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Investigation into accident on Swiftsure boat clears skipper and crew

A protest from the principal race officer of the Swiftsure regarding the May 28 incident has been dismissed by Sail Canada, the sport’s governing body.
Yachts position for the start of the Swiftsure International Yacht Race at Clover Point on May 28. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

An investigation into an injury to a crew member during last month’s Swiftsure International Yacht race has ruled that the skipper and crew of the Wind Child gave the sailor all possible help and acted responsibly.

A protest from the principal race officer of the Swiftsure regarding the May 28 incident in the Juan de Fuca race was dismissed by Sail Canada, the sport’s governing body.

“It was something that was taken very seriously,” said Randy Diamond, Swiftsure Race chairman.

“We had a process involved to get a hearing going fairly quickly, to get very senior people to adjudicate it.”

Three internationally accredited judges — two from Canada and one from the United States — investigated the matter for Sail Canada.

Diamond reviewed the decision of the judges, reworked it into layperson’s language and released it on Thursday.

Concerns arose after the Wind Child. based at Sequim, Washington state, sent a Mayday distress call about the injury. The Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre dispatched the Canadian Coast Guard to the scene, where personnel found that a crew member, from Sequim, had been hit on the head by a boom.

Maritime Forces Pacific said last week the boat had been asked to head to the nearest port at Pedder Bay Marina, but declined to do so and finished the race.

The judges found that the crew member had been injured when the boat accidentally changed course in 20-25 knot (37-46 km/h) winds in one-to-two metre waves at midnight on May 28 in Race Passage, Diamond’s report said.

The crew aboard Wind Child administered first aid and comforted the injured sailor as the boat continued to Victoria, he said.

When the Canadian Coast Guard’s Cape Calvert arrived at about 12:45 a.m. the Wind Child was about four nautical miles east of the entrance to Pedder Bay.

“The injured sailor had facial and head injuries.” Coast Guard personnel boarded the sailboat and provided additional first aid, Diamond said in the report.

A separate marine occurrence report by the Coast Guard’s marine communications and traffic services, said the Mayday call reported that “a crew member had been struck in the face by a swinging boom, (and was) conscious but panting/breathing and showing signs of shock.”

The Coast Guard is not conducting a formal investigation into the incident, an official said this week.

Weather conditions meant the injured sailor could not be tranferred from the sailboat to the Cape Calvert, Diamond’s report said.

Coast Guard personnel and the Wind Child skipper discussed the best destination to meet an ambulance.

The Coast Guard suggested Pedder Bay, but that would have seen the boat head directly into the wind, take down its sails and motor into the marina, with an estimated arrival time of about one hour. Pedder Bay is a small-boat marina with a narrow shallow entrance, not conducive to a 36-foot sailboat with a six-foot-deep keel, Diamond’s report said.

The skipper was not familiar with Pedder Bay and “was concerned about entering a tricky unfamiliar marina in the dark,” it said.

Instead, the Wind Child headed toward the Coast Guard station in James Bay, sailing through the finish line at Ogden Point, arriving at about 1:45 a.m.

A waiting ambulance took the injured sailor to Victoria General Hospital. He was later discharged and has returned to Sequim.

Diamond said in an interview that the sailboat arrived on shore in about the same amount of time as it would have taken to reach Pedder Bay. Once in an ambulance, it took less time to reach hospital than it would have if the boat had docked at Pedder Bay.

The tribune determined that the skipper and crew on the sailboat provided all possible help to the sailor and acted responsibility. They did not contravene world sailing’s rule about safety, Diamond’s report said.

The Wind Child, with skipper Rudolf Heesels, placed seventh in the Juan de Fuca monohull race.

It was the first time the Swiftsure event had been held after being postponed for two years because of the pandemic.

It attracted about 120 sailboats and Diamond anticipates more will participate next year.

Diamond said planning for the 2023 Swiftsure — a popular annual event in Victoria — will begin in the fall.

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