WHAT TO DO IF… you have to abandon the boat

men in rafts
Forty years of the Sailing Newspaper is also forty years of our practice section. We have selected quizzes with the best practical tips that have come to us from you readers over the years. In this eighth installment we see what to do in the unfortunate event of having to abandon the boat.

YOU HAVE TO ABANDON THE BOAT

QUEST: “The hull is sinking due to a waterway that you cannot plug. You are forced to abandon the boat and use the raft. What do you do?” (Episode based on a true story)

ANSWER: “It’s me, Fabio, skipper of Navajo, a 50-foot sloop launched a few months earlier, Andrea, Claudio, Carlo and Giampiero. All good sailors. Marine weather conditions in the previous 48 hours were bad, SW 7, alternating with NE7. But they seem to be improving rapidly. Around nine o’clock we hear a loud noise at the hull, at the bow, and the boat shudders. I instinctively look at my watch, not sure why. 9:03 a.m. Claudio falls on the wheel. I attend to Claudio, who is bleeding, and order Giampiero to go down and sweep the boat. Charles and Andrew see a submerged body parading aft, but they cannot figure out what it is. No more than a handful of seconds elapsed since the collision. I make Claudio lie down, and as I enter the boat, I order Carlo and Andrea to stand at the stern. The dinette is flooded. Giampiero has already swept and is trying to find the leak.

I rush to the radio and call the Coast Guard. The water level continues to rise. By radio I give them the coordinates, drift speed and direction, describe the boat and the number of occupants. Andrea to tell me what I already imagined. “Fabio, there’s nothing to be done, it’s impossible to get to close the leak, we’re going to sink!” I fly to the bow as I shout to my crew to put on life jackets. Water enters somewhere on the starboard side. Damn it, we had taken the left-hand wall hood, and so the water was coming in faster. Before climbing into the cockpit I grab two cell phones, the portable vhf, a package of cookies, nutella, a surveying compass, a couple of water bottles and place them in a watertight bag. As Carlo and I change walls, I order Giampiero to remove the safety catches on the stern life raft, and give the top to the bollard. Instead of a huge raft I had preferred to equip the boat with two smaller ones. One I place on the deckhouse, abaft the mast, the other on the transom. I was afraid, however, that by sailing aft in a swell the waves would take it away from me.

So I add two aluminum quick-release safety bars. I look at the clock, it’s 09:07. Only four minutes have passed. The water continues to rise. I close the fuel tank. Disconnecting the batteries. I grab the first aid kit, flares, and papers, and go back upstairs. “Giampiero, raft to the sea!” The raft takes a few seconds to open. Charles begins to retrieve the line to pull the raft alongside the boat so he can jump into it. I look at the bow, it is almost underwater. There is no time. I order Charles to move the raft away and shout to everyone to jump into the water. The line is still tied to the bollard. I entrust one bag to Carlo, one to Andrea, and tell Giampiero to stay close to Claudio, who is still dazed. I stay in the boat, ready to cut the line and jump overboard.

The danger is the craft. It was necessary to move away so as not to be trapped by ropes and cables, and not to be sucked in by the currents and eddies that accompany sinking. I take one last look, cut the line and jump into the water. I catch up with the others. Giampiero and I start pushing the raft, swimming. With the raft a reasonable distance from the boat, we also enter. 9:14 a.m. After half an hour we see a helicopter approaching. We throw a smoke bomb overboard. With us we have VHF, cell phones, and compass. And I had provided via radio the ship point. It was not difficult for rescuers to find us. At 10:57 a.m. an inflatable boat retrieves us and takes us ashore.”

IN THE LAST EPISODE – WHAT TO DO IF THE BOAT IS TOO NETTLESOME

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