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Survival, with a twist

It was one heck of a summer for 46-year-old Kristy Lugert.

The Alameda, Calif., resident bought a 32-foot sailing catamaran (her first large boat), which flipped in 15-foot seas on its delivery voyage. When they thought they were going to die, Lugert and her boyfriend declared themselves married. A week after a Coast Guard helicopter plucked them from the overturned cat in a rescue basket, they were legally married but divorced a short time later. Her saga came to an end when she helped her brother tow the boat home after he salvaged it.

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Click play to watch video of the rescue and hear Lugert recount the experience. Mobile users can click here to watch it on YouTube.

“Wow, it’s been so crazy,” says Lugert, who bought the 1999 PDQ 32 with her father, Jerry Lugert, in mid-June in Sidney, British Columbia. “There’s been so much drama from the very beginning.”

It all began when Lugert, who has primarily sailed catamarans in the Gulf of Mexico, fired the delivery captain and sailed the boat - along with her boyfriend, Steve McCarthy, 42, and Greg McCuen, 40 - on the last leg of the passage, from Crescent City, Calif., around Cape Mendocino to Alameda. Lugert says she had to dismiss her delivery captain because he broke the agreed-upon float plan and failed to communicate with her during the trip.

The boat capsized July 3 about 20 miles off Fort Bragg, Calif., in heavy seas and 45-knot winds. The crew had been sailing for about 24 hours before the incident. "We got hit by a rogue wave, and it was a lot steeper and a lot deeper than anything else we had been dealing with," Lugert says. "It hit on the port side ... and the boat went up on its side and turtled immediately."

All three sailors - along with Lugert's border collie, Jakey - were in the cockpit when the cat went over. McCarthy was at the helm. "The wave hit us like a train, basically T-boning us," he says. "The wind came underneath the boat and finished the role."

McCarthy, Lugert, McCuen and the dog were trapped under the boat in the space created by the cockpit. McCarthy activated the EPIRB - a GPS-enabled model rented from BoatU.S. - and McCuen, the strongest swimmer, swam to the surface with the beacon, where he tied it to one of the 9.9-hp Yamaha outboards. All three were wearing life jackets, but Lugert and McCarthy had to remove theirs so they could swim beneath the boat and out of the cockpit. McCuen was able to keep his PFD on. Lugert swam out after McCuen, and then McCarthy followed.

"Every time the boat rose and sank it would let more air out and it wouldn't come back in," says McCarthy, who has been sailing offshore since he was a teen and has sailed with McCuen for 16 years. "All of a sudden [the water] was up around my chin. I knew I had to get out. I took the last breath of air and had to say goodbye to Jakey."

The three sailors tethered themselves together and to one of the outboards. They hung on for about three hours, Lugert says.

Disoriented, hypothermic and facing death, Lugert and McCarthy declared themselves married. They were rescued shortly afterward by a Coast Guard helicopter from Group/Air Station Humboldt Bay, Calif.

"We married ourselves on the back of the boat and we didn't expect to live," Lugert says. "We had only known each other for a few months. When we did that, we thought we were going to be dead in 10 minutes."

About a week later, they were legally married in Oakland, Calif., by a justice of the peace, surrounded by family members, Lugert says. They were married about eight weeks before deciding to get divorced. "We tried to work it out and it didn't work out," she says.

Renting the GPIRB, however, did work out.

Lugert says the beacon, which her father had rented for the trio the day before they departed Crescent City, saved their lives. "That was completely my dad's idea," she says. "I give him full credit for our survival. If he hadn't rented [the GPIRB], we wouldn't be here today."

Lugert says the catamaran had an EPIRB, but it was an older model.

"I had [the GPIRB] shipped overnight," says Jerry Lugert, 73, also of Alameda. "Offshore you need all the weapons you can get and then some."

