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Mistral of Portsmouth - A rescue mission

At 4pm, as the duty net controller for the day, Chris began the High Frequency (HF) radio roll call for the Arc Fleet. He immediately received an emergency message. Sailing Vessel (SV) Rain Dancer (not one of our fleet) had been hit by a whale and sunk. The crew of 4 people were in their life raft and we had their last known co-ordinates.

The message came through SV Far - one of the Arc Fleet. They were closest to a boat called Southern Cross, who had received the May Day call. Chris spoke to every vessel in our fleet to share information and work through how the fleet could help. Chris’s years of handling emergencies through the radio on aeroplanes really showed - he was fab. Mistral was 60 miles away - the second or third nearest boat to the life raft co-ordinates. Along with 6 other Arc boats, we changed course - heading south as fast as we were able. Chris suggested the fleet speak on the radio every hour on the hour to keep everyone updated.

As we changed our sails, the wind picked up and we were able to sail at 8.5 to 9 knots (faster than engine speed) into the night on a fine reach. We were conscious that the 4 souls in the life raft had already had 2 hours in it and faced the night stranded.

SV Rolling Stone was closest (a non Arc vessel) and estimated their eta at 9.15pm. She co-ordinated the rescue. Far was next at 12.45 and us at 12.50 - 6 to 7 hours away. If there had to be a search, there were going to be several boats available. The US Coast Guard was contacted by Sara of Sweden. The Joint Rescue Control Centre and the Peruvian Navy were also involved. A cargo tanker was within 50 miles and was asked to assist. The Star Link internet contact was invaluable. Rolling Stone set up a WhatsApp group for all those involved in the rescue mission. The messages came through thick and fast. A mix of information, support and emotion. Lorraine on Far relayed WhatsApp messages through to the rest of the Arc fleet using Star Link.

On Mistral, we continued our watch rota - Chris tried to get rest so he would be alert as we approached the last known co-ordinates. I stayed with the communications - listening out for progress. The first really positive news came through when SV Rain Dancer connected to Southern Cross via their handheld electronic tracker - we had new co-ordinates. The tracker could also receive messages and Southern Cross was able to communicate with Rain Dancer - they knew a rescue mission was underway. I can’t imagine how much of a relief that must have been to those in the life raft. You hope the electronics are sending your position out over the air waves, but it’s an act of faith until someone is able to actually make contact.

The next big news came when Rolling Stone announced she had Rain Dancer in her sights on the AIS - it was 8.59pm. Rolling Stone was 5 miles away. At 10.13pm, SV Rolling Stone had all 4 crew safely on board - healthy and happy to be there. Thank God.

Huge relief through the Arc Fleet. Although we had not been needed on this occasion, it was clear that our support had been invaluable to Rolling Stone and others on the mission. Knowing that there are others close by to help when you are 2000 miles from anywhere is huge - it’s a privilege to be part of this amazing sailing community.

Our final task before re-setting our sails and heading west again was to ensure everyone on the fleet who was helping knew the rescue had been made. Only half the boats have Star Link, so the other half rely on VHF radio or HF radio. 2 more calls from Chris at 11pm and midnight along with an email to the fleet and we were done. I slept for a couple of hours before my watch at 4am. Another beautiful sun rise. Another day dawned. We are 1200 miles from our destination. The day promises to be a good one.


The fleet making way to the life raft

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