We’ve been within AIS range (~20 miles) of Blue Wind for two days. We would start to leave them behind, then the wind would change a little and they would start to catch up. At one point we had almost no wind, and we could see on the AIS that they were going 8 knots. Of course we concluded that they were motoring. And later in the day we got a fresh breeze, and went from about 5 knots to 10, and Blue Wind called on the VHF radio asking if we had just started our engines. (That’s a little funny, because our top speed under engines is about 7 knots.) Apparently they were watching us as closely as we were watching them. We each assured the other that we were not, nor had we been, motoring.
Then the conversation turned more serious. James (skipper) said that Ruy (his only crew member) was very sick. He asked about our medical knowledge and medications on board. Our “ship’s doctor” (Tim) of course is not aboard. We tried to call Tim on Bob’s satellite telephone, but without success. We sent an email via the SSB radio, and were pleasantly surprised to see a reply by the time we had rummaged through Tim’s collection of medications. Via satphone Tim then spoke directly with James. Although Ruy had already taken an antibiotic, Tim recommended a different one. (Broader spectrum? More powerful? I don’t know.) Blue Wind did not have the medication, but I did. So we made a plan with James to get it to him.
When the medical issue first arose we had altered course to gradually converge with Blue Wind. We knew we might be transferring medicine. We also discussed transferring a crew member to assist (in spite of the potential nightmare with the immigration authorities if we arrived with a different crew than left Vanuatu). Transferring a person would be much trickier than transferring a package. With ocean waves it is dangerous/impossible to bring the boats directly alongside — they could be pushed into each other, or the rolling could case the masts/rigging to collide.
James considered it, but declined the offer of crew. So as we were closing the last mile to Blue Wind…we cleaned out an empty peanut butter plastic jar…put the medicine in a sealed plastic bag in the jar…added a hunk of just-baked bread in another sealed bag as a nice gesture…tied a small line around the lip of the closed jar…tied the small line to a larger/heavier/throwable line…found a small water bottle that we half filled with water to act as a throwing weight…tied a small line around the neck of the water bottle…and attached that to the other end of the heavier line. We agreed that Blue Wind would hold their course at a slow speed, while Bill conned No Regrets under power and approached from astern, passing alongside about a boat-length away. I would then heave the weighted end of the line (while Bob takes pictures). If unsuccessful we could retrieve the line and try again. But I threw a strike — right into their mainsail, so the bottle slid down to James on deck. James then pulls the entire line to his boat, with the payload on the end. We’ll ask for the line back in Australia.
The transfer went without a hitch. Blue Wind is now motoring at top speed toward Mackay, some 300 miles away. We’re trying to stay within radio range in case any further assistance is needed.
Any offshore sailor would do as much to assist another boat if they could. But this experience points out a benefit of sailing in a rally — having another boat close enough by to help!