Last Monday, 24th April, the CBYA again had adequate crew to go on a charter day trip; we even had enough crew to ask for two 39ft boats! The crews met at their well-known place in the marina of Dénia, at the same time as normal – 10:00 hours. Looking at the weather conditions, we noted that the wind was light, but enough to sail, and we hoped that it would increase later in the day, as forecasted. The paperwork with the charter company was quickly completed, without problems as normal, and the skippers, Karlheinz Witte (me) and Peter English, boarded our respective boats. After a short and good introduction, given by Kiko, the manager of the charter company, we set off on our sail.
I had expected to find more wind on sailing straight out of the harbour and facing the “breeze” that he had. It worked fine, and put me in front of the other yacht. On entering Javea bay, I sailed more into the bay than Peter did. So, I had to do a tack, losing my front position. We sailed further on to Portixol bay, where – in order to be back home in time – we started on our return journey. Giving me the chance to wait for Peter, and then tack right behind him. Whilst sailing along in a very comfortable wind of 5-7 knots, I received a call from Kiko to inform me of strong winds in Dénia. I couldn´t believe it, because in front of us, in the direction of Dénia, there were no signs indicating a strong wind, like “white horses”, or higher waves. As it is very often experienced in the Mediterranean, on rounding Cap San Antonio the wind indeed increased to 19 – 20 knots, with strong gusts. However there were still almost no waves. As we have been sailing on half wind to beam reach, I decided not to put in a reef yet as the boat was still handling well. Peter, a Hobie Cat, and I were the only boats sailing. Glancing in the direction to the cat, I saw it capsize. As our CBYA dingy sailors will confirm, this is nothing unusual or dangerous. You simply upright your boat and continue sailing more carefully. Fifteen minutes later Peter called, asking if we could see the capsized cat, because it was still laying on its side and it appeared that it was not being righted. So, could be they be in trouble? As we were closer to the Hobie, Peter suggested that we sail nearer to it to see if they needed help, so we did.
As we approaced, we saw one man standing on the lower hull, waving and shouting in Spanish: “man in water, without life jacket!” So, we started the motor, and dropped the sails as quickly as possible. The CBYA crew did a great job. Meanwhile Peter arrived, also with sails down and motor on, and we started the search, facing the wind near the capsized catamaran. At the same time, I called the charter company, asking if the sea rescue (Salvamiento Maritimo) could support us. Fortunately Peter found the sailor a few minutes later and took him on board: very lucky to find him, as he was now far away from his catamaran. Luckily he was wearing a complete wet suit and this, despite of the length of time in the cold water, helped him to stay warm without problems. So, I called again, cancelled the request for the SM. The rescued sailor then jumped back into the water near the Hobie to help upright the cat, and continue sailing. What were the lessons learnt?
Whenever you sail a dinghy, always wear a life jacket, or at least have one on the boat, ready to use.
If you capsize, stay close to the boat, it is incredible how quickly and how far the boat can drift away from you. You can´t get back to it again by swimming.
It is recommended to wear a brightly coloured jacket. If the waves had been a little bigger, I doubt that we would have able to see the guy in the water, who was wearing a black wet suit. If he hadn’t been wearing a wetsuit, he may not have been able to react after the time he had spent in the water.
It is recommended to have rescue equipment on board – even on a Hobie cat. If not an automatically-activated transmitter, at least a small signaller. They are not too expensive, and certainly less valuable than your life!