A knockdown wave set off the crew's lifejackets and broke the skipper’s leg as they tried to rescue the 76-year-old man overboard (MOB) in 3-4m waves and winds gusting 45mph, in limited sea space...

As if this year’s Round the Island Race wasn’t tough enough for competitors with winds gusting 45mph and a rough sea with 3-4m waves, one boat had the additional challenge of a MOB rescue.

Of the 939 entries to Saturday’s ‘race for all’, 418 retired and 154 completed the 50-mile course. Several classes were cancelled prior to the start due to the expected rough conditions.

RNLI lifeboat attending a stricken yacht at Round the Island Race 2024. Credit: Warren Mason

RNLI and independent lifeboat crews were on the water ready to attend to stricken yachts at Round the Island Race 2024. Credit: Warren Mason

Sailors crossed the starting line at Cowes in ten separate groups, every 10 minutes from 0600 until 0720 and sailing anticlockwise around the Isle of Wight.

Boats of all shapes and sizes headed in a westerly direction towards Yarmouth, passing around the Needles Lighthouse, along the south-west coast of the island to St. Catherine’s Point, up across Sandown Bay to round the Bembridge Ledge Buoy, then either side of No Man’s Land Fort and across Osborne Bay to the Cowes finishing line.

As the weather had taken a turn for the worse from the offset, many competitors retired early between Cowes and Alum Bay near the Needles.

Man overboard (MOB) rescue during Round the Island Race 2024 involving the Dufour 40 yacht Walkabout IV. Credit: Caitlin D'Arcy

Man overboard (MOB) rescue during Round the Island Race 2024 involving the Dufour 40 yacht Walkabout IV. Credit: Caitlin D’Arcy

Knockdown

Among those to retire, was the five-strong crew of Walkabout IV, a Dufour 40.

Their memorable day saw them sail down a huge wave that swamped the boat – activating four out of five lifejackets. As the water cleared they realised one of their younger crew members James was a tethered man overboard (MOB), with only his feet visible, and managed to heave his 6ft 6 frame back on board.

They then spotted their 76-year-old crewmate Keith was floating 10 to 15 metres away from the boat. As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, the skipper Steve Daniel had suffered a fractured tibia.

The crew included skipper Steve, 69, a retired ship designer, his brother Nigel, 66, a Master Mariner, a close friend’s son Tom Brown, Keith Fisher a friend and Steve’s fellow volunteer from Testwood Lakes Sailability and James Robinson Ranger a friend from the Royal Southampton Yacht Club (RSYC).

Steve, who lives in the New Forest, told PBO: “We had a scratch crew. We hadn’t sailed together collectively before but all at various times had with me. My brother Nigel and I have sailed together for 60 years. We have complete faith in each other.

“The forecast was lively but not extreme, so after an early departure from the RSYC pontoon we were away down the river making tea and bacon butties. After a cracking start under full sail, we were away towards the Needles progressively reefing as we went.

“James and Tom, the fit young men were on the foresail tailing and winching.

“Leading our class on corrected time at the Needles we made the decision to carry on, reasoning it was downhill to St Catherine’s and Bembridge Ledge then in the lee of the Island back to Cowes. We were seeing 25 to 30 knots of wind on a middling reach with time for coffee and biscuits.

“The conditions were getting quite challenging as we approached St Catherine’s, but we weren’t too daunted, we’ve sailed in worse than that.

“We were trying to edge out to sea to miss the worst of the overfalls but having to go with the breaking waves, as and when, so as not to get caught broadside.

“All was going to plan until we went down a breaking wave which we now believe had a step in its face which flooded the cockpit, and we rounded up.

“All of our lifejackets automatically inflated under the deluge.”

Man overboard (MOB) rescue during Round the Island Race 2024 involving the Dufour 40 yacht Walkabout IV. Credit: Caitlin D'Arcy

76-year-old Keith Fisher was rescued successfully on the third attempt by his crewmates in challenging conditions. Credit: Caitlin D’Arcy

Headcount

Nigel was tethered to windward and held on to the lifeline and was the only one whose lifejacket being manual hadn’t inflated.

Steve said: “As we surfaced a rapid head count revealed three out of five crew plus a pair of legs over the top leeward guard wire but still hooked on, Tom and Nigel soon had James, who at 6ft 6 is a big lad, back aboard.

“Tom had quickly identified Keith in the water 15m to leeward with lifejacket inflated and two thumbs up.

“We quickly had the jib furled and engine running after a loose rope overboard check, being within 300m of a lee shore, time was of the essence.

