dearest Sima, for your kind help in your challenge. We would have loved to offer you our diving gear, unfortunately all our air was used up.”
Next in the pipeline to deliver fuel was Starry Knight. With daylight about to fade, the crews had to act quickly. Starry Knight showed seamanship too in easily throwing 5 jerry cans of 20L with two 2 life jackets and a floatable line attached, plus a mystery blue bag. Having waved goodbye to Starry Knight and secured their jerry cans, the crew of Take Off were curious about the blue bag. Once more Louise explains “As we opened it was like a true treasure box. Candy after candy, chocolates, cartoons and for Jörgen a mini bottle of gin! What a true moment of joy (and off course some more tears) and happiness. Once again, we jumped on the VHF hoping to still reach them and managed to thank them big time!”.
For Louise and Jorgen, now nearing exhaustion after such a long day, what happened next was even more special. “Now the dark was coming in and we realized… we even hadn’t had lunch yet!” said Louise. “We quickly sorted all the jerry cans, counted the number of Litres, set a timer for 00:00UTC with a position to see tomorrow after 12hrs driving at 1400rpm how much fuel we had consumed for the miles travelled, so we will know how much more we need. Now came the moment… the champagne we tried to drink yesterday evening when Amanzi’s appearance surprised us was now finally cold enough to drink. Only now we had much more to celebrate; the jury rig from the day before, the 600L from 5 boats over the last 2 days; reaching more than halfway… and a new crew member! But the very best surprise was when we were discussing the coming night shift, Robert said “no worries, I’ll take the whole night. I can see you need to sleep”. We drank our champagne, had dinner, and went straight to bed, both Jorgen and I. We literally dropped dead until 7am this morning. Thank you Salt for this gift and thank you Robert for being such a good crew member.”
Finally, Louise explained how they felt after these stressful few days “We are still totally overwhelmed by the amazing camaraderie that the ARC Fleet has shown since Sunday’s dramatic change in Take Off’s sail setting. This is really what the ARC is all about. I would even use a well-known quote “All for One and One for All”. Thank you from the deepest of our heart to you all.”