00:00 Saturday 20 August 2011  Written by JACKIE KEOGH

100% outcome in challenging circumstances

DRIVING into Baltimore village on a bright and sunny Tuesday morning, it was hard to believe that the weather the day before was so gristly that the emergency services had difficulty locating the twenty-one sailors whose boat, the Rambler 100, had capsized during the Fastnet Yacht Race.

In the early morning, as the village was slowly coming to life, the twenty male members of the crew - the only female member was in a hospital in Kerry and making a good recovery from hypothermia - were easily identifiable by the fact that they were busy hanging their red and black all-weather gear out to dry on the railings of their temporary new homes in Mariner's Cove.

Inside one of the large and attractively-furnished houses, the crew, all grouped together, seemed relaxed but alert, as if still on duty. They continued to work, doing whatever needed to be done: They washed their gear, put the last of their wet clothes into the tumble dryer, and prepared simple meals.

By their actions, they demonstrated, more than words ever could, how it is possible for a crew of twenty-one people to equably live and work together in such close quarters - whatever the circumstances.

Despite their ordeal the night before, none of the sailors - who came from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, England and America - seemed to be suffering from shock. None of them spoke about their rescue in an overly-dramatic way.

They all seemed stoic: Calm and quietly confident, but keen nevertheless to express their gratitude to everyone who participated in their rescue, and made them feel so welcome in Baltimore.

Provided everything

Local people showed their hospitality in a variety of ways: They provided the crew with everything they had - from the clothes on their backs, to the groceries in the kitchen, the stockpile of new toothbrushes on the sideboard and the large pile of chocolate bars on the table.

George David, the owner and skipper of the 100ft US-registered sailing boat, is 69 years old and based in Connecticut, USA. The former chief executive officer of United Technologies, which is one of the biggest corporations in America, is measured in his speech, clearly very resilient, and forthright. A real 'straight-from-the-hip' kind of guy!

'We don't need to sensationalise this,' he told The Southern Star. 'We had a 100% outcome with no fatalities in challenging circumstances, and that's a tribute to the quiet professionalism of the crew and the rescue services.'

'No one died here,' is a quote made famous by Sonia O'Sullivan's father. Talking to George David, you get an idea of the kind of grit you need for the rough and tumble world of business, and the rough and tumble world of international sailing.

Sailing is George David's hobby. It's a challenging hobby, and an expensive one to boot. But, with a small smile, the mega-wealthy owner of the Rambler 100, which is recognised as being one of the most impressive racing yachts in the world, said: 'We have to do something with our spare time.'

Recalling the events of Monday, August 15th, he described how, having passed the Fastnet Rock, they had gone about six or seven miles before the keel fin fractured and came off at around 5.40pm. Thirty seconds later, the Rambler 100 was upside down in the water.

Were cast adrift

There are two rescue stories here: Sixteen members of the crew - four of them without life jackets - were able to stay close to the vessel after it capsized and held on to the hull; but George David, his partner Wendy Touton, and three others were thrown from where they stood at the back of the deck and were cast adrift.

Bowman, Jerry Kirby, explained what it was like clinging to the hull for three hours, and how they got the four guys who had been off watch below decks and were without their all-weather gear - not to mention lifejackets - on to the ridge of the upturned boat before anyone else.

He also explained how they watched other vessels sail by, oblivious to their predicament. They didn't know the crew of the Rambler 100 was in the water.

from page one

They couldn't see them because of the 10ft to 15ft surges and diminishing visibility. And, with force five winds, there wasn't much hope of anyone hearing them either.

For about three hours they were, to all intents and purposes, invisible. According to Jerry Kirby, it was through the tenacity of the crew of the Baltimore Lifeboat, under coxswain Kieran Cotter, and with the guidance of the Valentia Coastguard service, that their location was established.

Jerry Kirby said the lifeboat crew went directly to where their satellite distress signal went into the water after the boat capsized, and then worked a grid from that point. Of course, he said the crew's decision to link their super-bright LED trim lights to form a single beam helped in defining their position.

There is an added dimension to their story, a selflessness that shows their true grit and determination, in that they asked the lifeboat crew to follow the debris and locate their colleagues who had been cast adrift before rescuing them.

