On June 17 in the early morning hours, Arruno started taking on water in the middle of the Atlantic and the cause of which was never determined.  It was necessary to make a Mayday call on the VHF radio and wait for assistance from nearby container ship MV Independent Pursuit. Following this incident we, as a crew, reviewed both the boat and the crew's performance to understand better how well we fared. I would like to share this with you to contribute to safety at sea from our point of view.

Arruno in distress, an overview! 25.7.2021

On June 17 in the early morning hours, Arruno started taking on water in the middle of the Atlantic and the cause of which was never determined.  It was necessary to make a Mayday call on the VHF radio and wait for assistance from nearby container ship MV Independent Pursuit. Following this incident we, as a crew, reviewed both the boat and the crew's performance to understand better how well we fared. I would like to share this with you to contribute to safety at sea from our point of view.

A "big thank you" to everyone who supported us!

 I would like to take this opportunity to firstly thank the Captain, 1st Officer and crew of Independant Pursuit for their efforts during and after our rescue.

On the other hand, I would also like to mention and thank Kim Crosby, Jay Parson and Eric Davidson. Together with them, I undertook this adventure and, although we were already friends, we will never forget each other! 

I would also like to thank Elly T'Seyen, Willie Celis and Wannes Laleman (Insurance Laleman, Diest) who assisted us and were always available when we were at sea, before, during and after the rescue operation. 

I am sure I am forgetting people, that is the disadvantage of thanking people personally. I certainly want to thank everyone who has contributed in this story. I am thinking here of everyone who helped us to return home from Philadelphia, the members of the RNYC who helped us and our families and loved ones,...

Arruno, a Dufour 500

Everyone knows there are many diverse production yachts crossing the ocean and some are better designed, built and equipped than others, particularly from an ocean-worthiness perspective: keels with keel bolts versus laminated keels, polyester versus aluminum/steel, compartments versus layout, etc. It is often only when an incident occurs that you are able to critically examine these how well these trade-offs impact vessel safety.

From the beginning, the yacht is everything. You can compare and contrast approaches to modern yacht construction and consider their overall ocean-worthiness based on classification but manufacturers often rely too heavily on the classification or design category; these alone are insufficient for ensuring your yacht is able to withstand long ocean passages. Classifications are equivalent to construction standards and rules to be complied with but, in my humble opinion, they provide a false sense of security. Classifications merely form the basis for legal compliance. In Arruno's case, for example, the engine start battery compartment is installed below the water line and only discovered this when we checked the engine compartment (twice!)and saw that the water level was already higher than the battery box … in other words, unusable. Yachts should be designed and constructed in such a way that engine batteries are installed well above the waterline, or at least installed in such a way that they do not flood quickly. The house or service batteries, on the other hand, are higher up on board which everyone knows will affect roll stability but some trade-offs are needed occasionally needed.

Our Dufour has a single watertight bulkhead between the anchor bin in the bow and the rest of the boat. The disadvantage of this was that water was immediately present in the entire ship and not isolated to individual compartments. Although it is a seaworthy ship (Class A) it does not have any compartmentalization apart from this one bulkhead. Yachts should be built to include separate water-tight compartments to ensure they remain afloat in emergencies so that you can safely wait for rescue or possibly return to port.

There were sufficient bilge pumps aboard Arruno: two electric pumps and one Plastimo manual pump. All three pumps were working as designed however the actual operation of the manual pump was inadequate: it was compliant with the boat standards however in practice, its usefulness is debatable. With considerable water coming in and the manual pumping of a small pie-sized operating panel required, it was exhausting to use. You are better off with a manual pump with a long lever.

On subsequent voyages I will incorporate a bilge check on a regular, frequent basis. I looked into the bilge daily but not according to a fixed schedule. This should be part of watch keeping and added to the log.


It is always nice to ask friends along for a nice trip however as captain, you bear a heavy responsibility particularly for longer crossings. As captain, you are responsible for ensuring that your crew is capable of making the planned trip and ensuring you are adequately prepared and the voyage is planned properly.

I insist on proper safety briefings prior to departure as the crew must be made aware of the dangers of the sea. A safety training course is therefore no superfluous luxury. This way, the crew in properly prepared should you encounter an incident.

