Friday, October 11, 2013

Boat Karma and the Cruiser's Code: Helping out a Vessel in Trouble

The other night as we were coming back in the dinghy from our provisioning run, Scott and Luuck noticed a boat was dragging, with a lone sailor at the helm.  We all were in one dinghy (women and kids included), so they dropped Darcy and I off on our respective boats with the kiddos and immediately went to the boat in trouble to assist.  It was dangerously close to dragging into the unattended boat behind it (and, beyond that, was a reef; Clifton Harbor is not an anchorage to drag in) and time was of the essence.  The boys sprung right into action; Scott getting behind the helm and Luuck and the owner heading to the bow to raise the anchor and re-set it.  The whole ordeal lasted about an hour from start to finish and the owner (who was alone) was very, very grateful for the help of Scott and Luuck.  Our guys even got a couple cold ones out of the deal.

While the story isn't exactly gripping, what it illustrates is one of the cardinal rules of cruising:  when you see another boat in trouble, you help because one day, it will be you on the other side of the coin.  While those of us lucky enough to live this lifestyle enjoy the ability to reside "off the grid" and outside mainstream society, what this also means is we don't get to enjoy some of the conveniences a developed society affords.  We rely on ourselves, and each other, when things go wrong.  There's no AAA, no water-based fire department, and no 911 on the water to come to our rescue so when bad things happen - you must rely on yourself and, if you are lucky, the kindness of strangers to get you out of a jam.

Which brings me back to another story.  You might recall my post from last week about how some fellow cruisers were brutally attacked in the anchorage next to us.  Not 24 hours after that post went "live", I received an email from a close friend of the woman attacked.  Apparently Tina (the victim) was curious about the boat I mentioned in that post that had come into our anchorage during dark.  Tina had recalled a boat being in their anchorage, but never heard them on the radio (to be fair, it turns out they were on different channels) and saw them shine a light on their boat only to watch them leave immediately after hearing their cries.  From Mark and Tina's vantage point, these mystery cruisers had done a "runner" and abandoned them in their moment of need.  Reading her email confirmed my initial suspicion, which was a hard pill to swallow.  How could someone just leave another person in trouble like that? In landlubber life, this happens all the time.  We all pass stranded motorists on the highway and turn a blind eye to the homeless in our cities.  But on the water this sort of behavior is taboo.

When we went back to Chatham Bay the next day that boat was still there and Luuck went over to tell them the unfortunate fate of s/v Rainbow, the boat they left after hearing screaming.  While they were very upset to hear that there was indeed serious trouble (and not, as they otherwise thought, a domestic dispute), the response of the male was incredibly disturbing.  He mentioned that he knew deep down something terrible was happening and he just wanted to "get out of there."  Apparently when he was in Brazil, a cruiser on a boat next to him was murdered and, after bearing witness to that, he now believes it's best not to get involved.   He made zero apologies for this logic (the woman, on the other hand, was emphatic that they should have done something and was very distraught over the news).  To be fair, this man broke no law and was in no legal way obligated to help out, but what he did do is break a deep seated cruiser moral code.

I am not here to incriminate anyone or create a mob against this boat (and it shall remain nameless because I intentionally did not get the name to avoid such a thing), but rather to start a discussion on the subject and get people thinking.  What would you do?  While we never know exactly what our reactions will be if faced with a similar situation, we can speculate.  We all agreed that simply abandoning fellow boaters in peril would not be an option.  We went around and around discussing this issue from every angle and we all came to the final conclusion that if the tables were turned, we'd hope that someone would help us.  If there was ever a case of "treat others the way you want to be treated", this was the holy grail.  We would have assisted in any way we could and certainly wouldn't have left in the midst of screaming.

It should be noted that the cruising community as a whole did come out in droves for Mark and Tina.  While no one was physically there to assist them during this tragedy, over the magic of the radio and the substantial Grenada cruisers net, Tina was given immediate medical advice over the radio for her wounds and when they got their boat to safety a few hours later in the neighboring island of Carriacou, medical services were waiting to take them to the hospital.  The cruising community has continued to come to their aid in just about every way, shape and form imaginable.  Most of us understand that this could have happened to any of us and empathy runs deep amongst cruisers.

