Mar 27, 2012, 12:36 PM
Post #1 of 5
BEING PREPARED FOR ACCIDENTS
Race committees need to be prepared for accidents
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By Wayne Bretsch
In my role as principle race officer for the Division 3 course at Key West Race Week this past January, my team was involved in an emergency situation that occurred during the event. Involved in the situation was Tapio Saavalainen and Arne Peterson, skipper and crew of Kalevala II (Grand Soleil 37 B&C) respectively, who recently hosted several of us at lunch at the Annapolis Yacht Club as recognition for our involvement. It was enjoyable, interesting, and rewarding... let me tell you about it.
To back up to January, our opening day saw winds in the high teens with gusts in the low to mid twenties, and we had two races planned. Within seconds after their downwind finish of the first race, Kalevala II contacted the RC on the competitorsí VHF channel that there was an onboard emergency. A crew member had severed his thumb.
With me on the RC signal boat was Peter Sarelas, who quickly took control of the radio communication to coordinate the rescue. Tom Stalder, who served on the RC gate mark boat, was directed alongside Kalevala within a couple of minutes. Using a small racing mark as a fender, the injured crew member (Arne) was sufficiently mobile to get into the mark boat with another of the Kalevala II crew.
Meanwhile, Peter called 911 on his cell phone. Using the VHF, Peter instructed Tom to take the injured crew member to Key West (about 6 miles) while he made further arrangements with on shore emergency personnel. The total time from the first VHF hail from Kalevala II to the time Arne was in the ambulance was about twenty-four minutes. While Peter and Tom were handling this incident, the remaining RC team continued finishing boats and setting up the second race of the day.
Back to lunch, Peter, Tom, and I discussed with Tapio and Arne the injury and the incident. Unfortunately Arne lost his left thumb (he is right handed). The injury occurred when he was helping to bring in the spinnaker after crossing the finish line. Arne had a grip on a sheet which pinched his thumb between the sheet and a stanchion or lifeline. His thumb was not cut off, but instead was pulled off, and it was clear the efforts by Peter and Tom helped keep a bad situation from becoming worse.
We also discussed lessons learned or reinforced, probably the most important part of our lunch conversation:
∑ Accidents happen. We need to be prepared.
∑ Each regatta race committee should have an emergency plan, similar to the plan used by Premiere Racing at Key West Race Week and someone on every RC boat should be very familiar with it.
∑ Each competing boat should have an emergency plan and the entire crew should be aware of it.
∑ It is difficult to place a motor boat alongside a sailboat in rough seas. The racing mark provided an adequate fender but large fenders on either the competing boat or the mark boat or both would be better.
∑ One person coordinating the rescue on the VHF and cell phone works well, but that person should be very competent, be very familiar with the emergency plan and be cool in stressful situations. That person should also be mentally prepared to take over.
∑ It was initially difficult to spot which boat was the boat in distress. If possible, someone on that boat should do something to attract the attention of the rescue boat. Perhaps waving a life jacket, lowering the mainsail, or just waving arms would have helped.
∑ Every competing boat should have a fully stocked first aid kit.
∑ This incident occurred near the finish line; most problems on the race course occur near a mark.
∑ Competent people, from both the competing boat and the RC, working together can do amazing things quickly.
I would like to thank Tapio and Arne for the lunch. And I would like to again compliment Peter and Tom for an excellent job.