By admin ~ April 26th, 2011. Filed under: Features.
Help from Above
When it comes to salvaging boats in distress
offshore, a helicopter can be an invaluable tool.Story by David Mitchell Photos by Jeni Mitchell
Not long ago, our company, Overseas Salvage in Sampson Cay, Exuma, got the call about a 72-foot sportfisherman that had run over a piece of towing hawser in the ocean off Haiti. The hawser wrapped both props and winched them toward each other with such force that it ripped the struts out of the bottom of the boat. The engines were disabled and the sportfish was abandoned, sinking as it drifted toward Cuba.
This was clearly a case for our Robinson 44, a four-seat helicopter with a range of 300 miles. We primarily use the helicopter to respond to vessels in peril offshore that need immediate assistance while our salvage vessel, the 64-foot Amazing Grace, is en route from Sampson Cay. At a speed of 10 knots, it can take many hours for the tug to get salvers and equipment on site, and in a situation like this one, a mere hour could mean the difference between a complete loss and a saved vessel.
The helicopter is the perfect tool for this application. It allows us to reach isolated locations relatively quickly and lower equipment and personnel down to the vessel in peril, regardless of not having a place to land. In cases like this one, it can be that one three-inch pump and a qualified salver who is flown in via helicopter that saves the entire yacht.
My father, Marcus Mitchell, founder of Overseas Salvage, and Mike Mieth, our salvage partner of over 20 years, both are qualified helicopter pilots and salvage masters. The three of us have all undergone specific training with the helicopter to conduct these salvage operations. In most cases, I am the salvage jumper, although my father and Mike are also qualified. Balancing on the skid outside the helicopter, I drop the salvage pump, enclosed in a watertight box that is attached to a lanyard. I then undo my safety harness and jump into the water while holding the other end of the lanyard. I swim to the vessel in distress, climb aboard and then pull the pump box up after me using the lanyard.
An important aspect of this immediate response technique is the mitigation of losses to the owner of the vessel or insurance company by reducing the level of damage-causing variables. For instance, while a vessel is grounded on a reef and being battered by large seas or even being continuously rocked across the reef by gentle but consistent swells, her hull takes tremendous stress and over time begins to break apart. By getting onboard as soon as possible, we can rig anchors to help reduce some of the movement over the reef and extend the integrity of the hull. This in turn allows the vessel to stay dry inside and in a re-floatable condition until the tug can arrive to pull her off.
Another great use for the helicopter is to provide support to an ongoing salvage operation that may take an extended period of time. Additional personnel and equipment can be flown in to areas that are too rough for seaplane landings. That was the situation with the local mailboat, the Grand Master, which was grounded on the rocks off Georgetown, Great Exuma, last year. That was a really difficult case. Mike had to hover right over the mailboat so I could lower equipment down to it, but the boat was rocking up and down, and surf was breaking on the reef around it. I was leaning out the helicopter with the door off, lowering down pumps and other gear, aware that if I fell, it would have been like falling on concrete.
Finally, on rare occasions, we have used the helicopter for transporting injured persons, however we prefer to leave this task to medical professionals. Saving boats is our business.
Flying the Blue FlagText by Bill Ando Photo Courtesy of Cape Eleuthera Resort
The Bahamas is rightly proud of its participation in the environmentally focused Blue Flag marina program. To date, the country has three marinas certified to fly the Blue Flag, and it’s not a designation that is easily achieved. The program’s controlling agency, Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), located in Copenhagen, Denmark, is not only serious about the initial award, but it also conducts yearly follow-up inspections to make sure the marina is maintained up to code.
Conceived in 1987, the Blue Flag program covers both marinas and beaches. In order to achieve Blue Flag status, a marina must meet strict criteria in three different categories: environmental education and information, environmental management, and safety and services.
To date, 639 marinas in 41 countries have been awarded the Blue Flag. The three Bahamian marinas are Old Bahama Bay, West End, Grand Bahama; Atlantis on Paradise Island, and Cape Eleuthera Resort and Marina, Powell Pointe, Eleuthera.
Earlston McPhee of The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, said that in addition to these three marinas, “Bimini Big Game Club has applied and perhaps by 2012, they will launch the Flag. We also have a marina that is being constructed in Hope Town that wishes to become a Blue Flag marina. We are working with them.”
Stephen Kappeler, Cape Eleuthera Resort and Marina general manager, and a committed staff helped take the marina from barely existing to a Blue Flag property. “It’s not easy, but it’s worth it,” he says, adding that there are myriad details that must be dealt with, such as having a dedicated location for disposal of all excess fuel and spent batteries. Then there’s dockside vessel toilet pump-out. “That’s something not every marina has. It costs ten thousand dollars,” he says.
Water quality in the marina also comes into play. The water must be visually clean without any evidence of pollution, such as oil or litter. “The marina flushes itself twice daily, naturally,” says Stephen of his facility. Cape Eleuthera Resort also has its own RO (reverse osmosis) plant.
A Blue Flag marina must also maintain an educational component, offering at least three environmental education activities to guests and staff. To satisfy that requirement, Cape Eleuthera Marina created an interactive schedule with the students and faculty of The Island School and Cape Eleuthera Institute.
It is just one of the myriad details that go into proudly flying the Blue Flag.