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This article is by Dougie Graham of Britons Slip Sailing School. 

Lee shore rescue - are you up to it?

It was blowing up to Force 6 and squally with it - not the sort of day you would choose for a pleasure trip. However, dozens of intrepid dinghy sailors had journeyed from far and wide for their annual national championships and a little inclement weather was not going to put them off. Myself and 2 colleagues decided to brave the elements in our sailing school RIB so that we could watch the fun and games at closer range.

No sooner had our bow nudged into the bay than we noticed a dinghy down on the leeshore surf line with a crew of 2 clinging on for dear life. There was no safety boat to be seen - I suspect they were all busy with other similar situations, so we decided to go to the rescue.

As we approached the breakers we each busied ourselves with preparations for a tow off the beach. While my colleagues prepared the anchor and warp, throwing/towing rope and bridle I, as skipper, mentally ticked off the oft-taught sequence of events and techniques. By the time we reached the edge of the breaking surf I hoped we had it all covered - communication, agreement, anchor clear of surf line, veer down on anchor warp through surf, throw heaving line, haul in on anchor line and tow away - simple really!

All went well at first; the dinghy crew were eager to be towed to the comparative safety of the open sea and we didnít want to remain in the cauldron for too long. Unfortunately, the spinnaker had become entangled, filled with water, and was consequently resisting all attempts by the crew to right the dinghy. Never mind, we would tow the dinghy on its side with the crew hanging on to the bow and attempting to keep the mast from dipping into the seabed. So far, so good, until the anchor started slipping with the combined drag of RIB and dinghy on it, not to mention the lifting power of the breakers! Nevertheless, we made it to deeper water outside the breaking surf and at last the dinghy was brought upright. The crew got in and proceeded to try to put things right.

Meanwhile, one of the officiating rescue RIBs hove into view. By various means I explained to the sole incumbent what had happened and that we would be happy to hand our tow over to him. At this point, the dinghy crew requested they be allowed to go off under their own sail power. As the spinnaker was still wrapped around the forestay, the crew clearly tired and the wind, if anything, stronger, I tried to dissuade them from this action. No, they were adamant, they wanted to join the race once more. Well, we had done our bit so off they went - for about 10 boat lengths - before they capsized again.

This time we left it to the rescue boat while we recovered our gear and composure. Unfortunately, by the time we had done this both the rescue RIB and the dinghy were back on the leeshore. Here we go again!

I donít want to labour this so suffice it to say we towed both vessels to safety after a further tiring and trying 30 minutes. This time we insisted on taking the dinghy to the safety of the sheltered hard and returned to base feeling tired but fulfilled.

Afterwards we had time to dwell on the lessons reinforced and learned from our real live leeshore rescues.

Firstly: Where were the official rescue boats? In such poor weather it is essential to reassess the ratio of rescue craft to participants and if you canít provide extra safety cover then race postponement should be considered.

Secondly: Why only one crew member in the late-arriving RIB? The lack of a second crew member was the direct cause of the rescue boat going onto the leeshore. This put not only the dinghy crew in danger but also ourselves and the RIB crew.

Thirdly: Should the dinghy crew be allowed a say in what happens after a successful rescue? This is a difficult one. On the one hand itís a free world but on the other the rescue crew have risked, if not their lives, their limbs. I suppose the ultimate action is to leave the dinghy and crew to their own devices - but could you do that?

Finally: Where did we stand from an insurance standpoint? What if something went wrong and someone was hurt? In this age of litigation it is quite possible that the whole exercise could have been a very expensive one. Makes you think, doesnít it?

Author: Dougie Graham runs Britons Slip Sailing School
Contact:  T:01326 211100, E-mail: britslip@silverquick.com

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