28 Feb 2008
The full story...
During Leg 1 all of Nevenka's radio scheds were made by VHF. Nevenka withdrew from Leg 1 when it got very light and they thought they might not make it to Mangonui in time to have enough rest to join the mass restart. When Nevenka arrived in Mangonui SSANZ investigated why the SSB hadn't been used and discovered they didn't have the frequency the scheds were happening on (this was not Nevenka's fault but it should have been brought to SSANZ's attention after they read the Sailing Instructions). Anyway for Leg 2 an alternative radio sched option was devised. Maritime radio would call Nevenka on another channel (which they had) 15 minutes before the rest of the fleet. Problem solved !
....or so we thought !
Leg 2 saw Nevenka continue to use VHF for radio scheds despite the new arrangement. After rounding North Cape Nevenka missed a sched. At this point we weren't worried, conditions were light and it's easy to lose track of time and miss a sched. However when Nevenka missed the next sched as well SSANZ started to try and establish where Nevenka was. Numerous discussions with Maritime radio came to the conclusion that Nevenka was most likely fine as conditions were very light and no EPIRB had been set off or reported flare sightings. We figured they had an issue with their SSB and had now gone outside the range of VHF. Although this was the most likely scenario we wanted to be more certain. The next step was to contact the nearest boat (based on our expectations of where they could be) with an Iridium phone and ask if they could see them and secondly try to raise them on VHF. Zora could see a sail but couldn't confirm the boat and there was a chance it could be Carenza based on the previous sched. Although not overly concerned Maritime Radio and SSANZ decided to inform the National Rescue Coordination Centre so they were aware of the situation. The Airforce had an Orion flying over Great Barrier and was able to divert so a short time (limited fuel) to fly over the area. A second aircraft was sent up from Ohakea which found Nevenka with no sails up but all ok (probably took the sails down due to lack of wind and constant flapping) Maritime Radio made a Pan Pan call to all stations and found Nevenka had been in contact with Far North Radio BUT didn't ask them to let us or Maritime Radio know. Unfortunately Nevenka is now possibly out of range of Far North Radio who have been asked to tell them to use Ch 16 if they have to use VHF. Through all this SSANZ gave regular reports to the emergency contact person who was also concerned about where they could be.
So the good news is Nevenka is safe, but the bad news is SSANZ may have continued communication issues with them and they are quite a distance behind the fleet.
It has been an interesting experience talking with both Maritime Radio and the Rescue Centre. Both are thoughly professional and quick to act. It's great to see the resources available and put to use even in this case where there was a very strong chance that Nevenka was just fine. But if something did turn nasty it's great to know just how capable and helpful these two orgnisations are. David Cooke got a tour through their operations centre tonight and came away most impressed. On behalf of SSANZ thank you very much for all your help and assistance.
Communication by radio scheds is so important in this race. Crews need to realise the affect it has on people at home as well as in the Race Administration when they fail to report in. Search's are an expensive exercise and I for one would be quite embarassed if I had caused one unnecessarily. The communication issue with Nevenka MUST be resolved in Wellington if they intend continuing in the race.