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BT Skippers Safe and Sound – Boat Salvage Plan Underway

Friday, November 13th, 2009

First alert 1020 GMT
At approximately 1020 GMT today, BT crew Sébastien Josse and Jean-François Cuzon have activated their EPIRB distress beacon after having suffered major damage following a night battling it out in fierce seas and winds reaching 60 knots at times. The skippers are in regular contact with Race Director Jean Maurel, and have reported significant damage to the coachroof, and water entering the boat. The MRCC are coordinating operations with the Transat Jacques Vabre Race Direction and the BT shore team, to ensure the safe recovery of the skippers. MRCC Falmouth confirmed that the RCC Azores was had sent a helicopter and a Navy vessel over to BT, whilst carrying out a satellite broadcast alert to shipping in the area.

This morning’s message sent by Jean-François Cuzon said it all, and takes its full measure in the light of this morning’s events. Having battled it out in waves reaching more than 8 metres of height, the BT boys were still ver confident this morning, so one can only imagine the shock it must have been for them to discover the damage. Here is what Jeff wrote, a few hours before all hell broke loose: “Impressive, the conditions are really hard on the water, 35 to 60 knots with a big swell (thankfully we are not upwind). Onboard BT, we just put our heads down and wait for better times, we just had a couple of gusts at 55 knots. Jojo has done a great job at the helm and we are now with only the main sail. We hope to get out of that terrible weather in the middle of the day.” With Veolia heading towards the Azores due to a torn mainsail track and Artemis also reporting a string of gear failures, last night’s storm took its toll on the fleet and BT certainly endured the nastiest blow, after having led for most of the race.

1400 GMT – Rescue boat 30 miles away
Jeff Cuzon spoke to Race Director Jean Maurel at 1325 GMT approximately, the situation is stable on board and both men are secure, calmly waiting for the rescue operation to unfold. A helicopter is currently refuelling and will depart to locate BT as soon as possible. Due to the conditions it might not be possible to recover the skippers by air. However, a rescue boat is 30 miles away from BT and making best speed towards BT. The crew still have their handheld Iridium satellite phone, and the EPIRB beacon is functioning properly, reporting BT’s position.

1705 GMT – Visual contact
The Ocean Explorer vessel, taking part in the rescue operation, made visual and VHF contact with the crew aboard the BT yacht…

1800 GMT – They’re safe!
After having considered all the options, decision was taken to use the helicopter aboard the Ocean Explorer and Seb and Jeff were lifted to safety and taken straight back to Terceira, in the Azores. A tugboat is now on standby, and all efforts will now be made to salvage the BT yacht. The technical team left the UK at midday and will arrive in the Azores this evening, with a planned departure Saturday morning to attempt to salvage the BT yacht. Currently the BT shore team have 15 minute position data from the yacht thanks to its tracker.

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BT Activates Distress Beacon – Rescue Underway

Friday, November 13th, 2009

At approximately 11:00 GMT today, BT crew Sébastien Josse and Jean-François Cuzon have activated their EPIRB distress beacon after having suffered major damage following a night battling it out in fierce seas and winds reaching 60 knots at times. The skippers are in regular contact with Race Director Jean Maurel, and have reported significant damage to the coachroof, and water entering the boat. The MRCC are coordinating operations with the Transat Jacques Vabre Race Direction and the BT shore team, to ensure the safe recovery of the skippers. MRCC Falmouth confirmed that the RCC Azores was had sent a helicopter and a Navy vessel over to BT, whilst carrying out a satellite broadcast alert to shipping in the area.

BT is currently 210 miles North of the Azores, 42 10º N – 27 50º W.

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Boat Smart Advisory – Recreational Faux Pas

Monday, September 14th, 2009

From the notebook of Tom Rau

It’s been a while since I sent you a Boat Smart advisory. Believe me, it’s not due to a lack of recreational boater faux pas. Like the one last night, Sept 7, 09 that occurred in my home town when a boater slammed into the Manistee seawall (see attached photo). Was it worthy of national press, even though this was the 6th Lake Michigan seawall collision this year? Hardly.

But the recent national media’s coverage of three fishermen adrift atop their capsized boat for eight days in the Gulf of Mexico apparently was newsworthy. The press, however; failed to get it right. While portraying the survivors as heroes, they were more like the six dimwit boaters that slammed into Lake Michigan seawalls.