“One failed rescue attempt down Nigel put out a Pan Pan on the handheld VHF in the cockpit advising the Coastguard that we had a potential situation if we couldn’t effect a rescue.”

In addition to the challenge of Walkabout IV having just 300 metres of sea room to Niton Undercliffe, Steve described the inflated lifejacket scenario as a ‘double-edged sword’.

He said: “Yes, lifejackets are great, but trying to do a man overboard in a neck brace isn’t easy. I was in two minds to a stick a knife through my lifejacket at that point.

“Mine is a Spinlock decent lifejacket, so I had the hood flapping around and the light on its stalk and everything else. I’m sure it’s wonderful when you’re in the water, but in that situation, it was interfering with the rescue.”

After two attempts with the main up, the crew concluded that the falls of the loose mainsheet were a liability hooking up over the sheet winches.

Steve said: “We were limited in our manoeuvring by having to avoid gybes, so we took it down.”

Rescue success

Man overboard (MOB) rescue during Round the Island Race 2024 involving the Dufour 40 yacht Walkabout IV. Credit: Caitlin D'Arcy

Without that bathing platform, the recovery would have been much more difficult. Credit: Caitlin D’Arcy

Master mariner Nigel looked at the hi-tech throwing gear on board, and decided the line was too light for the wind conditions. Instead he fetched a 12m x 12mm diameter warp out to throw to Keith.

Steve said: “It was heavy enough to throw in the wind, and easier to grasp. You look at all these nice little gadgets you got on board when the chips are down. It’s ‘no, let’s go back to basics and throw a warp’ it’s much easier to get across, the guy can hang on to it, I can tie the end of it to the boat.

“On the third attempt we passed Keith about 3m off to our port heading directly into the wind and successfully got the line to him, Tom and James were able to gently ease Keith toward the stern of the boat and bring him into the bathing platform and the lowered ladder.

“Tom and James transferred to the bathing platform remaining hooked on. From here they grasped Keith and managed to turn him, so he sat on the bathing platform then hooked his tether to the boat. He had been disconnected in the first place because he was moving in the cockpit.

“From a manoeuvring point of view, I was very aware of not running Keith over and the vicinity of the propeller to him but at the same time having enough way on to keep the boat head to wind and seas plus not wrenching the throwing line from his hands.

“Nigel had tied the warp off to the boat but kept slack in his hands, so the load didn’t snatch the warp out of Keith’s hands.
“Once Keith was safely in the cockpit, we could assess his condition, which was good, then get him below and dry.

“By this time we had got the lifejackets deflated, or at least partially deflated.

“We then radioed the coastguard to inform them of a successful rescue and thanked them.

“The Bembridge Lifeboat was now also standing by us and in radio contact. We were able to reassure them that Keith’s general condition was good, and he did not need transferring to the lifeboat. He was coherent, no physical injuries and in good spirits, little or no water inhalation, we were able to get him into dry clothes and keep him warm in a sleeping bag.

“Obviously, this ended with a big thank you for standing by and wishing them well for the rest of the day standing by at St Catherine’s. Then a text sent to Island Sailing Club to inform MOB recovered and phone my wife Tina our shoreside point of contact so hopefully all loops were closed.”

The crew continued on toward Bembridge Ledge under reefed jib, then up into the lee and relative calm of Bembridge for a sort out and pack away before motoring back to Beaulieu.

Continues below…

Is it safe to use a tether?

Perceived wisdom is that if you fall overboard, staying tethered to the boat will keep you safe. But is that…

Man overboard (MOB) rescue during Round the Island Race 2024 involving the Dufour 40 yacht Walkabout IV. Credit: Caitlin D'Arcy

A 12m x 12mm diameter warp was thrown out to  Keith. Credit: Caitlin D’Arcy

Fractured tibia

Steve, who grew up sailing with his brother in a fishing harbour in South Devon, added: “So during the knockdown incident, I managed to break my leg as well.

“As we got wiped out in that wave, I was sat in the cockpit steering and I slid from the windward side and finally pitched up right on pulpit on the leeward side. I would guess that somewhere in that motion, my leg must have got trapped.

“I was still capable of walking although I couldn’t put weight on it. It wasn’t until afterwards that we’d actually got sorted out Keith down below, that I realised something was seriously wrong. It was badly swollen. When I went to casualty yesterday they told me it’s fractured.”

Steve said once Keith was back on board, had the mainsail been intact, they “would have completed the race.”

He said: “We’ve discussed whether or not we would have done the race in hindsight and we all agreed it was the right thing that we did. And you can never start holding the race organiser responsible for that sort of thing, it’s always a skipper’s responsibility, whether you go or not. Always has been, always will be.

