I was just setting out from Cowes after an aborted lift
, back to my mooring
on the Hamble, across the Solent, with night falling, when the mayday came across. I could hear it on my handheld -- a good radio
, a good antenna
, and a very calm, methodical skipper
, passing his message exactly according to protocol.
"Mayday, mayday, maday. This is x, x, x. Trimaran
, white hulls. Y souls on board. Our position is x,y,z. We are about to capsize
and require immediate assistance. I repeat, . . . "
The position read out is in the middle of the English Channel
, just between Cherbourg and the Needles.
I arrived on my mooring
, and continued to monitor
the flurry of traffic which ensued -- lifeboats, navy
ships, helicopters, ships and yachts passing by.
Mayday relay, mayday relay . . .
Debris is reported. A single
orange life jacket with three reflective stripes.
Eventually, the coast guard starts to dismiss passing vessels offering help . . .
Now, seven hours later, the radio
has gone quiet.
God help the sailors. There but for the grace of God . . .
It is a bit of water
I have passed through scores of times. It is harsh -- it's the English Channel
, after all, above 50 degrees N
-- but familiar, and you just assume
can stand up to it. We had a F9 in the morning, but by the time of the mayday, the wind
had piped down a lot. So what if one day the boat
doesn't stand up to it? And if even there, in the dense net of French and UK rescue
services, they can't find you?