|Product Name||GlobalFix™ Pro|
|Date of Rescue||11/17/2016|
|Saved By||USCG and M/V Aloe|
|Beacon Purchased From||84 Boatworks|
Now let's switch gears from emergency beacon technology to what it's like to actually use one. Picture yourself as the professional skipper/manager of a beautifully-built 2008 Atlantic 57 sailing cat well along on a recent delivery from the Chesapeake to St. Martin. You're in t-shirt-and-shorts-at-night weather now, though blustery, and during your evening watch you've depowered the sail plan a bit more so that a mate can finish making dinner.
But suddenly roaring out of the dark comes what was likely a tornadic waterspout that lifts and flips the whole catamaran so quickly you don't even have time to reach the autopilot standby control, leaving the three of you to deal with an instantly upside-down world of water-filled main cabin, escape hatches, ditch bags and worry. Finally put yourself on the cat's slippery bottom in the USCG thermal video (though of course its very existence is very good news).
If it weren't for good preparation and what sounds like a sterling level of calm in duress, I'm not sure that the crew of Leopard would have enjoyed the results of their EPIRB and the responding USCG aircraft that worked the rescue with a fairly nearby freighter. And I might never again have heard the cheery voice of the skipper Charles Nethersole (who enjoys summers in Camden between boating jobs).
It occurred to me to connect Charles with my sailing writer buddy, Charlie Doane, and the excellent result was first a detailed WaveTrain report on the capsize/rescue, and then a followup dealing with the inevitable peanut gallery criticism that follows such incidents these days. I've also spoken with Charles, still cheery, and of course he has some ideas about how to prepare even better for what he hopes to never endure again.
In fact, Nethersole has some specific ideas along the lines of improved escape hatches and non-skid bottom paint pathways that will hopefully get the interest of catamaran builders and owners. But I focused on the general details of using the EPIRB, which was an ACR GlobalFix Pro that Charles purchased 3 years ago (on behalf of Leopard's owner).
Before the voyage, the bag had been loaded with the EPIRB, a fully-charged handheld VHF, an Electronic SOS Signal and other gear, and then secured near one of the cat's escape hatches along with survival suits and even a small scuba rig. The life raft was secured in the main cabin because it wouldn't fit through an escape hatch (and the scuba wasn't needed because the other mate managed to retrieve it unassisted).
But the VHF fell out of the ditch bag's side pocket on the way out to the capsized boat's bottom -- not to be seen again, though it would have been very handy when the freighter arrived -- and apparently that whole process was somewhat chaotic. The next time Charles would not only secure the contents of the bag better but use something like surfboard leashes to assure control of the bag and the other critical items.
Apparently, there was also some confusion about whether the EPIRB was working right -- it has both manual and water activation, but the green GPS LED may have gone out briefly when they were holding the device inside a wetsuit -- and I'm sure that Charles will study the workings of the next one better lest he again loses his glasses during the incident.
It happens that I've been testing the same ACR ditch bag for a while on Gizmo, but after talking to Charles thought I'd actually see how it floats with about 10 pounds of assorted hardware inside. Hence the impressive high freeboard photo above. But I was surprised to see that a few Amazon RapidDitch Express reviewers were disappointed that the bag is not completely watertight, even though ACR doesn't claim so and specifies its buoyancy at "15 lbs dead weight with bag flooded..." Isn't a ditch bag mainly meant to keep stuff organized and with you in the water where its interior is probably going to get wet anyway?
And shouldn't we all think about such details before they're suddenly upon us in the dark of night? I spent some time conjuring up ditch bag layouts, as suggested below, please note that quite a few 8x5x3 inch waterproof containers like the one shown would fit in that commodious main compartment. I was also pleased that the ACR Aqualink View PLB I started testing in 2010 still self-tests fine, and told me so on its little screen.
And do check out the droll Nethersole-inspired ditch bag label I made in case I ever really test this bag. On future voyages -- he's offshore again now actually -- Charles plans to have the crew's identification documents as ready for an ugly surprise as the EPIRB and handheld VHF. In fact he's looking for easy-to-hang-around-your-neck personal waterproof ID containers, adding something like, "Hell, that would be useful whether you end up dead or alive!"
I'm really glad that Charles is still with us, and I remain in awe of what the rescue systems and personnel can do to help us out there. Which reminds me of one reason that Charlie Doane covers ocean accidents so well and why we should support the Coast Guard Foundation.
Thanks for the ACR products.... EPIRB and Ditch bag. Essential to our survival