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'Exceptional' crew praised for sloop rescue

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A teacher who was on board the Spirit of Bermuda has commended the crew after the sloop carrying 17 schoolboys ended up having to be rescued when it lost power off St George.

“They kept us safe in a very dangerous situation,” said Jason Wade, the head of M3 for the Whitney Institute. “It was a string of events that nobody could have predicted.”

The group were on their second day aboard the training sloop when the vessel fell afoul of severe weather.

Mr Wade described it as “a pretty traumatic experience for the kids” but said he managed to keep the boys occupied with another teacher's help.

Stuart Birnie, the skipper, said that when the Spirit started her journey from the Great Sound to St George, sea conditions had been well within the safety limits.

The director of marine operations told The Royal Gazette he made the decision to call for help after the engine failed and the main sail burst out just as the Spirit reached the top of The Narrows channel. Captain Birnie said: “We continued to sail on while the engine was investigated by the engineer and then our acting first officer was injured.

“'We were down a crew member and then one of sails the blew out.

“I knew we should be able to recover from the situation but as a precaution put out a Pan-Pan call, which is one down from a Mayday, and alerts people that we are not in trouble yet, but we could get in trouble.

“We then put another sail up and continued to sail as discussions between the pilot boat and the tug continued.

“I am confident that we could have kept sailing through the night, which would have been very tiring, or even gone out to sea, but in the circumstances, with children on board and an injured member of crew, we felt the right decision was to accept the tow from Faithful.

“The children were a little bit stressed by the situation but we tried to keep them calm and informed of exactly what was happening and the teachers did a superb job helping in that area, too. For the most part, however, they were calm and they handled the situation particularly well.”

Yesterday morning, the crew of the sloop were back on board the vessel washing down the decks and going about their day-to-day chores.

Meanwhile, the injured crew member, who suffered bruises and broken fingers, was recovering well after treatment.

Captain Birnie praised the actions of the tug crew as well as the other vessels that came to their aid, saying: “The skills of the guys on board Faithful and Dragon, which later took us into Dockyard, were exceptional.

“We had some difficult conditions with gusts of 40 knots, and they managed them very professionally and we were very grateful for their help.

“I was never overly concerned, even when we lost the main sail. You consider things like your proximity to land, obviously, but that was never really a worry.

“Engine failure is one of the things that you have to deal with sometimes and in the circumstances I felt it was better to make the Pan-Pan call as early as possible in the interests of safety.

“Fortunately, the ship was not damaged and we are still working to diagnose the cause of the engine problem.”

High seas drama: crew on the Spirit of Bermuda after being towed back to Dockyard (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Captain Stuart Birnie

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Published January 21, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated January 21, 2016 at 8:30 am)

'Exceptional' crew praised for sloop rescue

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