Our readers are by now familiar with the generally schoolboy humour surrounding our lack of success with the fishing line. However, yesterday afternoon events in the fishing department took on a decidedly more serious tone.
To cut a long story short we finally managed to catch a fish ... but at what cost.
The day started well enough with the fishing department finally deciding to employ its best weapon from a highly depleted reserve of lures. This one was a sleek and convincing plastic fish with two triple hooks. This was deployed with great confidence.
Several hours later, at 3:00 pm, just as Susie and I were coming off watch and handing over to Tony and Nick ( aka the fishing department), the fish alarm went off, Nick raced to grab the rod and it was all hands on deck.
Seconds earlier Tony had been lolling in an armchair on a fairly windless sunny afternoon but was first to the scene to help Nick. Just as he arrived the fish was landed, a ten-pounder thrashing about wildly. Just before it was killed, as if in final revenge, it managed to propel the lure, complete with it's exposed second triple hook, in the direction of Tony. In an instant man and fish were caught on the same lure. One of the triple hooks buried itself in Tony's upper left forearm ... and I do mean buried . A second part of the hook was also under the skin. Nick managed to separate man and fish with a terrifyingly large set of bolt-cutters - the only thing we had on board that could cut through high-tension steel hooks. On separation we were all able to see that we had a significant problem. Tony managed to cut through the skin to free the second minor hook but the main problem was still there. We didn't have a scalpel and local anaesthetic to cut it out and we almost certainly lacked the skill to do so. It was a job for a trained surgeon .. and we were over 1000 miles from anywhere. This realization was a low moment for all of us. Tony was very brave about it but we all were concerned about how this might play out.
We called other ARC boats on the VHF and SSB radios, but with limited response. "Ooh-Jay" had just passed us and were kind enough to come over to offer assistance. They couldn't help us with anaesthetic or scalpels but remained concerned and thoughtful, even after we'd thanked them and sent them on their way. This continual interest very much evoked the spirit of the ARC and helped a great deal. After experiencing very bad luck with the hook, what followed was quite remarkable.
How likely is this:
- We were on our way to try and rendezvous with a boat now would be better equipped but still concerned about who would perform the very tricky operation of getting it out. We'd called Falmouth Coastguard on the sat-phone for advice. Their Doctor called us back and was helpful on medication ... but was a long way away.
- Meanwhile, without our knowledge, Ooh-Jay had contacted a boat behind,"Ostria", that had heard our conversation on the VHF. They had a doctor on board with all the right equipment who was willing and able to perform the operation. When we heard this it was like the cavalry arriving over the hill..and they were only twenty miles away.
- We immediately set a course for a rendezvous.
- It was pitch black when we met but we'd talked on the radio on approach and both crews were ready.
- almost any other night of the trip it would have been almost impossible to contemplate transferring men and equipment between boats because of the swells, but this night was fairly calm.
- Nick launched the Avon dingy off the davits (no easy task on even a relatively calm Atlantic) and rowed across. This took some courage in the middle of the Atlantic on a black night. The Doctor, Jan and his son-in-law, Peter, duly arrived. Amazingly, Jan was an eye surgeon who had removed many a hook from eyelids in his native Holland Jan had all his kit and with a little help from our crew was able to perform the operation successfully , but it wasn't easy by any standards. He'd once been ship-wrecked and spent 24 hours in a life-raft so he had a very good excuse for not sailing ever again.. but thank God he was there.
- After photographs, whisky and beers we thanked them profusely and returned them in the dark.
Much relief, and perhaps a quiet pride all round, that we had performed well as crews and got it done. We recommend the actions of Ooh-Jay and Ostria as shining examples of the ARC spirit for their selfless actions. Who knows what would have happened if they hadn't come along. A hook in your arm for six days was not a healthy option.
Only 6 hours after the drama started we'd done the necessary operation .. over 1000 miles off-shore. I doubt we could have beaten this time in the local A&E
We look forward to a less eventful day tomorrow. Tony is doing well and the wound is healing nicely.