Thursday, November 24, 2011

Nasty accident during Wednesday night race . . .

Latest news is Peter is ok, stable and recovering in Constantiaberg Hospital. He has a large hole in his head, and a broken wrist, but is already talking and quite cheerful. Thank heavens!! 

STOP PRESS: We have heard Peter has a cracked vertebra as well (C6) - it will be fused early next week - no loss of mobility expected though. Best wishes from his friends at HBYC.

The messy red stuff on the deck is neither paint nor tomato sauce . . .

The weather before the race was variable, cold, windy and a bit rainy. There was a general move not to race and we were up in the club feeling relieved (or so I thought). Well blow me down if the whole bunch don't suddenly decide to start sailing in this miserable weather. Dutifully I rigged up too and next thing we had three boats on the water - Faraway, Nandi and Quest (the same three who hadn't learned a thing from the week before). The wind was South, but very variable and gusty - like a Northwester in a bad mood. Course was announced as a circle of the four marks (as no-one could really tell where windward was), and we were about to start the sequence when Nandi was seen lowering her main in a hurry. Suddenly we heard a frantic radio call from Nandi to say they had a serious medical emergency, one crew member knocked out cold and blood everywhere. They would appreciate help to get ambulance ASAP. Immediately we cancelled the race and I radioed through to Hout Bay Watchcon - answered by Stephen King - himself a volunteer paramedic.

Nandi meanwhile had doused the sails and was motoring swiftly back to dock - the patient (Peter) in the good care of Lynda (his wife) and Tiffany (both highly qualified nursing sisters) - while Nick and Ray brought the boat in - not without some difficulty in the fresh wind. This ended up with Ray in the water (trying to hold the boat). Faraway crew arrived then to assist further.

The ambulances (several!) - arrived seconds later, along with the EMS parameds, and the NSRI parameds. They took a good hour or so to stabilise poor Peter, and strap him into a light stretcher, in which he was speedily transported to Constantiaberg. As already mentioned - he seems ok besides the head-gash and broken wrist. CT-scans have not shown anything more so far.

The main point of this article is to remind sailors how easily accidents can happen, and how to best respond. This particular accident was the consequence of a dramatic involuntary jibe caused by a sudden gust from behind the sails. Peter was hit by the mainsheet and tackle somehow, not even the boom. He was completely unconcious for a few minutes . . .

Learnings:
- There comes a time on every boat when First Aid is quite important. Do you have the right bandages, kit and practitioners on board?  A blanket to cover the patient?
- The radio is an essential safety item in calling for help. Can several of the crew operate the radio effectively, do they know which channel to call, could they describe the emergency clearly and participate in the ongoing dialog? If out at sea, can they operate the base station radio? When was the last time you tested it?
- Emergency numbers on the boat? Watchcon, 911, etc?
- If the skipper or lead crew are incapacitated, can the others operate the boat satisfactorily to drop sails, start engine, take charge? Think MoB especially?
- Coming alongside shorthanded or with injured crew can be unusually tricky. Do you have a plan for this - eg a longish sheet or line that can be thrown just to hold the boat until the mooring lines are gathered? Have you considered taking a different open mooring which may be easier to navigate to - eg upwind, or closer to where the ambulance will arrive etc?
- Can your boat be towed in an emergency? line and towing point in place?
- Short-handing makes it all more critical.
Fortunately, in the circumstances of last night, Nandi coped admirably, with assistance from others. The nurses onboard were able to stabilise the patient, another crew-member sounded the alarm on the radio, and I was able to radio through Watchcon immediately using a Neighbourhood Watch radio I carry in Hout Bay. In Hout Bay, Watchcon remains a miracle of modern life - and the reponse was fantastic - all credit to Stephen King (duty controller) - who responded personally.
If you do have occasion to call for an ambulance, be prepared to state
  • Age (approx) and gender of the patient
  • Whether they have medical aid (this decides whether you get a Netcare ambo or a government ambo - be very clear on this distinction - re: costs and time to arrive!
  • The nature of the injuries and general condition
  • The exact location (this last piece is critical - ambulances often end up going to the "other" yacht club, or road or whatever). Be very specific - you get one chance at this.
  • A number where emergency services can call you back in case of delay or clarity on address
For Hout Bay emergencies, remember Watchcon number is 021-790-9333. They will help you through everything. Out of Hout Bay it gets a bit more complicated - CH16 to Cape Town radio, 082-911 etc.
Now is the time to think how you will handle an emergency on your boat!
Our very best wishes to Peter and Lynda - hope he recovers swiftly and is home soon.