The three fishermen did nothing to help the Coast Guard and joint rescue agencies find them despite a massive seven-day search that in scope was nearly the size of Wyoming. If the Coast Guard charged boaters like these for needless prolonged searches, I promise they would learn to boat smart—quickly

Go to my website http://www.boatsmart.com and click on my latest column “Calling if off” tough” to under stand the edge to my words, and as a tax payer it might put you on edge considering the enormous cost of the search.

manisteeboat.jpg

P.S. In the photo, notice the red aid to navigation light, which is to the left of the boat. Red Right Return is an old adage that has safely guided informed boaters into harbors at night when approaching from seaward. In other words, keep the red light to your right (starboard) not left as did this boater. But then what can you expect from a boater who is not required to know better as with the adrift fishermen in the Gulf.

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Calling Off A Search Is Never Easy

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

By Tom Rau

Although never easy, the Coast Guard must make the difficult decision of calling off a search that has failed to locate a missing boater. Too often the failure to find a missing boater has little to do with the search process, but rather the difficult challenge of applying the process to a search area that can be enormous, if not mind boggling, in scope.

Making the search even more challenging is the inability of a boater to draw the eye of those searching for them. Such was the challenge the Coast Guard faced in a recent case in the Gulf of Mexico involving a missing 23-foot Sea Chaser Catamaran powerboat.

On August 21, 2009, three fishermen set out on an overnight trip from Matagorda, Texas. When they failed to return as planned, family members notified the Coast Guard. What followed was a massive weeklong search in a search area nearly the size of the state of Wyoming.

The Coast Guard deployed sea and air resources from three states: Florida, Alabama and Texas. The search also drew upon resources from state and local rescue agencies. After seven days of around-the-clock sorties, the Coast Guard called off the search.

As fate would have it, a day later, on Saturday evening, the captain of a pleasure craft spotted the men sitting atop the hull of the capsized boat some 180 miles off the coast of Port Aransas, Texas. The crew of a Coast Guard 47-foot motor lifeboat picked up the survivors and transported them to shore.

The wife of one of the survivors told a reporter from the Houston Chronicle that it was like finding a needle in a haystack.

Believe me; it can be far more challenging than that. Imagine a shifting layer of various sized green and blue-shaded pebbles spread across the entire floor of the Dallas Cowboys football stadium; then toss a tiny ball-bearing into the shifting mix; then, from atop the stadium, try to spot it with binoculars. Imagine, however, if the ball-bearing was a bright point of light. You wouldn’t even need the binoculars.

According to the survivors, waving a white tee shirt attached to a boat rail they had ripped off the boat was the only means they had of attracting attention. One of the survivors said he twice saw Coast Guard rescue planes fly over as well as a helicopter. He also saw Coast Guard boats. Had the fisherman carried an emergency grab bag with various day and night signaling devices they could’ve drawn the eye of the Coast Guard crews. But a white tee shirt waving over a white over-turned hull camouflaged amongst white-capped seas: is it any wonder Coast Guard surface and air crews failed to spot them?

These searches come at an enormous cost. The most recent in the Gulf of Mexico cost a huge bundle of tax-payer money. Then there was the enormous cost involving the search for the NFL players in March in the Gulf of Mexico after their 21-foot power boat capsized. They too lacked the means to attack the attention of searchers. Sadly, the ultimate cost in that case was paid with three lives.

Monetary cost; however, has nothing to do with ending a search, but rather the diminishing probability of detection as time passes, especially in an immense search area that expands in time with the influence of wind and currents on the search object.

Another deadly factor at play is the toll the environment takes on those struggling to survive, especially while battling hypothermia and dehydration. The three fellows in the Gulf of Mexico capsizing managed to siphon water from a 30-gallon water tank built into the hull. That, for sure, helped them beat the survival odds, but barely.

Despite diminishing odds as the days pass during a search, it’s still never easy for Coasties to call it off. It’s in their DNA to rescue mariners: since their conception in 1790, Coasties have saved the lives of over 1.1 million mariners.

In spite of their heralded tradition, their life-saving skills, their state-of-the art resources, the Coast Guard’s surest and most cost-effective asset has been and will continue to be a smart boater.

