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While it might be an exaggeration to say that all of the 21 crew members of Rambler 100 owe their lives to the Irish Search and Rescue service, there are certainly five people whose future prospects were greatly improved by the operation off the Fastnet Rock on August 15th. A lot of media focus has been on Coxswain Kieran Cotter and the crew of Baltimore Lifeboat as well as lifeboat mechanic Jerry Smith, whose dive boat, on charter to the media team of one of the competitors, was on hand to search and recover the five drifting crew. There is no question that this focus is appropriate. RNLI crews all over the UK and Ireland deserve the attention, not only because of their extraordinary voluntary dedication to the cause, but also because such publicity helps swell the coffers of the charity. The service could not operate without the generosity of the donors and incidents such as these help fill the blue boat-shaped boxes held by even more RNLI volunteers.
Saved: Ireland's Rescue Services Answered the Call of the capsized Supermaxi Rambler 100 off the Fastnet Rock. Photo: Team Phaedo
The dramatic stories and pictures dominating the media show the front line of a quite wonderful resource that is Search and Rescue in Ireland today. Baltimore Lifeboat was at the coal face of an intricate network of operations, triggered by the crew's EPIRBs. Irish Coast Guard radio officers in Valentia responded almost immediately tasking the rescue resources, working the phones and computers to confirm that this was not an accidentally triggered EPIRB, contacting RORC HQ, determining search patterns and relaying the information to the scene. It was the backroom contacts between RORC and the Coast Guard in endeavouring to contact Rambler 100 using satellite phones that confirmed the possibility of a catastrophic incident involving the Supermaxi. The subsequent tasking of the Shannon and Waterford based Sikorsky helicopters led to the medevac of crew member Wendy Touton and timely treatment of her hypothermic condition, initially by the on-board paramedics and later at Tralee General hospital. And Coast Guard involvement didn't end with the successful rescue – the shoreside operation to provide food and shelter in Baltimore was coordinated by Coast Guard personnel and the salvage operation of the hull of Rambler 100 was overseen by the Irish Coast Guard.
Rambler crew are recovered from the water after a SAR operation by the Irish Coastguard Photo: Team Phaedo. More photos here.
That Ireland has probably one of the best Search and Rescue services in the world goes back to the campaign initiated in 1988 by Joan McGinley, following the death, within sight of land of Donegal fisherman John Oglesby, whose leg was severed in a trawl winch. Eamon Doherty, the late former Garda Commissioner chaired the review group established in response to the campaign and his report led to the establishment of the Irish Marine Emergency Service, subsequently the Irish Coast Guard. Under the guidance of Director Capt Liam Kirwan, the new service moved quickly to become not only the central co-ordinating body for Search and Rescue, but developed its own resources, notably the helicopters, previously tasked in from Irish Air Corps and UK SAR.
Another element that will feature in the Rambler 100 incident is the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB), set up from recommendations arising from a review of the handling of investigations into marine casualties.
It might be thought that the incident is now closed, but there are many unanswered questions and the investigation will be looking at these and making recommendations that should improve safety in this sector. These questions will include EPIRB performance, liferaft deployment and grab bag usage, but perhaps the key issue yet to be determined is why the response from fellow competitors didn't appear to happen. Even if Channel 16 wasn't being actively monitored, and if not why not, shouldn't the Mayday set off by the Coast Guard have set off the DSC alerts on the radios of Rambler 100's fellow competitors? Had the incident occurred several hours later or earlier when Rambler 100 could have been up to 100 miles from the nearest land, when conditions worsened, we could be looking at much more serious consequences.
It is heartening to think that, in this small country of ours in troubled times, not only do we have a shining star in our search, rescue, recovery and restore system, involving professionals and volunteers cooperating for the greater good, we also have a system that determines the nature of incidents so that we can all learn from the experience.
And let us not forget those people and services, such as the Gardai, Navy, Army and the community of Baltimore who are outside the media spotlight who contributed to this happy ending.
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The Council are going to be asked to confirm six core events and these it is understood will most likely will be Men and Women Boards, Laser and Laser Radial and Men and Women Skiff.
Once these are selected the other four events will be considered and the Olympic Commission has suggested that 4 of the following 6 be picked:
Men's Heavyweight (Finn)
Women's other weight division in singlehanded
With the commission recommending equal gender balance, the Finn is unlikely to stay on its own and would need another women's singlehander to be selected.
The multihull is almost certain to get in, and there probably will be strong support for men and women's keelboat leaving it to be fought out between the Finn, the 470(mixed) and a Women's single handed dinghy.
Many believe the second decision will be deferred until May, but as one ISAF insider told Afloat.ie "I would be selling my Finn now if I had one".
Meanwhile the Finn class association don't see it that way at all. Under the threat of possible deselection the heavyweight men have been mobilising for a fight. Below are details of its recent campaign to stay an Olympic boat. Scroll down for nice Video too.
International Finn Association Press Release
The Finn - an outstanding display of sailing skills and athleticism
The Olympic Commission set up by ISAF delivered its preliminary report at the ISAF Conference in May 2010. Based largely on the Olympic Commission report, the ISAF Executive has since published two submissions which outline an exciting new future for the selection and decision making process for Olympic sailing events and equipment. The Finn is positioning itself to be part of that future.
Among the submissions are proposals for two sets of single-handed dinghies for both male and female sailors, to represent the weight and size distribution of modern youth of both genders in the most popular and low-cost type of dinghy sailing. The Finn class supports this idea.
Here are some of the arguments why Finn sailors think the Finn should remain part of the Olympic sailing equipment.
