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Seven commercial skippers to the rescue

Seven commercial skippers to the rescue
The crew of Telcoinabox Merit after their arrival in Hobart

For those in peril at sea, it is comforting to know that people like Leo Rodriguez and his “motley” crew aboard Telcoinabox Merit are at hand. When the Victorian Farr 53 Georgia lost its rudder and began sinking on the first night off Batemans Bay, Telcoinabox Merit, the former Volvo 60 now based at Airlie Beach in Queensland, was two miles in front of her.

1730HRS, 29 DECEMBER 2008

For those in peril on the sea, it would be comforting to know that people like Leo Rodriguez and his “motley” crew aboard Telcoinabox Merit are at hand.  When the Victorian Farr 53 Georgia lost its rudder and began sinking on the first night of this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race off Batemans Bay, Telcoinabox Merit, the former Volvo 60 now based at Airlie Beach in Queensland, was two miles in front of her.

On her crew were seven commercial skippers, veterans of 15 years in the charter business in the Whitsundays and right up to speed on survival at sea training.  They included skipper Leo Rodriguez who had just completed a refresher course as he prepared for this year’s Rolex Sydney Hobart.

Telcoinabox Merit was ahead of John Williams and Graeme Ainley’s Georgia, romping along under spinnaker in 25 knots of wind, and 18th in the fleet of 100.  “We heard Georgia call JBW (the radio relay vessel) for help then we were asked by JBW to attend because we were the nearest vessel,” he recalled
today on Telcoinabox Merit’s arrival in Hobart.

“We were two miles in front so we had to motor back to the position of the boat.  We told them that we were 35 minutes away but they were concerned that 35 minutes might be too long.  When we got there the boat was in a pretty bad state.  There wasn’t much time left “

Rodriguez said that when they reached Georgia they asked the crew to board their life rafts, seven at a time.

“When we arrived the nav (navigation) lights were about two inches from the surface of the water so there wasn’t much time left at all.  They (the crew) had been in waist deep water for quite a while so my main concern was to get them on board and get them warm and get them down below and make sure no-
one was hurt in any way.”

They completed the rescue by using Georgia’s liferaft in two ferrying operations.  A stern line was attached to Georgia and a bow line to Telcoinabox Merit. When the final crew member was in the raft, they cut the stern line and were hauled aboard Merit.

“We got them on board pretty much without a hitch,” he said.

“They were pretty glad we were there. There was no chaos.

“Basically, the boat rolled over about 10 minutes after we got them all off the boat. It didn’t take long at all. It still had the mainsail up when it rolled. The nav lights and stern lights were still on below the surface.

“They were very thankful that we were there; very thankful that we answered their call.”

He said there were closer boats but they did not get the call.
“We didn’t think we were the closest boat.  We were the ones that responded and we were the ones that could take them safely, so we did.

“The beauty with our boat is that we have seven commercial skippers on board so we’ve all done it before, done our sea survival courses.  I personally did the sea survival course, just as a refresher.  Things like that always help.”

After the rescue, Telcoinabox Merit took their passengers inshore towards Batemans Bay where the police boat Nemesis had said conditions would be calmer and where they could be off loaded into a RIB.

“At that point we hoisted sail and got going,” Rodriguez said.
Cruising Yacht Club of Australia Commodore Matt Allen, on behalf of the crew of Georgia, personally thanked the crew on Georgia’s behalf and handed over an ample gift of refreshments.

“Thank you and your crew for your assistance in what was a very important time for them,” Allen said.

Telcoinabox Merit has lodged claims for eight to nine hours redress, since, when they rejoined the fleet they were in 73rd place and sailing in far less favourable conditions.  They finished in 28th place. The International Jury is currently hearing the request for redress.

Chris Welsh’s USA based Spencer 65 Ragtime observed the distress flare from Georgia and was asked by the race committee to proceed to their location.  They remained on standby and this afternoon were awarded 115 minutes redress and were commended for their action.

With redress, Ragtime is currently 11th overall on the IRC handicap pointscore.

By Bruce Montgomery/Rolex Sydney Hobart media team