New York, N.Y., USA (January 26, 2012) – The Cruising Club of America's (CCA) 2011 Rod Stephens Trophy for Outstanding Seamanship is well deserved by Bob Arzbaecher (Milwaukee, Wisc.) and the crew of the Beneteau 40.7 Sociable for their dramatic rescue of the crew of the Kiwi 35 WingNuts during the Chicago Yacht Club's 103rd Race to Mackinac held this past July. The trophy is given “for an act of seamanship which significantly contributes to the safety of a yacht, or one or more individuals at sea” and was awarded by Commodore Daniel P. Dyer, III at the annual Awards Dinner, March 2, 2012, at the New York Yacht Club in Manhattan.
Arzbaecher has been sailing for ten years with the Sociable crew, many of whom have competed in the Chicago-Mackinac and other long distance races on Lake Michigan. This year, his crew consisted of 11 sailors: Greg Adams, Cathy Patrick, Chris Miotke, Brian Adams, Matt Reising, Dave Patrick, Brian Nagle, Amy Marshall, Pete Duecker, Adam Flanders (all Milwaukee, Wisc.) and Matt Younkle (Madison, Wisc.).
The team's life-altering moment took place at 11 p.m. on Sunday, July 17, 2011, when a severe squall tore through the fleet of 361 racing sailboats 30 hours into the 333-mile offshore race. After the storm had passed and the sailors aboard Sociable had re-hoisted the mainsail, they heard a whistle in the distance. Shortly afterward, in the black of night, a faint light appeared to port, approximately a quarter to one-half mile away.
Without hesitation, the crew tacked Sociable in the direction of the light and turned on flashlights to signal their presence, which was returned with more light flashes. After lowering the main and powering up the engine, the Sociable crew headed in the direction of the unknown vessel, and as they approached realized that it was upside down with several people standing on its bottom. Though the squall had passed, the conditions were still rough, with three-to-five foot waves and winds upwards of 20 knots. Sociable used its radio to contact the Coast Guard, and as they came within hailing distance of WingNuts they counted five crew members on the boat and one in the water, clinging to the side.
Sociable deployed a Lifesling and circled WingNuts, trying to avoid the mass of lines tangled in the water. The team first managed to retrieve the man overboard, then continued to circle the overturned boat and retrieve the remaining crew members, who took turns jumping into the water and grabbing hold of the Lifesling. In ten minutes, the WingNuts crew – minus two who were missing – had been brought aboard, taken below and given blankets. Sociable continued looking for the missing crew members, but when the Coast Guard arrived with a helicopter and rescue boat, it departed for Charlevoix, Mich., the closest port, and dropped off the WingNuts crew at the Coast Guard station, where ambulances awaited.
“Bob Arzbaecher and his crew of Sociable are to be congratulated for their organization and preparedness in executing the rescue of six sailors,” said Commodore Dyer. “But the world will continue to mourn the loss of the two crew – Suzanne Makowski Bickel and Mark Morely – who perished that night.”