The PDQ was a complete loss, destined to break up on the rocky California coast. But Kristy Lugert's brother, Jerry, says he wanted this story to have a better ending. With the help of a friend, Les Watermann, who owns a 54-foot Chris-Craft, Lugert’s brother salvaged the boat and intends to use it as a floating office and to conduct marine propulsion experiments.

"We're going to put some German electric motors in it - 10 hp," says the 43-year-old inventor.

Watermann used his 1955 Chris-Craft to tow the catamaran from just south of Albion, Calif., to Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. Lugert went along with her brother, dedicating the trip to her dog. (Two other friends of Jerry Lugert’s - Daniel Gray and Matt Bissett - served as crew aboard the catamaran.)

"My brother wanted me to find some closure to all of this," says Lugert, speaking with Soundings by phone as she steered the cat under tow and approached the Golden Gate Bridge. "That's why he cleaned the boat up and we went."

Comments (12) Comments are closed
12 Sunday, 24 October 2010 14:39
NorCal
The area that the cat capsized in is notorious for terrible conditions. Boats and crew have been lost in this area before and since. I think many of the armchair sailors being critical of these circumstances have no clue. Try looking at a chart of the area and the unpredictability of the weather. There are plenty of videos on you tube showing how merciless it can be. There are multiple currents colliding with a series of shelfs in the ocean floor, you figure out how nasty it can get.
11 Sunday, 26 September 2010 21:04
Madmax
I was always suspicious of the fact that many catamarans have an "escape hatch" just for the purpose of allowing the crew to get out if/when they turn turtle. Agree with the previous commenters on the irresponsible nature of the people planning and executing this trip, and mourn the loss of what was probably a dear pet because of their owner's stupidity.
10 Sunday, 26 September 2010 13:16
Willin'
Rogue wave on the port side heading south? How far offshore were they?
9 Saturday, 25 September 2010 00:15
Kristy Lugert
Jakey was wearing a high quality life jacket. The seas were following, not beam.
Life jackets are no good when you are trapped under a boat.

All multihulls should have escape hatches; take note cruising multi owners.

The delivery skipper was fired because he refused to take an experienced crew, amongst other things.

For you very critical armchair types, you'll probably never find out what the ocean can dish out. Jakey's loss was tragic, and I'll live with that guilt for the rest of my days. For all the dog loving sailors out there, don't give up sailing with your best friend because of my story.
8 Friday, 24 September 2010 21:09
Chuck
Gotta say it....more wanna be multihullers that really have never sailed a multihull off shore. Rogue waves sound good...I circumnavigated in a multihull, 31 feet, and half way around again and never found any "rogue waves" even after doubling the Indian Ocean a couple of times.
7 Friday, 24 September 2010 16:29
Captain Kelly
Every idiot that gets into trouble in a large beam sea gets hit with a "rouge wave". The truth is, they had no business being there. They were out less than 24 hours? No wx reporting on the left coast?
6 Friday, 24 September 2010 14:38
Tom
For toughest of weather, never have trusted catamarans. Monohulls remain the standard for toughest of weather as far as I'm concerned. Slower but safer.
5 Friday, 24 September 2010 02:44
Julie
Sooo, what about Jakey???? Gotta wonder about someone who is so self absorbed. Too bad Jakey didn't quit with the professional captain. Karma- the great equalizer, what goes around, comes around. Thanking my lucky stars she boats on the left coast.
4 Thursday, 23 September 2010 23:49
ralph wirfs
Unconscionable irresponsibility to take an innocent dog w/o PFD. And experienced sailors know those California waters can be a summer death trap.
3 Thursday, 23 September 2010 20:47
Spyder
On a broad reach, in a big beam sea, with a catamaran? Of course their lives became 50% more interesting than they needed to be.
2 Thursday, 23 September 2010 16:19
Captain Butch
Why was the delivery Captain fired. Did he refuse to go due to weather conditions and the owner felt that he was being over cautious?
1 Thursday, 23 September 2010 15:48
Joe
Wow what a story.
Good thing Dad used his wisdom on the GPIRP

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