June 28th Brest France
Rescue at Sea
We left in yesterday's early morning fog bound for the North West corner of France. The Channel was cold and grey but winds were perfect and we had timed the current right. The early mist turned to afternoon overcast but Onora was happy barreling along at ten knots under poled out headsails.
Jeannie's afternoon watch was interrupted by what sounded like a high pitched submarine dive signal. 'What is that noise?'
I left my laptop and joined her in the pilot house where the DSC warning was screeching from the VHF radio.
I scanned the horizon and was startled to see a lone figure frantically waving an orange life vest at the end of an oar while standing in a small red and white boat. As I scrambled out to the cockpit and waved back, Jeannie started the engine and then joined me on deck to drop the sails.
Soon we were under power and Onora circled back to came up along side the distressed vessel. Jeannie threw a line from our stern which the victim grabbed and secured on his boat. Jeannie wrapped the other end of the tow line around a winch and carefully took up slack as I backed down to bring our visitor close to us. The lone passenger, a middle aged, shaved headed, big boned man with a very concerned look on his face carefully pulled himself over his windshield and across his pitching foredeck. He grabbed the rails on our swim platform where I hauled him aboard.
He introduced himself as Ronald Rockenschaub, an Austrian tourist. Like a man who had just crossed a desert, he asked for large glass of water. He explained that he had neither a cell phone nor a radio. We gave him our phone to call his wife. She was greatly relieved.
When he had not returned at the 1:00 PM deadline she called the MRCC (Maritime Rescue and Coordination Center) in Corsen, France. They had dispatched two boats from local volunteer search and rescue operations and a Navel helicopter. I called MRCC on Channel 16 and reported that we had Mr. Rockenschaub on board and his boat in tow. After MRCC's radio operator was satisfied that there was no medical emergency and confirmed that we had the search target, we were asked to maintain our current position until the lifeboats arrived.
While we waited Ronald recounted his adventure. That morning he had left Keraval, France to go fishing. He was a mile off shore when he had lost his balance and hit his head on the gunnel. This knocked him out and bounced his glasses overboard. When he came too, he could not see land and was disoriented. He searched for land until his fuel ran out. For the past four hours he had been drifting while, unknown to him, the three knot current was sweeping him out into the Atlantic. He was clearly shaken.
Thirty minutes later, two large zodiacs emerged from the mist. They pulled up with a 'bonjour' and exchanged broken their English with our terrible French. One of the zodiacs took the tow. The other zodiac came along side and Ronald carefully climbed aboard.
The diversion happened during the west bound current which we had to motor against to stay in place. By the time we had our sails back up and were back on course, the current had turned to the east. Our speed dropped to five knots over ground and our planned eight PM arrival was rescheduled to 'late'. Our destination was an anchorage in Le Conquet, around the north east corner and just above Brest, France's largest Atlantic port which we felt it best to enter in daylight. At Midnight, weary but happy to be at our distention, we finally dropped the sails and readied the anchor. For the second time that day our VHF radio called 'Onora, Onora, Onora'. It was another friendly voice from MRCC which had, apparently, been tracking us and now called wishing to know why we were heading into the beach.
I explained our intention to anchor and was given the locations of four mines that had been laid in that area as a training exercise. I followed their advice to avoid them. Finally our anchor was down and we fell into bed.
June 28, Brest, France
The Wards Arrive
Our other trip to Brest had been nineteen years earlier on our lovely boat, Mara. Now we found a new marina and an updated central business district but still a bland city of buildings erected in the 1960's. During WWII the Germans had Brest and Lorient as their major submarine bases for the English Channel and the North Atlantic. American and English bombers had destroyed the old city in an unsuccessful attempt to cave in the concrete sub tunnels.
The Marina is below the 'American Tower', a memorial built after WWI to commemorate the waves of US troops which marched through Brest on their way to the Western Front. The plaque explains that this is actually the second 'American Tower'. The first was blown up by the occupiers on July 4th ,1940.
We had a couple of days to provision and prepare Onora for our almost annual visit from John and Gail Ward.
- Click here for Part 3 -