Reminders of Mortality

Published on January 14th, 2018

Nic Douglass, who was recognized with the Sport Promotion Award in 2017 by Australian Sailing, reflects on a day that could have been much different.

Nic Douglass

The Farr 55 Hollywood Boulevard was heading back to New South Wales after competing in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, when it sank in Bass Strait after it is believed to have stricken a large fish. The six sailors on board were winched to safety by helicopter amid high winds and swells as the yacht sank in freezing waters, 150km east of Flinders Island.

With the yacht taking on water, an emergency beacon was activated and the call went out to abandon ship. Two Air Ambulance helicopters were dispatched to the scene, but had to stop at Flinders Island first to refuel before Mobile Intensive Care Ambulance flight paramedics worked to winch the yacht passengers to safety.

Three of the rescued crew were flown to the Latrobe Valley and three to Essendon. Paramedic Andrew Allan told Seven it was one of the toughest rescues he’d seen. “The winds and swells were causing the boat and life raft to drift around, in some odd angles, which posed some challenge for us,” he said.

Greeting the crew members at Essendon, the yacht’s owner Ray Roberts praised the rescuers “for a marvelous effort” and was relieved the yacht’s crew were safe. “The primary element of anything is the safety of human lives. It’s great to see them,” he said.

“We had to make a hard decision today to leave the boat,” explained Michael Spies, who noted the water was exceptionally cold. “The hull was compromised. We did what we could to jury rig an issue with the rudder bearings, but at the end of the day when we were taking on so much water we knew it wasn’t going to last. Human lives are more important than a boat.”

Then came the report of Scallywag losing Alex Gough overboard while leading the Volvo Ocean Race. While I was so relieved to hear that he was retrieved (in under seven minutes), I have to say that in watching the video of his retrieval, I was pretty concerned (to say the least) at the lack of safety equipment on him when he was retrieved (no life jacket, tether, or EPIRB), combined with a black uniform.

I realise that in approaching Hong Kong across the doldrums the temperatures can’t be comfortable, but is that worth risking your life? In a few more knots of wind speed, or a rougher sea state, the outcome may not have been as positive. I would go as far as to say that Mr Gough has definitely used his “Get Out of Gaol Free Card.”

My verdict is out on whether I think it is a good idea to be posting this video on social media or not, especially when some watching could think that they could also be so lucky… but perhaps it is better for us to realise just how lucky he is, and just how easy it is for things to go wrong?!

Given recent incidents, for example in the Clipper Race, where safety equipment was used to the highest degree, but there was still a casualty, it is a good reminder about how mortal we are, and just how risky the sport can be, especially when we don’t follow procedures.

At the end of the day, whenever you go to sea you are putting your life in the hands of those around you. I know there are many who are thankful today (and always) for the helicopter service and other rescue crew for their work in rescuing Hollywood Boulevard, and that the Scallywag crew were able to retrieve Alex.

It could have been a very different day for our sport!

Sailing is a safe sport, when we do everything we can to make it that way. Thank you to those who keep working to make it safer every day!

Send it adventurers, but stay safe!

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