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Coordination of Ocean medical emergency
Main personnel & boats involved;BIFROST,
with the causality Greg his wife Leonie & sons Ben & Jesse aboard,ALDEBARAN
, coordinator at anchor in Niue with Pat & Olivia aboard,BEACON
, rescue boat, with David, Alex & Ellen aboard,FOUR WINDS,
rescue boat with Greg & Denise aboard,ARGONAUTA,
with a Julius a pharmacist and Ian an RNLI inshore rescue crew on board.
On Tuesday & Wednesday 4th & 5th Sept 2001 we monitored, on various long range
radio nets, the medical condition of Greg Dickson, an Australian. Sailing with his wife Leonie and
sons Ben and Jesse aged 6 & 4 they were on the last leg of their circumnavigation. About half way
on the 1,400 mile passage from Bora Bora in the Society Islands, French Polynesia to Tonga, Greg
deteriorated over the following 24 hours. Greg is a diabetic, and this may have aggravated the
situation. The nearest island with medical facilities was Niue, approx. 400 miles or almost four
sailing days away. Niue has no marine rescue services.
While conducting my radio net at 0800 hrs on Thursday 6th September, from our anchorage in Niue,Leonie came on sa
pains. He was lying down unable to do anything. I asked if she required assistance to which she replied,“YES”.
For the previous two days they had been in radio contact with New Zealand obtaining medical
advice. Medical personnel on other boats were also giving advice over the radio.
The NZ authorities said it would take four days to get a ship to them
and that they were to far out for a helicopter rescue.
When Leonie requested help they were 220 miles
from Niue in position 18degrees-46minutes south &
West, which at approx 6 knots would take about 37 hours to reach Niue and help.
My initial response was to depart Niue, position 19-03S & 169-55W
, in ALDEBARAN
crew, of which there was no shortage of volunteers, and rendezvous with BIFROST
. However due to the
25/30 knot easterly head wind and rough seas we would take almost 24 hours to rendezvous. Three days
earlier we had departed Beveridge Reef (20-01S / 167-4
nothing except a wrecked trawler showing above water, 140 miles
ESE of Niue and remembered that a
number of yachts were still there and that they would be the nearest to the casualty. I managed to contactBEACON
and FOUR WINDS
who having had the situation explained to them immediately weighed
anchor and departed Beveridge Reef
at 0830 hrs. It was hoped that Beacon,
with David Alex and Ellen,
might be able to transfer Alex aboard Bifrost to assist Leonie.
I relayed to Leonie that they were on their way and should reach her in about 14 hours
. She was much
relieved at the news. From the information she gave me regarding her course and speed, and estimating
ndwith the help of my GPS chart plotter I calculated a rendezvous point at
. Bifrost was 80 miles
and Beveridge Reef 75 miles
from this point. We agreed to
keep a radio schedule on 8167 khz
every two hours and that I would calculate any course adjustments
required for Beacon and Four Winds. From the outset I was determined to try and keep Bifrost closing
with Niue at full speed and have the two rescue boats slightly ahead and waiting for the casualty rather
than the other way round. The idea was good but with the many variables in the equation it would not be
easy to achieve. Bifrost was using a wind steering system and any variation in the wind direction would
seriously effect the calculations.
At 1000 hrs Beacon, the faster of the two rescue boats, was at 19-5
166-37W and steering 246 degrees magnetic, still on course. During this radio schedule Leonie
said they were short of the medicines recommended by the doctor in New Zealand who she was in regular
contact with. Beacon and Four Winds relayed a list of the medicines each had aboard to Julius onArgonauta
who was anchored next to us in Niue. It was agreed that Julius would assess the various
medicines and we would e-mail Beacon with his proposals. This we did from ALDEBARAN at 1030 hrs.
In addition, at the suggestion of Sally on Argonauta, we sent an e-mail to Sailmail, our e-mail server,
requesting a possible extension to the allowed daily ten minutes transmission during the emergency. They
quickly came back allowing us all the time necessary.
