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SuperTed Meets India Juliet – Experiences of a highline in 35 knots of wind!

A funny thing happened on the way back from Hardway the other weekend!   With the luxury of a rare additional crew in the form of Ann Arscot, we set off home in a steady 35 knots with two reefs and storm jib.  As we bashed past Lee On Solent hard on the wind, India Juliet appeared out of the gloom, circled around and hovered close overhead.
Looking up, we saw crew standing at the open door holding a board with 67 written on it.  Changing to channel 67 on the VHF I went below to communicate with them – far too noisy on deck!   “With the skipper’s permission we would like to do a high line” OK.   Now I’ve always wanted to do this practice but really with 35 knots of wind and big holes in the sea and the boat doing 6 ½ knots?  The pilot then asked if we were ready to copy the brief.  Not sure what the brief consisted of, I prepared myself to take down copious notes!   Scrambling around for a piece of paper and pencil with the boat lurching I got myself ready to write – wasn’t easy  but got a few keywords down “steady course,  close hauled on port tack,  don’t attach the weighted line to the boat, pull in all the slack, helmsman mustn’t be distracted by the helicopter, winch man will indicate when to stop pulling etc.   So here goes…………

The weights came down slowly and the helicopter moved in closer to position them over the cockpit.  We managed to grab hold and pull in the slack of the line which seemed to go on forever.  Eventually the winch man was in the door way and started come down.   Ann and I pulling and pulling on the line for dear life.   Instruction to stop.   Pull again, we pull and eventually we get this strangers feet on the right side of the lifelines, but not quite all of him, so we keep pulling.   A bit of a lurch and he’s now hanging backwards over the rail just about upside down.  I’m a bit worried that he’s going in the drink and Matt’s worried about his paintwork, but somehow we manage to help him over.
He signals to the helicopter that he’s on board and slings his hook.   We get a congratulatory “that was well done but next time pull harder” shouted in our ears, tells us to keep hold of the line and not let him swing out as he goes back up and then not to let the weights drop in the water.  Down comes the hook, he attaches and he’s off with Ann and me feeding the line through as he goes up, pulling desperately trying not to let him swing.   Then he’s in the helicopter and the weighted line is being pulled up.   To our surprise the weights are left hanging in mid air but we soon realise that we are about to go through this drill again!
Down come the weights, we grab them and pull as hard as we can, then down comes a different winch man, this time we pull harder and manage to get him into the cockpit (albeit in a big heap).   Hooks away aloft again, then it’s time to pull it back in.  All going well (done this before), then as I pull on the line the end comes away from the winch line!   Now we have the weights, a mass of  line and a winch man in the cockpit!
He calls up for a replacement line and down comes another – pulling this line, the same thing happens!   Now we have a winch man, 2 sets of weights and 2 masses of lines in the cockpit (sounds like a Christmas song?)   By this time we’re nearing Calshot and running out of water, so Matt tells the winch man we’re going to have to tack – but that would put us on starboard and we have to be on port tack for a highline, so we tack round and run down wind before tacking back close hauled on port again.
At this point we have all this extra line and weights together with a large hunk of human in size 10 hob nail boots (not quite) all lurching about the cockpit!   We manage the manoeuvres whilst the helicopter circles around and  a 3rd set of weights is lowered – we’re getting the hang of this now!   The winch man tells us that they will send down a bag and we will throw in all these extra weights and line!   I try to lift a set of weights and realise that there is no way I can throw these anywhere so am a bit concerned as I have visions of my last unsuccessful game of hoopla!   The bag arrives in the cockpit and the winch man stuffs everything in it, hooks it and himself up and signals to the helicopter he’s ready to go.
As he goes it’s amazingly difficult to keep him from swinging around – the line is very thin and slippy and my gloves are wet – I can feel the burns as it slips through my hands.  Now just hold the weights at arm’s length until the helicopter comes directly over and pulls them in.   Done.   He’s up and away with a wave!    Hey presto, job done, what an experience!  I happen to glance at the wind speed -35.5 knots but in all of this we realise that time has stood still and the wind and waves have become irrelevant!   That’s concentration for you!
A few observations:–


It wasn’t easy for 2 of us to pull the winch man into the cockpit or to keep him from swinging  about so it really brought home how hard it would be in a real rescue situation!
A lot of line comes down which could get caught or wrapped up with other ropes and sheets in the cockpit.  It’s a good idea to ensure that everything is tidied up and winch handles are out of the way before starting .
It would be easy to get rope burns when handling the line – wear gloves if you have them.
The helmsman must concentrate on keeping the speed and direction of the boat steady and not be tempted to watch the proceedings or try to help with the pulling!


The crew of the helicopter are very well disciplined and give very clear instructions to follow which you don’t need to write down.   As you’d expect its very noisy and impossible to talk to each other, but surprisingly we did not notice any significant down draught from the helicopter.
It was a pleasure to experience the professionalism of the helicopter crew at first hand – sure beats a classroom lecture.
Jean, Matt & Ann – Superted
FOOTNOTE:  “India Juliet will be retired during 2007, having completed over 4000 rescues”
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