Tom Rau, a leading authority on boating mishaps, is a retired 27-year Coast Guard veteran, boating safety columnist, and author of Boat Smart Chronicles, Lake Michigan Devours Its Wounded. His book is a 20-year journal of recreational boating mishaps with valuable lessons learned. It, along with recent rescue stories, can be viewed at: www.boatsmart.net

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Another Recreational Fishing Boat Capsizes

Friday, August 14th, 2009

By Tom Rau, Coast Guard Senior Chief (ret)

This is the third boat capsizing story I’ve written this year. The three capsizing involved 12 recreational fishermen, four of which died. The latest involved a 20-foot fishing boat with a loss of life. Now the story.

August 3, 2009, Manistee, Michigan. According to Manistee County Marine Deputy Steve Block, four fishermen departed Manistee harbor about 1 p.m. for a fishing trip on Lake Michigan. According to the captain of the 20-foot powerboat, they trolled for about two-and-half hours when the mishap occurred.

The captain, other than providing the depth of water of 120 feet at the time of the mishap, was unclear as to his position.
At the time of the mishap, they were reeling in fish on two separate polls. Several waves rolled over the stern, the bow shot skyward, the boat then rolled and capsized. Several fishermen aboard were rather large; if they were at the stern reeling in the fish, that could explain why the bow pitched upward.

None of the fishermen were wearing life jackets. As they clung to the over- turned hull, one of the fisherman drifted away. He hollered out that he could not swim. He removed his shoes and pants to keep afloat. The captain told Block that they attempted to pass him a seat cushion. The last they saw of him was his belly sticking out of the water; then he disappeared.

Block figures they capsized just south of Portage Lake, which is located seven miles north of Manistee Harbor. The captain told Block they dove under the boat, at least three times and finally located the life jackets, which were in the forward bow compartment.

After donning the life jackets, they ran several lines across the over-turned hull in order to hang on to the boat. A flare kit popped to the surface; they then fired off a flare that went undetected.

The boat continued to drift northward. At one point, they reported seeing camera flashes on shore and people walking along the beach, which Block believes was below the Arcadia Golf Club. One of the survivors told Coast Guardsman Ryan Zinky that indeed he had seen golf greens.

As they drifted northward, night fell. At about 2 a.m. one of the fisherman decided to swim to shore in the 65-degree water. After an hour or so he made landfall where he entered a vacant cottage and placed a call to 911. Manistee County Central Dispatch received the call at 3:45 a.m..

Coast Guard boats from Manistee and Frankfort responded along with Manistee sheriff’s marine patrol. “When I arrived on scene, I could see rescue responders from shore shinning their flash lights out into the lake,” said Manistee County Marine Deputy Steve Block. The rescuers on shore reported by radio they could see the over-turned boat and directed Block towards the craft. “When I first spotted them it looked as if they were on a surfboard,” Block said. Both were rescued. The over-turned boat had drifted approximately eight miles north from where it capsized.

Boat Smart Brief

Capsizing Coast Guardsman Ran Zinky told me he was out on Lake Michigan early that afternoon and estimated the wave heights between two and three feet with an occasional four-footer. At the time the boat capsized, two of the larger fishermen were reeling in fish when a series of waves rolled over the stern. The captain attempted to fire up the outboard motor and come ahead, but it failed to start. A square cut-out at the stern allowed the rapid intake of water.

Electronic Gear Cell phones, a marine radio, and GPS all were rendered useless once submerged in water. Had cell phones been sealed in water proof bags within a water proof grab-bag the fishermen could have called for help.

Life Jackets One of the larger fishermen aboard could not swim, yet failed to wear a life jacket. He died. None of the life jackets carried a whistle or night illumination devices. When near the golf course, a whistle or strobe light may well have drawn the eye or ear of those on shore, or nearby boaters. It’s unclear why they didn’t fire off another flare unless the flares drifted off or sank.

Grab Lines That the fishermen ran lines over the hull may well have saved their lives. The captain told Marine Sheriff Deputy Block that it was very difficult hanging onto the hull before they ran the lines. This allowed them to stay with the boat, which is highly recommended. That the one fisherman swam to shore was dicey and absolutely unnecessary had they carried signaling devices, including a dry cell phone—carrying these devices on one’s person can’t be stressed enough.

I discussed the case with Lieutenant Chris Yane, a pilot stationed at CG Traverse Air who was involved in the search. After listening to the details, the veteran pilot said, “It shocks him every time when he hears stories like this. Recreational boaters seem so cavalier. Some fail to realize it’s a complex and hostile environment.”

I told the lieutenant convincing recreational boaters of the dangers of the marine environment can be like convincing hormone driven teens the dangers of sex.

