SOS and Victory on Maiden Voyage
It was a traditional regatta as part of the "Operation Sail 1982" sailing ship rally on the route Falmouth –Lisbon and with a start date of 25th July. Back then, the "Dar Młodzieży" was the youngest training sail ship on the seas and was departing on its very first voyage, the Polish flag having been raised on her only three weeks prior.
At 15:00 hours, a shot went up from the race committee's ship, signalling the start of the race. Under the leadership of Captain Tadeusz Olechnowicz, the "Dar Młodzieży" took an early lead and slowly increases the gap between itself and its competitors. Within class A–a category for large sailing ships–the strongest competitor was traditionally the Bundesmarine "Gorch Fock", a German bark. On Monday 26th July, the "Dar Młodzieży" is already 20 nautical miles ahead of its rival and continuing to enjoy favourable winds.
At dawn on 27th July, 1st Officer Bronisław Walczak gave an order for 2nd officer Henryk Śniegocki to be woken to hand over watch to him at 04:00 hours. There is calm both at sea and on the radar. Only a faint echo of a small vessel can be seen in the stern sector. During a final survey of the horizon, Officer Walczak suddenly spots a single red rocket astern. This is soon followed by a whole series of red rockets, assuring the officer that someone needs help. After informing the captain, the entire crew is immediately called upon to furl the sails. The frigate heaves to, the engines fire into life and she begins to move against course, in the direction of the rockets. On the air, Radio Officer Wojciech Rękawek sends out information about the ship's rescue attempt and withdrawal from the race.
Ship doctor Dr Stefan Baranowicz gets the medical unit and 3rd Officer Bogusław Sadkowski prepares the lifeboat. After about 7 NM the "Dar Młodzieży" comes upon the "Peter von Danzig", a German yacht floating on the waves. After boarding the frigate, the captain of the yacht explains that there has been a fire on board which has caused a great deal of damage. They have lost radio contact, and an officer is unconscious, having sustained serious burns. With 3rd Officer Wojciech Wieteska in control, the lifeboat hits the water with the first aid equipment. The heavily bandaged officer is soon moved to the lifeboat and transported to the "Dar". In addition to serious burns, Doctor Baranowicz suspects head injuries. He administers pain killers and treats the patient's injuries. Another ship, the Portuguese "Augusto Castilho" draws near to the "Dar". It is soon decided that the injured man should be transferred to this ship using the lifeboat. At 07:18 hours, the "Dar Młodzieży" returns to the race.
After four hours of involvement in the rescue operation, the “Dar Młodzieży” has lost 50 NM. The “Gorch Fock” is now in the lead. The Polish frigate rolls out all 26 sails in to catch every gust of wind in an attempt to make up the lost ground.
The good news concerning the rescued officer from the “Peter von Danzig” reaches the ship – a French helicopter escorted the injured man to hospital, where he received life-saving treatment.
After 24 hours of plain sailing, the “Dar Młodzieży” once again has the advantage, information relayed by radio puts the Gorch Fock approximately 9 NM back. It’s going to be an exciting finish. The choice of route and tactics will no doubt decide the winner. Nevertheless, the Germans remain in pursuit and are steadily gaining ground. With their rivals now only 1.5 NM behind, Captain Olechnowicz takes a risk and lets the ship bear in, sailing as close to shore as possible. It pays off, and it's the “Dar” that’s first to cross the finish line and claim victory. It was 21:53 hours on 29th July 1982. The “Gorch Fock” came in second 14 minutes and 18 seconds later.