The Finn is widely regarded as one of the toughest physical challenges in sailing. Sailors have to be tough, strong, fit, agile and athletic, while managing the mental aspects of racing at the highest level. The current world champion has a VOR max comparable with marathon runners and cross country skiers. Winning takes dedication, commitment and performing at the limits of fitness and endurance.
Appealing racing visuals
Modern looking rigs and hulls. Beautiful boat to sail with athletic, fit, muscular sailors. Requires extreme physical effort to sail well. Golden sail insignia for former world champions from 2011. Continuing research into sailor identification and country flags on sails. The free pumping rule has transformed downwind sailing into an absorbing display of skill, strength and athleticism.
Finns can be bought 'off-the-shelf' and be winning the next day. Hulls, masts and sails have all evolved into a level plateau of standardisation that means boats can compete on a level playing field. The strict class rules limits any experimentation into 'super' boats. Boats that are sold year after year are identical within reasonable limits and do not change perceivably over time.
The Finn has one of the lowest running costs of any Olympic equipment. Average campaign costs from 35 sailors was just EUR 7,500 a year. One boat can last at least two Olympic cycles. Gear standardisation has meant reduced development costs. Gear is fast and ready to sail 'out of the box'. Increasing IHC and building control is reducing regatta measurement requirements, while 99% of checks at regattas pass first time.
Today's Finns are the most consistent, accurate and reliable Finns ever built. A modern Finn can be expected to be competitive for 6-8 years. The Finn is one of the most consistent hulls made today, thanks to very professional builders and strict measurement rules. Modern materials and new technologies means that boats supplied all over the world are as alike as possible in almost every way.
A proposal was passed at the 2010 AGM to lower the free pumping limit to 10 knots. This was aimed to make Rule 42 enforcement easier for judges and sailors. Under 10 knots there are much less opportunities for pumping and surfing. Identifying illegal activity is much easier, so less emphasis on judging decisions. Sailors are educated in Rule 42 – frequent clinics with the active involvement of judges and website coverage.
Local builders are producing low cost Finns for regional competition. Having been on the Olympic Programme since 1952, the Finn has the deepest culture and traditions of any dinghy class. Semi-professional class organisation oversees all activities. All levels of competition from Juniors (U21) to Masters (40+) and everything in between. Many countries are developing Junior programmes to fast track talented sailors.
Finns are now built in the UK, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Brazil, USA and South Africa, and there are other countries to come. Elsewhere, suppliers and dealers feed local fleets with new and used equipment. There are National Finn associations in more than 50 countries, while between 35 and 40 countries have internationally active sailors. Sailors from six continents attend major regattas. It is truly a global fleet.
The Finn is the pinnacle of singlehanded dinghy sailing for men, and the Olympics is the pinnacle event for the Finn. It provides a single step pathway from Optimist to Laser to Finn as the sailor's weight increases, but also allows the development of similar technical and physical skills in the sailor through a natural progression of similar equipment.
What the sailors say:
Jonas Høgh Christensen (DEN), 2006, 2009 World Champion, "The Finn is the most fun, challenging boat for strong, athletic sailors."
Giorgio Poggi (ITA), 2008 Finn Olympian, "The Finn is the class where the sailor must be complete."
Zach Railey (USA), Silver medalist, 2008 Olympics: "For single handed sailing the Finn is my only option given my weight and height to pursue my Olympic sailing dreams. With the technical and physical demands of the boat, the Finn is a pure test of a sailor's ability to react to the changing conditions on the race course under intense physical exertion."
Rob McMillan (AUS), "There is no other boat like it. The advent of free pumping brings a level of athleticism that is unique to the Finn."
Daniel Birgmark (SWE), 4th 2008 Olympics, "Sailing the Finn puts very high demands on the sailors athletic capacity as well as tactical and strategic skills. It's the perfect singlehander for sailors over 85kg."
Tomas Vika (CZE), one of many Finn sailors in their early 20s, "If you are more than 180cm tall and you want to work on your physical condition in a gym you will always weigh more than 85kg and that is the reason why Finn has to stay as an Olympic dinghy in future years."
Gus Miller (USA), Finn legend: "It's a very powerful demanding boat and you need a lot of initiative and attitude that you're going to do it yourself. Everyone realises the challenges is yourself not the other guys. The challenge is the boat and that understanding is the old idea "I love my competitor because he makes me better". The guys here have enormous respect because the challenge of sailing the boat is so great. If one guy figures it out then the others guys are glad for him that he's been able to do it."
Caleb Paine (USA), first Junior, 2010 Finn Gold Cup: "The Finn is the best class I have sailed in. There isn't I class I know of that has such a great sense of camaraderie. After my first international regatta I knew all the best Finn sailors in the world on a first name basis because they were open, friendly and supportive of the new kid. I think that this coherence of the class stems from the fact that the sailors often train together. This builds friendships as well as making everyone better."
Tapio Nirkko (FIN), 2008 Finn Olympian: "The Finn is already well developed in many areas. We're now in a situation when all the Finn equipment (hull, mast, boom, rudders, centreboards) are good quality and last a long time. When the market is competitive, the price of the equipment is also fair and resale value is good. That's an important factor to make a competitive Olympic project from a small country with a small budget. Now the actions made in the class to make equipment issues more transparent is important to keep Finn as a class where it's possible to make it to the top without having a monster budget."
Ed Wright (GBR), 2010 World Champion, on what makes the Finn class special for him: "For a start it's visually pleasant. The cost is low. I still use my first mast and it's still fast after five years. .... You can gain little advantages everywhere, but you have to treat the Finn with finesse, respect and grunt to keep it up to speed. The people in the class are great people and all hard competitors. Also there is so much history in the class, and never forget the many legends coming from the Finn."
Read more from these interviews and more about the Finn in the latest issue of FINNFARE out now