Boat Smart. Wear a life jacket and keep your cell phone zipped up.

Note: On August 7, 2009, a 21-foot powerboat capsized off Ludington Harbor, Lake Michigan. A husband and wife and their two sons clung to the boat in the pre-dawn darkness. A nearby boater heard their cries for help and rescued them. One of the boys was wearing a life jacket, which helped him keep his mother afloat. His life jacket did not carry signaling devices like a whistle, flares or strobe light, not even a glow stick.

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Life-Saving Rescue of Four Fishermen Offers Life-Saving Advice

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

The dramatic rescue of four fishermen in western Lake Erie offers life-saving advice learned the hard way after their 19-foot Sylvan Adventure boat capsized. The stranded fishermen spent 24 hours clinging to the boat’s over-turned hull.
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Casting Out The Winter Gremlins

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

“No matter how squared you prepare your boat for winter storage the Winter Gremlins still sneak aboard,” said Dave Gramza, long-time Manistee charter boat captain.
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Avoid Being Blown Away

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

By Tom Rau, Senior Chief (ret), Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan
Author of The Boat Smart Chronicles

On Sunday, October 5, 2008 around 2 p.m. a 41-foot power boat exploded at the Oak Street Marina in South Haven, Michigan. The explosion illustrates the devastation boat fires can inflict not only to the boat itself but to nearby boats and those aboard.

I spoke with Captain Richard Lenardson of TowBoatU.S., a salvage and towing operation. Richard was nearby when the explosion rocked the marina. “I was around 30 boat docks away when I heard a thunderous explosion followed by a fireball and plume of black smoke,” said Richard. “I responded with my 23-foot tow boat. “When I arrived on scene the boat was engulfed in flames with black smoke boiling up from the inferno. The top cabin of the boat lay smoldering on a nearby grassy knoll. A secondary explosion sent debris through the hull of a boat in an adjacent slip.”

The fire had spread to boats in adjacent slips where fire consumed a boat’s mooring lines setting it free into the boat basin where it threatened nearby boats. Richard pushed the flaming boat back into its slip in reach of firefighters. At first, firefighters fought the blaze with water, with limited effect. A fire truck carrying foam soon arrived and joined the fight. “While pushing the burning boat back into the slip I could not see ahead with foam coating the windshield. Off to the side, I saw one of the victims climbing up a nearby dock ladder with the skin on his face peeled way,” said Richard.

The injured included two men, a woman, and child. All were recovered from the water by rescue personnel. Two of the adults were in critical condition. Fire Chief Ronald Wise of South Haven Area Emergency Services, suspects the boat owner and a friend were using a 28-gallon plastic gas container with an electric transfer pump to pump gas into the boat when the vessel exploded. Reportedly the electrical source for the pump was the boat’s batteries. That the cabin was blown off the boat along with the stern suggests that the source of the explosion occurred within the boat. The mishap remains under investigation.

Boat-Smart tips when fueling a boat:

· Open the engine hatches.
· Run the blower in the engine space and check the exhaust port on the side of boat with your palm to make sure its discharging air. During Coast Guard boat inspections I found a number of boats where the exhaust hose had separated from the discharge port. So, rather than discharging gas fumes through the exhaust port it was circulating them around the engine compartment.
· Deploy a sure gas fume detector- your nose. Open those engine hatches and give it a good sniff, especially after refueling a boat.
· Occasionally run a dry cloth over fuel lines especially near connecting points. Sniff the cloth for the odor of gasoline. This procedure is highly recommended after engine work involving gas-line joint connections.
· Michigan rules limit the size of plastic containers to five gallons for transportation of flammable liquid.

Boat Smart, keep it cool. Vent engine compartments before turning the ignition key.

By Tom Rau, Senior Chief (ret), Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan
Author of The Boat Smart Chronicles

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The “Fall Folly”, The Elusive Butterfly of Boating

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

By Tom Rau

The potential for boating fatalities on the Great Lakes this time of year can be linked to what I call the “fall folly.” It brings to mind Bob Lind’s classic 1966 hit “Elusive Butterfly of Love.”
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Distress Signals May Not Always Attract Attention

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

In most cases, visual distress signals will attract attention to a boater in need, but not always. In those rare cases where they fail to catch the eye, it may have little to do with the eye but rather much to do with the type of distress signal device the eye can detect. Types can be as different as night and day—literally.
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