On this trip, I had the advantage that my crew could handle the VHF radio giving me freedom to assign responsibility radio follow-up after the initial MAYDAY call, allowing me to continue to search for the cause of the water ingress (unfortunately without result).

From a leadership perspective, as captain you must display confidence and maintain a sense of calm at all times. It is not always easy but panic can quickly turn a straightforward problem into a disaster. If the crew has a basic understanding of how to respond to emergencies, you are a long way ahead and in our case, several of Arruno's crew had previously completed safety training. Discuss each emergency scenario with the crew ahead of time: what needs to be done, who takes care of what, what needs to be taken along and what is to be left behind if you have to leave the ship. Discipline is essential for rapid response. On the North Atlantic, the North Sea or even on inland waterways, you may have to quickly leave the yacht because of fire or a major leak.

When sailing with people who speak different languages, always make sure that you understand each other sufficiently especially concerning the safety agreements otherwise there will only be misunderstandings at precisely the wrong time. The crew that was on board with us spoke English, so that was no problem.

Preparing up a voyage planning

For many sailors, a sailing plan usually involves setting out the waypoints, checking for favourable tides and whether we can get into and out of the harbours, etc. It has been my practice to prepare detailed sailing plans with the crew. This sailing plan contains all the information necessary for the trip to proceed safely: VHF channels, when to call who on VHF, waypoints, courses and distances, Navtex areas, weather forecast, safety margins, etc. It is all plotted on the chart where possible, and the actual sailing plan is an essential part of the logbook. I also understand that not everyone sees the point of such an extensive plan for a trip of a few miles on the Oosterschelde or along the coast. In my opinion, however, it is still important to consider the right things for each trip. By involving your crew in this, they are also informed and know what is going on. In this way, a sailing plan, especially on longer trips, can be considered as "standing orders". The captain is not always "awake" and for longer trips, there is always a certain responsibility of the crew or the other crew members, depending on what has been agreed.

Safety equipment

Safety is the top priority, and that includes the selection, installation and operation of safety equipment. We did not economize on safety equipment. Apart from a SART, everything was onboard ahead of our journey. Since we do not fall under the SOLAS regulations (GMDSS), we were able to consider alternatives and base the yacht preparation on international regulations. For example, in looking at the sea areas within GMDSS, we confirmed we could send out a distress signal in every area we sailed in (from A1 to A3).  

We have the discipline to test our safety equipment regularly and the advantage of this is that its operation remains top-of-mind and you can be confident the equipment is working properly. I remove and replace any and all safety equipment that has deteriorated. Because of this, we had no SART onboard for the trip: the one onboard had expired and the new one had not arrived. Otherwise, everything had been meticulously checked and replaced where necessary.

It is important that, as captain, you are familiar with the operation and location of all of your equipment but also very important that your crew knows this as well and this be included in the safety briefing prior to departure. I also invested the time to documents where each piece of safety equipment is located however because our trip included a Canadian crew, I could only use the Dutch plan visually (I had not yet had time to draw up an English version). 

One thing we did not have on board as standard, but which was provided by my Canadian friends, were neoprene survival suits. These are indispensable when calamities occur in colder water. It is important that you test them to put them on. Every person on board should be aware of this, because when it is for "real" there is stress, panic and often uncomfortable conditions particularly in cold ocean water.

On board we always have two grab bags 'at the ready' for multi-day trips. The first contains all the emergency material such as extra food and water, a handheld GPS, extra emergency signals (hand-stop lights), portable VHF, SART (if on board) while the second contains official documents such as the ship's papers, passports and in case of calamities the logbook must also be included. This second grab bag also has the advantage that you can quickly add mobile phones, satellite phone, etc. to keep them dry. If you are rescued without the proper documentation (passports, logbook, insurance documentation, for example), this can lead to annoying administrative problems.

Weather Forecast

The days are gone when the only way to predict weather was to read the barometer and clouds. Arruno was fitted with Predictwind and Iridium GO. Personally I found this very good and user friendly: in combination with an unlimited data package, it gives you the freedom to download Grib files all day long, calculate routes, receive GMDSS messages, for example. ... The big advantage is that you then have a tracing page, where the people you want can follow you. You can easily place blog messages on this page, which is reassuring for family members and acquaintances who often find it rather odd that you set up such an adventure.