At 1200 hrs and as usual after the three boats gave me their positions and while I was calculating any
necessary course changes, Beacon & Four Winds conversed with Leonie as to what might happen when
they rendezvoused. The plan was first to get the medicine across to Bifrost and then Alex would transfer
if conditions permitted. Ian from Argonauta discussed various methods of transfer with David on Beacon.
Henry from Maritime Express
also gave suggestions based on his experience while crossing from the
Due to the sever weather conditions David was unable to retrieve the e-mail with the medicineinformation for fear of getting his computer wet. We then gave him the necessary information re dosagef
Amoxiallin”over the radio. This was the drug suggested by the NZ doctor as the first
choice and which Beacon had aboard.
At this time Bifrost was at 18-2
250 degrees magnetic
and doing 5.9 knots,
167-46W steering 350 magnetic and doing
7.2 knots while Four Winds
167-47W also steering 350 mag. and doing 7 knots. Following my calculation I amended the
167-47W, this was 13 miles nearer
than the original point. Bifrost was 56
and Beacon 62 miles
from the new meeting point and 92 miles
from each other.
Prior to our 1400 hrs schedule I estimated Bifrost
positions would be approx. 18-2
miles apart. This exercise, I hoped,
would test my calculations.
Their actual positions were, Bifrost 18-2
miles apart with Bifrost 45
miles from the meeting point and Beacon 47
miles. My method of
calculation proved to be accurate.
The 1600 hrs schedule had Bifrost 33
miles and Beacon 32
miles from the waypoint and 52
Leonie unfortunately reported that Greg was having more severe chest pains, which caused concern. At
this stage in the emergency, various medical conditions were being suggested by different medical
personnel, including dengue fever, possible heart attack, lung infection, malaria and muscle reaction to the
Lariam malaria drug.
At the 1800 hrs schedule Bifrost was at 18-3
reporting 20/25 knot winds with rough seas and Four Winds at 19-0
the earlier revised rendezvous point Bifrost was 19 miles
, and Beacon 21 miles
from the meeting point
and they were only 19 miles
apart. I recalculated a second revised rendezvous point for Bifrost and
Beacon at 18-3
ances to run for Bifrost to 21 miles
& Beacon 15
. This new meeting point was only 4.4 miles from the original given almost 10 hours earlier
reason for the revised meeting point was to ensure Beacon would be there ahead of Bifrost and eliminate
Bifrost having to slow or wait for Beacon. At this time I also gave a rendezvous point for Four Winds of
From approx 1900 hrs all our radios were continually listening on the 8167 kHz frequency.
The 2000 hour schedule had Bifrost at 18-3
to the rendezvous point, they
had slowed down a little during the past two hours, and Beacon at 18-3
they were only 11 miles
apart at this stage. Four Winds was at 18-5
Greg on Four Winds frightened me by saying that his calculations had him 40 miles away. I re-checkedmy calculation while Greg checked his. After a few minutes he came back agreeing with my 21 miles.
The conditions that the rescue boats were experiencing were not conducive to spending a long time at achart table, while I was sitting comfortably at my chart table in a sheltered anchorage.
first task was to transfer the medicine and secondly, if absolutely necessary and weather
conditions permitted transfer Alex to Bifrost. The transfer of Alex was not, under any circumstances, tobe attempted without Four Winds being present as a rescue boat in the event of difficulties.
David on Beacon had put on his masthead strobe light and at approx 2015 hours we asked Leonie if shecould go into the cockpit and look for the strobe somewhere off her port bow.
At this stage we should try to visualise the conditions under which Leonie was
working. For the last approx 36 hours she was, (1) sailing and tending the boat in
very rough seas, (2) nursing a very sick husband, (3) communicating on the radio
with, the authorities in New Zealand, other yachties, the two rescue boats and me and
(4) feeding and looking after two young children. With the exception of her request
for assistance at 0800 hrs earlier in the day she sounded and conducted all her radio
communications in a cool and clear manner. Just read this paragraph again, slowly,
and try to visual the scene.
of which were monitoring the radio during the day without interfering.
