A sea rescue
Amateur Radio Emergency Communications
In July 2012 Mike Hall VK8MH took part in the Sail Timor Leste boat rally on board his highly modified Triton 24 Colleen, along with his crew, brothers Gary and Geoff and his daughter Kylie.
Mike arranged for Scheds on 40 Meters at 07:30 and 16:00 daily for the duration of the voyage, which he estimated would be about a month. Conditions were good with signals usually strength 9 or more into Darwin. The radio on board was a Barrett 950 Marine Radio with several Amateur frequencies programmed.
Mike also carried on board a Spot Tracker a great little device that sends signals via satellite giving his GPS position about every 10 minutes, via a web interface those interested in his progress were able to keep track of Colleen’s progress in real time.
On the 16th of July several days out of Darwin on the 07:00 Sched Mike reported all was well with moderate to rough seas and nothing of any great interest to report. At about 11:00 Darwin time I noticed that Colleens progress had come to a halt and from the position reports from the Spot tracker they appeared to be drifting in a North Easterly direction. As the day wore on it was obvious that Colleen was not making much progress but I would be able to find out what the situation was at 16:00.
The 16:00 Sched revealed that in the rough seas two stainless steel bolts that connect the steering to the rudder stock had sheared leaving Colleen with no steering. Mike asked me to contact the Rally committee and see if there were any other vessels in the vicinity that may be able to help.
I could not find any phone information for the rally organizers so I rang the Darwin Sailing Club and at the same time I sent this email.
Subject: Colleen In trouble
Mike Hall on Colleen is in contact with me Via HF radio and has reported loss of steering in rough seas.
He would be able to restore steering but requires 2 x 3 1/2” bolts and the means to drill two 3/8 “holes in ¼ inch stainless plate. Mike asked if it would be possible to contact other boats in the area that could possibly supply the items above. Colleen’s position at 16:00 was -9 Degrees 41 Minutes south, 128 degrees 42minutes east.
Regards Gary Gibson
I received this reply
Sent: Monday, July 16, 2012 4:32 PM
Subject: Re: Colleen In trouble
We have received Colleen’s message and advised:
1. RCC in Canberra
2. The comms support vessel in the fleet that is running the HF sched.
We are waiting to hear back from him, and based on this feedback, will then start contacting yachts in the fleet by sat phone.
A few minutes later I received a phone Call from the Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) in Canberra. I was advised that if I could deliver the equipment required to the Darwin Airport quickly a RCC Dornier Aircraft was ready and waiting to deliver the equipment to Colleen, however I would have to hurry as the drop needed to occur before last light.
As luck has it I live only about five minutes from the airport and the local Bunning’s hardware shop is also adjacent to the airport.
I made a hasty phone call to one of Mikes Family and arranged for him to meet me at the airport with a charged battery drill, I dashed to Bunning’s and bought the bolts and Drill bit.
We met the Dornier Crew and handed over the equipment.
We were also lucky enough to have another amateur in the fleet another Mike VK2HSR
He sent this message at 09:59 GMT
Subject: Colleen Air Drop Successful
Date: Mon, 16 Jul 2012 09:59:00 -0000
I just spoke with Colleen on HF after monitoring the Dornier on ch 16 during their adventures. Colleen advises the package landed ON THE DECK! That’s gotta run well in the press. The drop was carried out pretty much at last light.
Colleen is unpacking the materials and will get to work on repairing their steering.
I broadcast a message to the fleet on VHF so everyone knows Colleen’s status.
The crew of Colleen was able to make the repair and successfully completed their voyage to Dili in Timor Leste and spent the following few weeks cruising to Kupang and back to Darwin.
The RCC Dornier crew is the real hero in this story, to drop a container from an aircraft at 130 Knots to the deck of a small vessel is very impressive.
The package is attached to about 50 meters of rope with a small parachute on the end. The package was supposed to go over the boat leaving the rope across the deck for Colleen’s crew to retrieve.
The package actually hit the side rail and landed on the deck.
Mike has a slightly bent rail that he intends to leave bent as a memento, he’s not complaining.
I should point out that while Amateur Radio played a great role in this event the rally organizers also had regular HF Scheds and Colleen would have been able to arrange for assistance using the rally official channels. In this particular emergency without amateur radio and willing friends the airdrop would not have been possible until the following day. With Colleen being tossed about and not under way some of Mikes crew were already suffering from sea sickness, another night would have had to have been endured before any possible rescue could be effected.
All in all this is a good news story for Ham Radio and I am sure Mike will arrange for Amateur scheds on his next voyage.
The bent rail
Safe back in Darwin