On this particular trip, we collected weather reports twice daily (morning and evening), and this included all models. As we had the opportunity to download different models, this gave us a clear picture of what was happening around us and could adapt our route to the conditions we preferred. In my opinion, the cost of such a licence and data package does not outweigh the benefits especially in the case of bad weather and the influence on general safety and the potential for extra costs due to damage.

Link Predictwind

Approaching the Cargo Vessel

Because our engine and battery were under water, we could not start them to go alongside the freighter. At the request of the captain of the container ship we had to set our own course because a ship of 210 metres in length cannot be easily maneuvered and weather conditions did not permit us to launch a smaller lifeboat either.

We made a first attempt on the genoa. The ship hadvplaced itself on our windward side so that the wind and the waves were reduced but even still the speed with which the freighter drifted towards us was amazing. Once we got closer to the freighter, the wind dropped out of the genoa we were adrift and not able to avoid a collision with the ship. Unfortunately, on the first attempt we were too far aft and could not get to the ladder, even with the ropes provided by the freighter's crew. On the second attempt, we set our course further forward towards the bow of the freighter and that went well. There was some damage to Arruno's mast caused by the spreaders caught in the containers. In hindsight, this could possibly have been avoided by making the switch via the life raft. This alternative was not without its risks either.

Leaving the ship

When I sent out the Mayday, I had in the back of my mind that it could take some time before anyone could set course for our position. Because I had been resting, I was not immediately aware that there was a ship in our vicinity. In the first instance I sent out my Mayday via VHF, also keeping in mind the EPIRB in case there was no response. However, I did not have to activate the latter.

From my training I had learned that, if at all possible, you should contact your insurance company before leaving the yacht. It sounds banal, during such a stressful situation, but this helped us tremendously. We followed all their instructions (except that of bringing the spinnaker under the boat, which was not on board). A few hours later, at my first contact with the home front, the insurance company was already taking care of the necessary arrangements.

It is important that you are insured for the area where you sail as not all insurance companies cover a transatlantic trip, for example. The first question I was asked by the insurance company during the debrief was what certificates I have. With my Master Commercial Yachting Unlimited I can sail (commercially) all over the world. If you do not sail commercially (which was the case here), you do not need to have these certificates, but it does give the authorities more confidence if it is clear to them that the captain knows what he is doing.

After I had given the order that everyone had to get ready to leave the ship, on the advice of the insurance company, and certainly understandably, it was said that everything of great value could be taken along. When transferring these items, there was also the possibility of taking extra clothing with you. This is highly recommended and certainly worth asking the ship that comes to rescue you. After all, if you are rescued on the ocean, you will have to stay on that ship for a few days. You are a guest on this ship and are expected to disembark at the first port of call. This is quite difficult in sailing gear.

We were permitted to leave the MV Independent Pursuit after traveling five days to Philadelphia (USA) on the condition that we were admitted by the immigration service of the USA.  The prequisite for this includes proof of airline tickets to our destination, in my case Belgium, 24 hours before arrival in Philadelphia. Most cargo ships have satellite communication to place phone calls, but unfortunately booking tickets yourself is not possible. It is therefore very practical that you have someone at home you can fall back on to organize logistics so this person should have all your personal details ahead of time.

In general, having someone on the sidelines is important and they should have a call list, so that the necessary actions can be taken on your behalf. This person on the sidelines can also distribute information with the facts from onboard.

Arruno is insured by Pantaenius.

MRCC update (Maritime Rescue and Coordintaion Center)

The area of our rescue was on the border of the Canadian and US Coast Guard responsibility. As captain or owner, you are responsible for your damaged vessel so by notifying these coastal stations, you prevent additional calamities because your yacht is adrift. In our case, the cargo ship captain had already notified the MRCC and also the Canadian Coast Guard in St John's and a GMDSS safety message was quickly sent so that there was no longer any danger to other vessels. I personally verified with the captain that this had been done correctly. If you are sailing in sea areas where HF or satellite are the only means of communication, you must make sure that you also have the numbers/frequencies at hand of the correct MRCCs that are active in these areas (if the rescue is not through them). During emergency situations you will not always be able to look them up.

After the incident, we continued to keep the MRCCs updated with the correct information. The uncrewed yacht ship is a hazard so when we had updates (position updates) we relayed them to the MRCC so that they can include it in their reports.  

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