Jonty and Carole take part in a Cruising Association conference on which kit and techniques give you the best chance of MOB recovery
Jonty Pearce: talking MOB recovery with the CA
I should have realised that setting off to drive to London on a Friday afternoon was doomed to delays – and the four-car pile up on the M5 north causing an hour’s stationary traffic was only the start. What should have been a three-hour drive took four and a half hours. We felt like two Herefordshire country bumpkins as we queued our way through the dense Central London traffic en route to Limehouse Basin, and were well overdue for refreshment when we finally arrived. The sight of Cruising Association (CA) House with its adjacent car park and welcoming bar was a sight for sore eyes.
And why had we fought our way to this venerable institution? We had been asked to present our Yachting Monthly ‘Expert on Board’ – or rather ‘Expert Overboard’ – experience from the ‘How an 8st Woman Can Recover a 20st Man’ session with Chris Beeson, published in Jan 2015. Thus, armed with a car full of demonstration kit, we rolled up at the Cruising Association. What a truly excellent resource! Complete with library, accommodation cabins, bar, catering, and lecture/seminar facility, the CA offers everything the cruising yachtsman could desire. I recommend that you look up all the benefits at theca.org.uk and join – we now have.
The very well planned seminar day was fully booked, mostly by the cruising couples at which the day was aimed. We all learned a great deal from the nine presentations which stimulated a constructive exchange of views and ideas. After the experiences of three real-life MOB events, Roger Brydges presented the MAIB lessons gleaned from lifesaving kit that had failed and investigations of the ways fatal events develop. Ken Waylen then discussed the up-to-date view on MOB drill and recovery before Carol and I went through seven methods of MOB recovery that we had trialled on our test day afloat before discussing the lessons and modifications learned. We were followed by Andy Miller, who had aided Tom Cunliffe on a similar Yachting Monthly practical MOB session in 2008, although their conclusions gave a different perspective. Trevor Stevens from the RNLI ably, and rather frighteningly, followed with a talk on the management of the recovered MOB. Duncan Wells, director of Westview Sailing and YM contributor (amongst other roles) summed the seminar up with a review of some of the MOB equipment available and the conclusions and lessons learned from the day. The organiser, Julian Dussek, closed the session, but as always the discussions continued in the bar long afterwards.
So what were the conclusions? Apart from the obvious ‘don’t fall overboard’, ‘wear a lifejacket’, and that ‘not every method suits every boat/couple’, it was clear that much thought-provoking experience had been shared. The dangers of apathy and complacency were considered, but were overshadowed by the necessity to observe, plan, practice and equip each yacht for the dreaded scenario of the strongest and most skilled sailor being separated from their craft, often leaving weaker (both in the field of experience as well as physical strength) crew to try to remember how to manoeuvre the boat into a position where the casualty could be recovered. Roger Brydges emphasised that the MAIB felt that getting a line to the MOB was the easy part – the harder task could be getting them back on board in a state where survival was probable.
Ken Waylen emphasised the importance of quickly stopping the boat – crash tacking is the obvious way – before furling the genoa and drifting down under engine to secure the MOB. He encountered an active discussion on when to call for help on the DSC; several presenters felt that the time to call was after securing the MOB rather than first disappearing below for a radio session and potentially losing sight of the casualty. We agreed that this order of events applies to cruising couples only; with a larger crew the standard RYA procedure is paramount. More than half the delegates had DSC radios fitted in their cockpit – I’m envious. The idea of throwing an orange smoke flare overboard as close as possible – but not at – the MOB was felt to to be a great way of replacing the luxury of a crew member assigned to be the ‘MOB pointer’ in short handed boats. With so much for the rescuer to do it is easy to lose sight of the casualty.
Recovery options will vary between boats and crew. Weight, experience and strength all need to be taken into consideration before preparing, equipping, and practising for the MOB recovery techniques that individual couples decide would suit their own boat and situation. The methods that Carol and I have adopted boil down to the use of an extended webbing ladder midships if the casualty is physically able, and a MobMat recovery device raised by a handybilly via our Pontos winch (see later) if not.
The Kim MOB Rescue Sling (or equivalent) was highlighted as a valuable recovery and retrieval device, being equally of use for those not wearing a harness as those fully lifejacketed. The benefits of a handybilly (block and tackle – Carol covered terminology for the less jargon cognisant sailors) were clear, as were the advantages of electric winches (if fitted). On Aurial, Carol and I upgraded to Pontos Trimmer winches after our practical session – these which offer a massive 112.9:1 advantage instead of our previous 40:1. Pontos were there to demonstrate the benefits of their range of powerful manual winches. Our own experience of using the electric anchor windlass to lift out the MOB was disappointing, though this method could work for many. Remember that the mainsheet tackle often includes a block and tackle – this can be used to good effect. A horizontal recovery device such as our MobMat is ideal to avoid the traumas and health risks of a vertical lift, though yachts without such equipment on board could always use a second strop passed under the knees to give a ‘crouching’ lift. It became clear that many delegates were unaware that a MOB should not be retrieved by using the harness D ring as a lifting point – lifejackets have a designated lifting loop stored inside, which should deploy to be obvious on inflation. Duncan Wells described (and sold many of) his MOB Lifesaver device – a thin 3mm HMPE extra-strong line attached to the harness lifting point and stored inside the lifejacket. The Lifesaver facilitates both securing the MOB to the boat (all agreed that this was a vital step) as well as being strong enough to withstand being used to hoist out the heaviest of crew weights (me). I am fitting mine inside my lifejacket this week. The length of harness tethers and the use of three-point tethers were discussed, as were the benefits of rigging them to central structures such as taut halyards/lines or centrally-rigged jackstays.
It also emerged that the dangers encountered once overboard such as cold shock and heart attack as well as the later risk of secondary drowning were unavoidable for most cruising couples, especially in the middle of the Atlantic. This was a place that Trevor Stevens considered as being between a rock and a hard place – you would be fortunate indeed if skilled medical help was at hand. The best we can do is get the casualty aboard and horizontal ASAP, calling for help if it is available. Warming the casualty has to be done appropriately and with caution. Crossing our fingers would be an additional action.
All in all, the day was a stimulating and well-organised look at what all too often could be described as the elephant in the room (or cockpit. Or not, as the case might be). I hope that most sailors practice getting back to the MOB, but one of the strengths of this day was the examination of both getting the MOB back aboard and then caring for them. I’m sure that on the way home most delegate couples ended their day by discussing and planning their own options, thus achieving the intentions of the seminar.
Carol and I made full use the facilities and company at Cruising Association House before sharing a wonderful day at Greenwich with new friends Wendy and Bob. We admired the Cutty Sark and then enjoyed a guided tour of the Painted Hall before finishing at the Chapel of the Old Royal Naval College. The delights of Sunday evening London traffic and the long drive back to Malvern ended our weekend away. A day in The Smoke is all very well, but it is always a pleasure to get home to the countryside afterwards!