The signal from a McMurdo SMARTFIND EPIRB resulted in an international operation to locate a Joint Services Adventurers Sail Training Centre (JSASTC) yacht.
The transmission from the SMARTFIND, which was received close to Cape Horn, alerted Search and Rescue services at Falmouth Coastguard UK, which co-ordinated the search. The HMSTV Challenger had suffered a massive knock down and the SMARTFIND was washed overboard, automatically becoming activated.
A second wave, measured by the crew as 60 foot high crashed over the yacht injuring three crew members in conditions where the maximum recorded wind speed before the instruments were lost was shown to be 90 knots. The first wave had taken out all the communications. It was therefore impossible for the yacht’s skipper to make contact to authorities to reassure them that despite the injuries and extensive damage the yacht was still operational and the SMARTFIND was lost overboard.
The JSASTC yacht is participating in the year-long Exercise TRANSGLOBE, of which McMurdo Ltd is a key sponsor. Three JSASTC yachts, including Challenger, crewed by the Army and two others each crewed by the Navy and Air Force respectively are sailing in a friendly race around the world on board identical 67 foot yachts. The Challenger was bound for the Falkland Islands, several days away.
“As we had lost the EPIRB and had no communications we knew that there was a good chance that the authorities would be looking for us” said skipper Becky Walford after the event.
After a few hours a Chilean Navy Search plane managed to raise them on the VHF and they were spotted by the plane a few minutes later. Becky assured the authorities that they were OK and continuing with their voyage.
“They were very relieved to see us, and we were pleased to see them!” said Becky, who knew that the Chileans would be able to report the safe recovery of the yacht from the knockdown.
At the height of the alert authorities in Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Uruguay had also become involved in the search and two fishing boats were diverted. It was reported that the SMARTFIND was travelling in the ocean at 12 knots.
“Despite the fact that the crew’s tough Army training and experience enabled them to carry on, it is extremely reassuring that the international authorities responded to this incident in the way that they did” commented Jeremy Harrison, CEO of McMurdo Ltd. “This demonstrates the importance of being properly equipped for a voyage of this kind and it also shows the effectiveness of a 406MHZ emergency beacon like the McMurdo SMARTFIND in such a remote part of the world.”
Becky Walford expressed her appreciation for the effort “We had sat in the hurricane feeling so helpless, just wanting to let the world know that we were OK, if a little bruised” she said.
The yacht arrived a couple of days later in the Falklands for repairs and is continuing with the race.