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Stranded at Sea: KCL Sailing Society Rescued by French Coastguard

The boat involved in the incident and two members of sailing society

During a channel crossing event in late February, six King’s College London (KCL) students formed the majority of a crew rescued by the French coastguard after drifting into a shipping lane.

The crew of eight were rescued on the 18 February during the KCL Sailing Society’s channel crossing weekend. The crew lost steering and began to drift into a shipping lane while returning from Port Cherbourg, France.

At approximately 5:00am, the two charted yachts left the French marina. One of the boats, Amanda Kulu, was skippered by King’s Computer Science student Marcus Sieradzan. The other boat, Saga, was skippered commercially by the owner.

The crew watched the sunrise and enjoyed smooth sailing through a beautiful seascape. “We relaxed for a bit and enjoyed the sunrise”, said Marcus, reflecting on the earlier half of the journey. However, the ship encountered trouble at around noon. After successfully passing the first of two Traffic Separation Schemes (TSS) – the lanes where tanker and cruise ships travel – Amanda Kulu lost automatic steering.

First Mate, the second in command, Alice Balls took the helm and steered the yacht manually. Another person onboard said Alice was “absolutely amazing” and “doing everything in her power to keep us on course, but the steering got worse and worse”. Soon, manual steering was lost completely. Approaching the TSS meant that there was a risk of collision. Tanker ships take miles to stop, so it was essential for the crew to find a solution quickly. Facing the emergency situation of “sitting in a shipping lane”, the students tried to focus on what they could do to stay safe.

“We didn’t have time to be scared. I was just thinking about what needs to be done”

A crew member abroad Amanda Kulu, reflecting on their experience

Marcus attempted to radio the other King’s sailing boat to ask for advice, knowing the owner of Amanda Kulu was on board and would have experience with this particular boat. However, they were significantly further ahead and couldn’t reply to his communication because of radio issues. Marcus declared a ‘Pan-Pan’; the radio signal to indicate the boat is in an urgent situation and requires help.

On deck, the crew and First Mate Alice worked to find the emergency tiller, a critical step in getting the boat under control. “As soon as we fitted the tiller all my worries were gone”, a crew member told Roar. However, the crew still faced challenges in returning to the English Coast. “We tried to aim for the UK, but every time we pointed there we would spin around”, said Marcus. Even with two people holding the tiller, waves up to five meters high would cause the boat to turn uncontrollably when directed on course. “France was the only stable direction”, Marcus had decided.

Hearing the calls for assistance on the radio, a nearby vessel named Rever sailed towards Amanda Kulu. “Seeing Rever crest the waves was majestic – I felt like she was coming to the rescue”, one crew member told Roar. “They were standing by for a few hours” until the coastguard were near, Marcus told Roar. It took about three hours for the lifeboat to arrive, after which Amanda Kulu was towed 26 miles back to France.

Thankfully everyone onboard got back to land safely. Despite everything that went wrong, the students are still optimistic about sailing. “No harm in adventure as long as it ends well, I would do it all again” one crew member told Roar. Alice, the First Mate, said, “at the time I felt different, but now it’s an interesting story”. Amanda Kulu’s captain Marcus added, “our trips are not normally this chaotic – join King’s sailing!”. The society will be running more trips with a different company they have previously partnered with.

It’s currently unknown why the steering broke. The issue is allegedly documented with this type of boat, however the situation was made more pressing by multiple factors failing together. The sailing society is currently in discussion with the charter company to resolve the incident.

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