Just when you least expect it - you have to put the theory into practice


How do you prepare for the worst? I’d done the course and seen other rescues from afar, but there’s nothing like having a helicopter hovering over you to make you realise that the real thing is a very different experience to a classroom lecture.

A quick gybe 50m from the finish line caught a crewman by surprise, sending her sprawled, briefly unconscious, on the deck. Barely ten minutes after sending out a mayday, Coastguard Rescue Helicopter 104 was approaching from downwind as we motored at 4 knots with the breeze 10 degrees on the port bow. The winchman dropped down, clapped a neck-brace on the casualty, then called back the helicopter.

The noise was immense, limiting conversation to hand gestures and shouts, while the downdraft from the rotors whipped up the sea into a wide circle of froth. As the line approached we all recoiled, all training having told us to let it earth in the sea before touching it. The VHF crackled into life to say it was rope, and apparently safe and soon the winchman and his passenger shot skywards and were halfway to hospital before we’d even turned and headed for home.

As we motored sombrely back to Hamble the helicopter clattered overhead on her way back to base. Good news from the hospital – our injured crew was giving the staff a hard time because they wouldn’t let her sail on Sunday!

It was a chastening experience, but a useful one – hopefully never to be needed again.