Greg Roberts

Upon closer inspection by Mike, who hung over the side with assistance,
It was obvious from the skin and tissue he recovered from the gash
that we had hit a whale.

The '98 VIC-Maui for the crew of Fastrack will always be remembered as a testament to the level of preparedness required for the eventualities encountered during an ocean passage. During the race leg a crew member had taken ill due to a gastric condition. As the condition progressed, the patient was unable to consume food and eventually required us to insert an IV line to restore his solute and fluid levels. The situation, as directed by onshore doctors, precipitated the need to evacuate the individual from the boat. This provided more of a challenge than it might initially be anticipated. 

Our first attempt at the evacuation was via a freighter we rendezvoused with at approximately 1300 hrs, 400 nautical miles from Maui. The sea conditions were a 2' chop and 6' swell when the freighter came alongside us. The challenges to this operation were the obvious mismatch in vessel heights, the fact that the freighter could not come to a complete stop for fear of losing steerage, the venturi effect between the two moving hulls, and the sea state. All these conditions would have conspired to topple the mast while trying to transfer the patient via the dangerously flailing rope ladder hung from the gunwhales of the freighter. Because of the obvious danger to life and property presented by this scenario, it was decided by both captains to abort the rescue attempt.

The next day brought Fastrack to within 300 nautical miles of Maui, which is the responding limit of the United States Coast Guard. It was decided by Bob Hanlon, a helicopter pilot and Fastrack crew member, and the coast guard, that the weather conditions made the rescue attempt feasible. The constant and precise communication between Fastrack and the coast guard Delphine helicopter made for a flawless rescue. The entire evolution was impressively professional.  The chopper was escorted by a large spotter plane out of Honolulu which flew low level abeam of Fastrack shortly followed by the Delphine which responded from 100 nautical miles away onboard a coast guard cutter.

The boat was prepared an hour before-hand by lowering all working sails and raising a storm jib, motoring just off the wind and removing all antennaes and snag hazards from the stern of the boat.

The helicopter, impressive in its profile and the exotic whine emitted from its turbines, hovered only feet above the masthead while lowering a sandbagged tag line. It was imperative that no contact was made with the line by any individuals until it had contacted the boat to discharge the static differential between the chopper and the boat. The tag line was grasped after discharging and the helicopter then backed off 15 metres astern of the boat. The tag line was used to guide the basket to the stern where the patient simply jumped inside the basket which was then rapidly winched skyward. This patient transfer transpired over the course of only ten minutes.

The return leg took an unexpected twist as well when, after 11 days without mishap, we collided with a whale at approximately 1300 hrs in the midst of an inky black night. We were close hauled doing 6.5 knots when. without warning, the boat shuddered to a complete stop. It appeared, after inspecting the boat, that we had run over the back of a whale.

The first impact was at the bow of the boat, which smoothly rode over the whale. However. when the keel made contact with the whale's body it violently pitched the bow into, and the stern out of the water. The sleeping crewmen were tossed forward in their bunks and able to hear the friction of the whale and boat sliding past each other. Seconds later a second impact was heard. This was the repercussion of a blow from the fleeing animal.  The boat immediately heeled again in the 15 knot head wind and accelerated up to speed once again.  It was obvious to everyone on board that a collision had occurred but with what we were not sure.

Immediately, everyone was summoned out of their bunks to search the boat for damage.  It was quickly apparent that the boat had not been dealt a fatal blow as no water was found to be gushing in. After five minutes of searching Kim. armed with the searchlight had discovered an 18 inch gash 3 inches wide below the water line on the port stern quarter. Upon closer inspection by Mike, who hung over the side with assistance, it was obvious from the skin and tissue he recovered from the gash that we had hit a whale.

The outer kevlar skin and balsa core of the gash had been torn clear off.  The remaining inner kevlar liner had been displaced and fractured inward about 2 inches but, luckily, had not been completely breached. It was later stated by Phil O'Donohue of Fraser Fibreglass, who repaired the boat that the kevlar construction likely saved the vessel from sinking. Water was only weeping through the damage and was eventually abated after being reinforced from the inside with layers of duct tape and epoxy. Water however was entering the boat at the rate of only 6 gallons an hour from the keel bolts which had been jostled loose by the initial impact.

I feel extremely fortunate that the boat and crew weathered the mishaps so well considering the outcomes of other similar experiences I've read about. Thanks to Dan Hilton we were trained and equipped to setup an IV.  Forethought also prepared us for the minor fibreglass repairs we had to perform. For the Vic-Maui 2000 Fastrack is being fitted with a watertight crash bulkhead to further improve her survivability in the event of another collision.  We are also adding a suture kit to the first aid kit which had been overlooked in '98.

In the aftermath of the passage. I feel fortunate and humbled to have gone through these experiences. The respect demanded for an ocean passage can not be overstated. Take your safety inspection for the race very seriously. It is easy to mislead yourself into a preconceived notion of how a collision at sea will occur and what will happen but the reality is it will likely occur under the cover of night without warning. You can never over prepare your boat and crew.

From the year 2000 Victoria to Maui International YachtRace (Vic-Maui) Program, Pages 10 & 11.

The Vic-Maui is the longest offshore sailing race off the west coast of North America.  It is the pinnacle of Pacific Northwest ocean racing. First contested in 1968, the Vic-Maui runs in even-numbered years, starting in June or July off Victoria, British Columbia, Canada and finishing near Lahaina, Maui, United States, a distance of approximately 2,308 nautical miles (4,274 km). Recent race winners completed the trip in a little over nine days, with an average speed of over 10 knots (19 km/h).

For more on Fastrack, the first C&C 37/40 built, click here.


Popular Posts