So how can we move forward from this?  How do we ensure anchorages remain safe for cruisers?  How can you help if faced with a similar scenario?  Here are a few things we came up with:
  1. Always, ALWAYS keep your radio on: Especially at night.  Monitor channel 16 and possibly scan other channels if there are popular cruisers' stations in your area.  Mark and Tina were hugely assisted by channel 66 which is the Grenada Cruisers channel that many people monitor.  Luckily, due to it's popularity, a repeater was added which meant they could reach people all the way in St. Georges from here in the Grenadines (without the repeater this would not have been possible).
  2. If you hear trouble, call on the radio first:  If there are signs of distress and trouble, try hailing the boat in question on the radio over and over.  Try several stations as not everyone only monitors 16.  
  3. If you don't get the boat in question on the radio, try other boats in the area: Other boats might be aware of the situation as well and able to help.  The more boats that can get involved in one way or another - the better.  There is safety in numbers.
  4. If you know for certain there is trouble, alert every station on the radio:  Make a "Pan Pan" (or a "Mayday" if imminent danger is certain) announcement on every major station in your area (starting with 16).  The boat in trouble might have their radio on (but not be able to get to it) and a thief or attacker might be scared away by hearing alerts over the airwaves. To do this, follow this radio protocol:
    1. "Pan pan, Pan pan, Pan pan ALL STATIONS"
    2. "This is sailing vessel 'x' (repeat three times slowly and clearly)"
    3.  Report position, urgency message, type of assistance required.
    4.  Listen for acknowledgment.  Repeat if necessary.*
  5. Have your air horn, spotlight and/or pepper spray handy:  We now have all three in our cockpit when we are up there in the evenings and by our bedsides.  Criminals do not like loud noises and bright lights.  (Please, let's NOT turn this into a gun debate, we do not have guns on board and do not ever plan on having guns on board.  Period.)
  6. Have flares handy and be sure they are not expired:  The boat in trouble might not be able to help themselves if there is a struggle, so setting off a flare for them can be a big help.  As an aside, some flare guns can also house shotgun shells and flares themselves can be considered pretty devastating weapons.  Our flare gun is stainless steel and can, quite literally, pack a punch - though I am not suggesting that shooting anyone is the answer as sometimes that can just exacerbate a situation.  This is a tirelessly debated subject and one I don't care to get into at this juncture.
  7. If you are of able body, go assist:  It has been decided that if we are ever faced with a situation like this, the men of our boat would assess the situation and assist if possible while the women would stay back with the kids.  This option might not be for everyone, and that is okay, but know that there are many ways to help aside from physical intervention. (Tina mentioned that the boat that left their anchorage could have really helped them get their anchor up and get out of there as she was very seriously injured and severely bleeding.)
  8. Do what you can in the aftermath:  Offer a medical kit, medical advice, make calls on the radio to line up further help and do what you can to soften the blow, so to speak.
What else can be done?  Any veteran cruisers' have protocol you would suggest or follow?  Please share in the comments so we can all learn some safety standards of procedure (again, let's stay above the "shoot 'em up" debate).  The more prepared we are as a whole community, the better equipped we will be to help each other out if and when the time comes.

If you want to read some of the scuttlebutt around this recent attack, you can read this thread on Cruisers Forum.  You can also hear more about the attack first hand from Tina through this blog post by her good friend, Lynne.

* Many thanks to our friends from Kaleo for sharing this procedure with us. We have a laminated sheet with all call protocol; securite, pan pan, and mayday laminated and taped in our navigation station.

8 comments:

Roxin said...

Hi,

Your point 7. is extremely dangerous. You'll have to go to the other boat ready to kill the offenders - any less and you might end up dead. Unless you have special training to deal with situations like this I would not consider this an option.

I would limit myself at staying in the area, shining a light on the other boat, calling on the radio, launching flares towards the other boat if necessary.

Also, be sure to check the laws of self defense in the respective country - you might be surprised that you're doing time for attacking the attackers.

Stay safe !

Corey said...

while I can understand the other man's concerns for having witnessed a murder, he at the very least should have sent out a message over the radio regarding the incident so as to enable someone else to help or assist those in trouble. Perhaps if he had pulled his boat nearby and simply shined his lights at the boat in distress it would have been enough to scare off the attackers. It is hard to say what I whether I would have attempted to board the distressed boat, but I would definitely have done everything short of that.

Tim said...

If you are lucky you might ends up doing time. "The loser in a knife fight dies at the scene. The winner dies in the ambulance." Gather a crowd! Render aide. Keep watch so it doesn't ever start.

HintonEast said...

I feel the words are well written. Never let your fellow yachter down! Always lend a hand, when you can.

Anonymous said...

I am concerned that no one has questioned people turning away because they thought it was 'just a domestic dispute gone awry'.

'While they were very upset to hear that there was indeed serious trouble (and not, as they otherwise thought, a domestic dispute)...'

This implies it is okay to ignore a woman screaming and being beaten by her partner. It is 'only a domestic dispute'. Only when she is being beaten/attacked by strangers is it considered 'indeed, serious trouble'.

It is NEVER okay for anyone to assault anyone - even if they are in 'a domestic arrangement'. If you think that assistance should have been rendered when strangers attacked and screaming was heard, it should equally have been rendered for a 'domestic dispute'.

I hope this note could be added to your list of 'How can you help if faced with a similar scenario'.

Lisa Ponthieu said...

I totally agree with "Anonymous". Well said!

Rory said...

Yes, definitely assist in any way possible and stay there until the situation is resolved! The Golden Rule! To ignore each other is to let the pirates/thugs win. Let's stick together out there.

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