The Cruising Club of America has selected Captain Sean McCarter to receive its 2014 Rod Stephens Trophy for Outstanding Seamanship for the actions he took as the professional captain of Derry-Londonderry-Doire during the Clipper Round the World Race that resulted in successfully retrieving a crew overboard. The trophy is given “for an act of seamanship that significantly contributes to the safety of a yacht or one or more individuals at sea.” The award will be presented on March 6, 2015 at the New York Yacht Club in Manhattan.
On March 31, 2014 the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race fleet of eleven identical ocean racers were on the 5600-mile leg from Qindao, China to San Francisco. Aboard Derry-Londonderry-Doire the professional captain, Sean McCarter with the assistance of 46-year-old crewmember Andrew Taylor was making a sail change. At the time, the winds were 35 knots with 13 to 20 foot seas. Andrew had unhooked to go aft for a pair of pliers and suddenly the boat healed heavily to leeward and Andrew slid out over the top of the guardrail and into the sea. McCarter rushed back to the helm shouting “Man Overboard”. The MOB button had already been pressed giving their position on the GPS chart plotter.
The crew reacted perfectly according to McCarter and nobody panicked. Everyone went through the procedures that are practiced religiously in Clipper race training. At that point the boat was getting blown away from Andrew slowly but at a range of about 200 meters they still had visual contact. Within minutes and with the engine running at full throttle they managed to tack the boat through the wind. The captain asked for a heading and got the reply he dreaded most, “We’ve lost visual”.
They arrived at the MOB position and continued past it with no sign of Andrew. The waves were the size of bungalows and the wind was whipping up spray off the crests with streams of foam running down the faces. A crewmember was put up to the first spreader for a better view. Andrew’s drift rate and direction was calculated and they searched accordingly. Although all crewmembers wore Personal Locator Beacons, Andrew’s did not initially activate. They searched according to the MOB training they had practiced. After about an hour some of the crew were starting to fear the worst. The water was 11 degrees C or 52 degrees F. Andrew was wearing a dry suit but with no insulation. Skipper McCarter continued with the search pattern. Suddenly the navigator shouted up that he had a signal from the PLB. He gave a course to steer to a distance of over a mile from their position. Andrew had been drifting at 4 knots instead of the 1 to 2 they had calculated. After almost 90 minutes in the water he was spotted at 200 yards and hauled aboard.