The Big Wait
Here we are - becalmed again after several days of really good progress with steady winds and slight to moderate seas. In a wind hole, which is that curse of sailors (see my Leg 1 blog). We are over two weeks, after setting sail from Cape Town and that rite of passage for ocean sailors, namely sailing through the Southern Ocean, still has not quite started. Admittedly, an unexpected turn of events came into play.
As Medical Assistant I had been involved with helping out, in conjunction with medics Anthonie and Holly, Skipper Ian and external medical advisers Praxes, on several injuries, mostly involving falls or sprains. In fact, we’ve used each type of wound closure: conventional stitches, adhesive strips and skin glue. However, in the middle of the night of November 22nd, I was awoken with the message that Andy Toms, a knee surgeon from Devon, England, had suspected acute appendicitis. This is one of the incidents one ponders about before setting sail but is not expected. Within an hour or so Praxes had prescribed two of the dozen or so antibiotics that we stock on board and a few hours later, Ian had decided to divert to the nearest port with good medical facilities. As we were already east of South Africa, we turned around and headed north-west towards Durban. After five days of sailing or motoring, whichever was fastest, we arrived in Durban at eight o’clock in the evening. We were escorted in by two lifeboats from the Durban 5 station of the National South African Rescue Institute (NSRI). At first, this seemed like overkill, but their training meeting occurs every Tuesday evening and it was a great opportunity for them to get more of their members acquainted with their two boats that are both less than twelve months old.
The reception was fantastic. The 911 NetCare ambulances were waiting for Andy and Thomas, who had non-life threatening injuries from a fall, but who nevertheless would benefit from a good check-over. Once in hospital Andy underwent several scans and blood tests and was in theatre by midnight, having his appendix removed. Andy had great care, but it was sad to lose such an accomplished crew mate who had been racing since his teenage years. The NSRI station offered us coffees and showers and even brought in spare towels so that we would not take damp ones back onto the boat. They provided diesel from their mobile bowser, even having to go back to the local filling station as our tanks were larger than their bowser’s capacity. So impressed by their service and friendliness that several of us either made or pledged donations. Also coming to our aid was Rob, a Clipper Race sailor living in Durban and competing on other legs on this race. He drove down with his 4x4 filled to the gunwales with the extra fresh food that our extended voyage to Fremantle would require. Within two hours we were sailing again, having had a complete refreshment and replenishment without the delays of customs and immigration.
All told, our humanitarian diversion has probably cost us around eight days of race time. Historically MedEvac diversions have not been given a time allowance. This is understandable in that most diversions are as a result of sailing injuries and the onus is on the boat to minimise these as far as possible by training and procedures. However an unforeseen medical emergency that hits the boat from left field is a completely different event. That no time allowance has been granted for our humane action has left a bitter taste in the mouths of every man - and woman-jack of the entire crew. One hopes that the Race Committee can use some discretion in this particular instance.
Despite the above, everyone is exceedingly positive and in race-mode to get to Fremantle as quickly as possible. Yesterday was the start of Advent and it coincided with our regular Fun Day Sunday, which is largely driven by Sophie, and more recently John Dillon, the other JD! Christmas music abounded. There was a Father Christmas listening to pleas for presents from little boys and girls, with prosecuting and defending counsels making their eloquent yet outrageous statements against or for the hopeful ‘’child’. Sophie had provided mince pies for an evening dessert, so Commodore Keith and I, as Mothers for the day, responded as best as we could to provide a bird roast dinner, as an exception to our normal one-pot affairs. Chicken pieces were plucked from the small offcuts given to us in Durban, accompanied by carrots, cabbage and roast potatoes, which had to be rescued from the low thermal capacity of the oven and finished off in the frying pan.
Back to today and the big wait continues. However, we have taken the opportunity of the calm sea to take all the floorboards onto the deck for a good scrubbing. We are still moving very slowly towards the weather system that we expect will propel us at speed to Australia, where we will all either see our loved ones again, or continue towards them.