As it turned out, the five, who had been in the water for almost three hours had already been rescued by the Wave Chieftain, under skipper Jerry Smith, who, coincidentally, is also a member of the Baltimore lifeboat crew.

Here, George David takes up the story, saying that despite the fact that they had been 'flipped' into the sea from where they stood on the deck at the back of the boat, they remained very calm.

'It happened within a matter of seconds, but we all stayed together,' as they had been trained to do during repeated survival training exercises. 'Although we got separated from the boat very fast,' he said, 'we all had our lifejackets on, and we hooked them together. We fully expected someone to come. We just had to stay calm in the meantime.'

Emphasising the importance of safety at sea, and the need to always wear a lifejacket, George David said: 'Anyone who was in the water without a lifejacket was not going to make it.'

Bombardment

While they were being tossed around in the water, he said they also had the benefit of spray hoods, which meant that the constant wave bombardment didn't take as much out of them as could reasonably be expected.

When he was describing their rescue by the Wave Chieftain, the lifeboat crew, and the helicopter rescue services, George David spoke with tremendous respect for their professionalism.

He said the vessel had a hydraulic lift platform on board so everyone was winched to safety with relative ease, but he said the helicopter manoeuvres in force five winds off Cape Clear was 'a thing of beauty.'

The whole sequence might have taken about fifteen minutes but that included preparation and set-up. The actual extraction of his partner took no more than five minutes.

George David said: 'We need to recognise the skill of the people involved in the rescue. This was a serious situation, but it is a tribute to the skilled professionalism both of the Rambler 100 crew and the rescue teams. You cannot imagine a higher standard of professionalism.'

On their return to dry land at around 10pm, George David said there were about one hundred people lining the pier in Baltimore to give them cheer. And there were a hundred more in the sailing club, where - after the crew traded their wet clothes for the dry ones - there was 'quite a party.'

He said they enjoyed hot food, a few drinks, and the kind of hospitality and friendliness that Ireland is famous for. Then, through the generosity of more local people, he said they were given homes to go to, and all of them enjoyed a good night's rest.

Never in thirty-five years sailing has George David been involved in an incident like this. But his experience and that of his team of world-class sailors - all of whom have about twenty-five years' sailing under their belts - as well as extensive survival training, meant 'there was no panic, or anxiety, everyone was doing the right thing,' he said.

Throughout those thirty-five years, George David has been racing in faraway places, including numerous Trans-Atlantic Races, Volvo Ocean Races and the America's Cup. Since his retirement from full-time business at the beginning of 2010, he has stepped up the pace and committed more and more of his time to meeting the challenges that the international racing calendar presents.

Withstand conditions

The Rambler 100 - which was built in 2008, and was designed to withstand the conditions of last Monday evening - began this year's race season in February with a couple of races in the Caribbean, where it broke the royal Ocean Racing Club record.

So far, this year, the Rambler 100 completed 5,000 miles of racing including the 2,800 mile Transatlantic Race from New Port, Rhode Island, to Lizard Point at the western end of Cornwall. They completed the race on July 10th last, having set a new transatlantic record of six days and twenty-two hours.

George David said he and his crew had plans to finish the racing season with the Sydney Hobart Race at the end of December. A demanding racing schedule like this is not a solo endeavour. It is not something that can be accomplished by a single man's vision.

'This team,' said George David, with a nod to the guys working in the utility room and kitchen and hanging out in the living room, 'has been together for the last five years. They are like family.'

Speaking about the annual Fastnet Race - which goes from Cowes on the Isle of Wight, around the Fastnet Rock, and back to Plymouth - and has been in existence since 1927, George David said the crew has got about 100 Fastnet races between them: 'So the rock was a familiar sight to all of us.'

George David and his crew have indeed sailed a lot in these waters: When they competed in the 2007 Fastnet Yacht Race, the Rambler - the Rambler 100's predecessor - set a race record, but came in second, a mere two hours being the winning Chieftain.

To its perpetual credit, the Rambler 100 had achieved three ocean racing records, as well as winning half of the races it has ever been in. In fact, from the start of the Fastnet Race on Sunday, the mono-hull sailboat was well in front of everyone else and seemed destined to win its class. But that was not to be.

Talking to George David about the world of international racing and their dice with death was fascinating, but Jerry Kirby gets the last line. He said: 'Baltimore is the perfect place to get shipwrecked in.'

< Back

Features