While Bifrost and Beacon then began communicating on the vhf, I continued to monitor and guide FourWinds until they also saw the lights of the two boats.
Part one of the rescue was now successfully completed.
the immediate transfer of medicine and at first light the transfer of Alex was now under the
control of Leonie and the crews of the two rescue boats.
On the following morning, Friday 7th Sept at 0700 hrs we spoke with the three boats, Bifrost, Beacon and
Four Winds and were told the medicine had been, after numerous attempts, successfully transferred
during the night. The idea of transferring Alex at dawn was abandoned due to the weather conditions and
the fact that the casualty had not deteriorated. The medicine appeared to be helping. Leonie had got some
sleep and was much comforted by the mere presence of Beacon and Four Winds.
From their position, condition and speed reports we estimated they would arrive in Niue at about 2200 to2300 hours that evening. Leonie reported that Greg was still having chest pains. This I relayed to theauthorities in Niue whom I had been keeping informed of the situation. They said they would have thenecessary medical personnel etc available when they arrived. Niue, a small independent state with apopulation of approx 2,000 does not, as mentioned earlier, have any sea rescue facilities.
At 1800 hrs Leonie reported to me that Greg had deteriorated and his temperature had dropped and sheasked me to speak to a doctor. At this time I was operating from the offices of Niue radio. They quicklygot
The anchorage at Niue is very deep and strewn with coral crevices and so the Niue Yacht Club has laid 14mooring buoys for yachts. As eleven of these were in use we reserved the remaining three for the boatscoming in. Niue Dive agreed to attach fluorescent light sticks to the buoys to help guide the boats in.
local resort knowing of course that we would have to return to our boats in time to help the three boats in.
During the function I allocated specific tasks to a number of people so as to ensure the smooth arrival ofall three boats and the getting of immediate medical attention for the casualty. Malcolm from Muna, usinghis dinghy, was to get additional crew aboard Bifrost to help in mooring her.
Bringing Bifrost alongside the wharf was discussed but considered to dangerous due to the lack ofmanoeuvring space and the possibility of swell.
Mike from Nereida and Bert from Tenacious, also in a dinghy, were allocated the job of guiding the boatsto their respective mooring buoys. Julius from Argonauta was to ferry the doctor out to Bifrost at soon asthey were on the mooring buoy. Terry on Stella was my backup radio link. To say the exercise workedwell would be an understatement, everyone performed his or her task to perfection. The additional crew,of Ian from Argonauta and Laura from Muna together with Malcolm boarded Bifrost over a mile from theanchorage. Julius had the doctor aboard Bifrost before they reached the mooring, while Mike and Bertguided each boat in. I worked from Aldebaran co-ordinating the various tasks. When the doctor called fora stretcher, Niue Dive who were on standby at the dock with a stretcher reached Bifrost within minutes.
The news of the emergency had been talked about on the island since it began and so a large crowd hadgathered on the wharf to see and give additional help if required.
Greg was brought ashore and by ambulance to hospital just after midnight.
After some time in hospital Greg returned to Bifrost, rested, and, with Laura from Muna joining asadditional crew, sailed the boat the 250 miles to Vava'u, in Tonga from where he flew home to Australiafor tests and treatment while Leonie and the boys remained aboard.
On his return ten days later we were all relieved to be told that the medical conclusion was that initially,he
Our next report, our 31st , will take us from Niue to the Kingdom of Tonga and onwards to New
Zealand via the famous North Minerva Reef from where we have an unusual story of being
involved with a lost fishing boat. Kava drinking and swimming with whales are only two of the
many other stories we will report on.
Keep up your e-ma
Pat and Olivia
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