“I’ve done the Round the Island Race on and off for over the last 40-odd years. It’s usually a great day out.

“We don’t take it too seriously. St Catherine’s has been a bit of a nemesis of mine, over the years I’ve sailed the race in all types of boats and one year in an Ultra 30, we were capsized off St Catherine’s, I’ve been on a Firebird one year that was fogged all the way to St. Catherine’s.

“These days it’s usually a much quieter affair. We just go out to enjoy ourselves as a bunch of mates.”

A big thanks

A still from drone footage of a 40ft yacht rescuing a man overboard (MOB) during Round the Island Race 2024

Drone pilot and event photographer Richard Langdon was praised by the skipper for hovering his device above the MOB to aid the rescue efforts. Still from the drone footage credited to: Richard Langdon/oceanimages.co.uk

A still from drone footage of a 40ft yacht rescuing a man overboard (MOB) during Round the Island Race 2024

Credit: Richard Langdon/oceanimages.co.uk

Steve thanked the Coastguard and RNLI crews for their reassuring response and also praised event photographer Richard Langdon who used his initiative whilst operating a drone in the area.

Steve said: “He flew over the top of Keith when he was in the water. It was definitely a good reference point.
“I want to say thank you as it was a really intelligent thought, I’m incredibly appreciative of what he did as it was a really sensible thing to keep the drone over the top where Keith was. It was Tom who spotted it.”

PBO passed the message on to Richard, of Ocean Images, who said: “I tried to hover over him, I didn’t know if it was reassuring to the guy in the water. I had a critical alert flashing for my battery so I had to fly back in. As I was getting my other drone ready to fly out, they recovered him, they did very well. The waves were so big, you could see the bow of the boat getting taken off.”

Lifeboat crew in action at Round the Island Race 2024. Credit: Sienna Eve Photography

Lifeboat crew in action at Round the Island Race 2024. Credit: Sienna Eve Photography

RNLI lifeboat attending a stricken yacht at Round the Island Race 2024. Credit: Warren Mason

RNLI lifeboat in action at Round the Island Race 2024. Credit: Warren Mason

Bird’s eye view

Keen photographer Caitlin D’Arcy was watching the action at St Catherine’s Lighthouse, at Niton, with her mum when they noticed a boat in some trouble.

Caitlin told PBO: “At first I thought they were having issues with their main sail when all of a sudden I said to mum that I thought someone was in the water!

“It took a while to see the man overboard again as the conditions were so rough and I wondered whether it had been a fishing buoy when all of a sudden the boat, Walkabout IV, kept going around in large circles and lowered the sails and I saw a head bobbing around in the water.

“The Coastguard were luckily on watch at the lighthouse and were keeping an eye on things but miraculously, the crew eventually managed to pull the man back onboard about 0938. He must have been in the water for a good 12-15 minutes.

“A drone pilot down at St Catherine’s told me it was gusting 45mph at the time of the event. There was a huge swell and a lot of the boats in the race had retired before reaching St Catherine’s. I later spoke to the boat owner, all returned safely back home. He suffered a fractured tibia but under the circumstances, they got away very lightly.”

Talking points

Steve on the helm of a Dufour 40 and Tom Brown in front- trying to sail in inflated life jackets. Credit: Steve Daniel

Steve on the helm and Tom Brown in front- trying to sail in inflated life jackets on the way back. Credit: Steve Daniel

Steve reflects that the success of the MOB recovery really comes down to crew performance, which was “excellent, calm decisive and focused”.

He said: “Keith didn’t panic, he dinghy sails still at 76 years old and is used to the odd sea water bath in pursuit of his sport. The rest of us played our parts as a team. James, in spite of suffering with seasickness was still able to make a decisive contribution.”

  • The crew believe that Keith was in the water somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes.
  • A drone was being flown over the sea photographing the RTIR. Tom saw the drone and noticed that it was keeping station above Keith. This was really helpful and good thinking on the part of the drone pilot to give us another reference point.
  • Whilst self-inflating life jackets are great when you fall in, they are a bit of a liability inflated in the cockpit, working with a neck brace on comes to mind, but Steve would most definitely still wear one.
  • In hindsight should we have gone down the back of the island and not turned back at the Needles? The whole crew agreed that we should have gone on.
  • There is no regularity in waves, they are what they are.
  • Think hard on what constitutes a good throwing line.
  • Man overboard drill with a bucket and fender in a sunny force three doesn’t really prepare you and thinking so is delusional.
  • Without that bathing platform the recovery would have been much more difficult.
  • Clip on…