Americans rescue Austrian in English Channel

Foley Rescue

Editor's note: Chicago natives and frequent contributors to ON, Jim and Jean Foley have spent three summers in Europe and are continuing a west-to-east circumnavigation by the southern capes on board their sloop Onora. Here is Jim's account of rescuing a hapless fisherman in the English Channel

“What is that noise?” Jeannie’s watch had been interrupted by what sounded like a high pitched submarine dive signal.  

I stopped my Sailmail message and joined her in the pilot house where the DSC warning was screaming from the VHF. Looking through the porthole, just a hundred yards beyond my view of the VHF, I was startled to see a lone figure in a small red and white run-about frantically waving an orange life vest at the end of an oar.

I scrambled out to the cockpit and waved back at him. Jeannie started the engine and joined me to wind in our two poled-out head sails. Onora had been barreling along at nine knots when the alarm sounded. We had left the English Channel island of Guernsey six hours earlier on a 120-mile run around the north west corner of France in route to Brest. The fog and mist hid the shore just five miles to the south. 

Onora cut through the chop and came up along side the distressed vessel. Jeannie threw a line from our stern which was grabbed and secured. She winched in the line as I backed down. The lone passenger, a middle aged shaved headed, big boned man with a very concerned look on his face, carefully pulled himself over his windshield and across the pitching foredeck. He grabbed the rails on our swim platform where I hauled him aboard.

After drinking a large glass of water, Ronald Rockenschaub, an  Austrian, used our phone to call his wife. She was greatly relieved. When he had not returned, she had called the MRCC (Maritime Rescue and Coordination Center) in Corsen, France. They had dispatched two boats and a helicopter to look for him. I called MRCC on Channel 16 and reported that we had Mr. Rockenschaub with his boat in tow. After inquiring about his medical condition and confirming that the boat we had matched the search target, we were asked to maintain our current position which was relayed to their lifeboat. I mentioned we had A.I.S. which they could use for homing in.

Ronald recounted his adventure while we waited. That morning he had left Keraval, France to go fishing. He was a mile off shore when he had lost his balance and hit his head on the gunnel. This knocked him out and bounced his glasses overboard. When he came to, he could not see land and was disoriented. He searched for land until his fuel ran out.  He had neither phone nor radio. For the past four hours he had been drifting while, unknown to him, the three knot current was sweeping him out to the Atlantic. He was clearly shaken. 

Two large orange zodiacs emerged from the mist thirty minutes later. They pulled up with a ‘bonjour’ and exchanged broken English with our terrible French. We let go of the run-about  and the larger of the two zodiacs took it under tow. The other zodiac came along side and Ronald carefully climbed down into it.

After we had the sails back up and on course, MRCC came back on the radio to thank us for our help. 

By Ocean Navigator