- Published on Wednesday, 14 March 2007 10:53
The owner and three crew of a Swan 44 Kratos were rescued by an Italian coastguard vessel following the activation of a McMurdo FastFind PLB (personal locator beacon) which crew member Matt Sillars said he “always carries in his pocket”. The yacht caught fire following an electrical fault in an extraction system in the heads, and the crew were quickly driven out by the overpowering smoke and were forced to abandon ship into the liferaft.
Despite putting out a mayday call by VHF, the call for help was not correctly interpreted, and, following a faulty valve which caused the liferaft to start to sink, the crew began to fear the worst. Matt decided to activate his FastFind PLB, which by luck he only purchased one month ago. This enabled him to put out a speedy distress signal which went via Kinloss (the 406mhz listening station) and was then forwarded to the Falmouth Coastguard in the UK. Meanwhile Matt was able to reach the Falmouth Coastguard via the Solent Coastguard using his satellite phone. This call validated the signal that had already been received from the Fastfind PLB, enabling the rescue operation to be speeded up.
The rescue mission was completed within 3 hours, the coastguard voessel using the Fastfind PLB’s GPS co-ordinates to rescue the stricken crew.
“We were extremely glad to see the coastguard vessel when it arrived, although it did go past us a few times before spotting us” he said. The crew had tried to paddle away as far as possible from the yacht as a precaution in case the gas and fuel on board caused an explosion.
McMurdo’s Jeremy Harrison commented: “This is exactly how the McMurdo PLB is meant to save lives. Matt carried the PLB in his pocket which meant that in the heat of the moment he had the right equipment with him. The abandon ship process took three minutes, leaving little time to gather any equipment from below decks. It’s an example of the importance of carrying a personal EPIRB/PLB”.
Matt is a professional RYA YachtMaster Instructor and an experienced delivery skipper, while his fellow crew-members, owner David Fuller, co-skipper Jim Prendergast and Rob Cunningham are all experienced sailors. Yet despite making full use of all the safety procedures at their disposal they faced a catalogue of difficulties: broken VHF transmissions, a flat battery on a handheld VHF, and difficulty in maintaining a signal while on a long satellite phone call, not to mention the problems with the liferaft. “It was undoubtedly the FastFind PLB which ultimately brought the rescuers to us” confirmed Matt.
The crew had the presence of mind to shut all doors and hatches as they left, and the fire eventually burned itself out. Kratos was later salvaged by a fishing vessel, and is expected to be repaired.