Mayday rescue of skipper with psychosis raises questions

The rescue of an ARC crew after their skipper suffered a mental breakdown is raising questions as to the entry requirements for such events. Canadian Jos Brosnan was undergoing treatment for psychosis, reports Marian Martin in a BYM news article. The deterioration of his mental state was such that crew member Sophie Quinney, a British based A&E doctor, contacted the British Coastguard to request that Brosnan was evacuated. Falmouth Coastguard requested assistance from other yachts in the area and put Quinney in contact with a British psychiatrist who helped her to calm him.

Quinney had very little sailing experience, and she and third crewmember Finbarr Murphy were concerned about their ability to sail the Nicholson 32 alone. The decision was thus made that they would all abandon to superyachtMirabella V, who had agreed to assist.

The three crew ofCompromisetransferred toMirabella Vby liferaft, reports the superyacht’s skipper David Dawes in SailWorld, as it was ‘so much safer than using our fast rescue boat. I didn’t want to risk my crew and it is just another aspect that can go wrong.’

‘We circled in the falling light until the raft drifted away from the yacht so I could approach it. Seas were rough but not breaking. Wind was about 25 knots. I approached head to wind and stopped MV with the raft abeam the cap shrouds. We threw lines across, hauled them to us and they began disembarking up the rope pilot ladder. I lost control of the bow in the wind and we started to drift down on the raft but its design allowed it to bounce along to leeward of us and we dropped the rope ladder right into it.

We were relieved when all were aboard. It looked easy to me to climb up. Sophie told me later that looking up the towering topsides of MV from the raft was the most terrifying thing she had seen. I blew the ship’s horn to show everyone my relief and thanks for a job well done. Nothing went wrong, I am hoping it’s thanks to good planning.

The decision to abandon the yacht adrift in the ocean was not an easy one, given the potential hazard it presents. I could not ask this man to sink his home in front of us. She seemed to be coping well and there is that glimmer of hope that she may survive whatever is in store for her. I reckon she will be around for months. I asked the crew to leave a note on the chart table to say they had abandoned to safety and not perished. One could imagine a rescuer coming aboard and left for days to wonder what happened to the crew. We left a masthead light on and put her astern of us in the dark.’

Commenting on whether the ARC had stringent enough entry requirements, World Cruising Club(WCC) Director Andrew Bishop told BYM News that there is no entry requirement concerning the skipper and crew’s health, and that people with medical conditions such as diabetes and asthma, which require regular medication, have participated in long distance sailing events without problem.

Bishop added that, to his knowledge, the two crew were aware of Brosnan’s mental condition when the decision to sail the ARC was made. He said that the WCC would ‘investigate the incident and may make changes in the future.’

What doyouthink?: Reader’s Feedback


May I be forgiven for thinking that the much trumpeted benefit of sailing in a rally
eg : the proximity of other yachts means rescue is nearer at hand, has been to some extent compromised by leaving a perfectly well found yacht unmanned on the route of some 250 plus boats?

Surely one of the world’s biggest single-masted yachts could have spared a couple of hands to sail her back to shore? In not why on earth was she not scuppered? To have a derelict adrift in among the fleet is surely asking for trouble?

I suppose the upside of any collision is that the poor wretches who find themselves rubbing up against the well-proven Nich 32 may find they’ve got themselves a better boat, but then again what will be left drifting this time, a BavJenBen?


David Smith (retired)

To reply to Mr. David Smith’s comments
It would be foolhardy, to say the least, to remove crew from a safe vessel in mid-Atlantic to sail an unknown craft to shore for the only purpose of saving the skipper’s investment. The rescue took place in 25 knot winds, and significant seas. The wisdom of Captain Dawes was 100% correct. There was no need to endanger any of the Mirabella crew when they could safely effect a transfer of the evacuees by raft.
I question Captain Jos Brosnan’s judgment not to sink his vessel once he had decided to abandon it. He is most likely hoping it will be returned to him without a scratch, however he has neglected to take into account the hazard it now poses to shipping. I find this to be rather poor judgment on his part.
 Arthur Boas

The idea of going on a transatlantic voyage at all is all about judgment. It seems that if the crew were in full knowledge of their skipper’s condition. Therefore if anyone lacked
judgment it was probably the crew.

Should we have an independent medical/psychological examination before being
allowed to go to sea, I think not. In a non commercial environment, the collective judgment
of skipper AND the crew should suffice.

Cliff Dickinson:

I think that all offshore races and rallies run the risk of attracting people who would not venture out on such courses without the excuse of a race or a rally. On the other hand, everyone should at all times be free to participate or do whatever he or she likes at sea, provided he or she bears the costs of salvage and rescue operations him or herself in case of gross neglect or sheer stupidity. (editor’s note: skippers and crew do not bear these costs, the rescue services do). However, abandoning a yacht that is still in sound order when her crew are not mortally ill falls in that category.

Hans Vandersmissen

Dear Sir,
A very strange story indeed!  Since when do you leave a boat unmanned surrounded in a fleet of 250 other yachts?  What were the weather conditions at that moment?  Why did the ARC organisation not divert 1 or 2 other yachts to put some crew on the yacht to sail her or someone of Mirabella’s crew?  A few people made some really bad seamanship judgement in this case.  Shame!
Jan Wouters.

it is very unfortunate that a mental illness has struck at someone
who wants to live an adventurous lifestyle, the selfless crew should be
commended for their unwavering support, knowing also that help is not that
far away. I just hope that they had made plans for all eventualities.
Various suggestions have been made as to the plight
of the Nicholson 32. What people seem to forget is that the sea is only so
big and sinking anything into the sea will only help to further pollute it,
in the last week alone I have collected, washed up on the beaches of
Plymouth about 500 Ib of plastics, nets, rubbers, and about 50 litres of
paint and a gallon container of oil, 20 per cent of this rubbish comes from
us Yachties, we have to remember to take care of the sea as well,

Adam Kingdon.

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