Gulf Stream rescue - Part II - Soundings Online

Gulf Stream rescue - Part II

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This is the second and final part of the account of four sailboats on their way to and from Bermuda that were slammed by a powerful early-May Gulf Stream storm.

Click here to read Part I of "Gulf Stream Rescue."

This is the second and final part of the account of four sailboats on their way to and from Bermuda that were slammed by a powerful early-May Gulf Stream storm, which generated 30- to 40-foot seas. The 43-foot Hans Christian ketch Cosmos had capsized, and skipper Theodore Weber was stabilizing his 83-year-old mate, Joe Wilson, who suffered a 6-inch gash on the back of his head when the boat was knocked over. (A helicopter had arrived to assist.)

 

The Bavaria 41 At Ease, sailed by Robert Cummings and Jerry McCarthy, had fallen off an enormous wave and smashed into the trough. More trouble lay ahead. On board Thomas Tighe’s 45-foot Hardin ketch, Almeisan, three of four crewmembers were incapacitated with seasickness, but things were about to get worse.

And the mast of the 50-foot wooden schooner Eskasoni, skippered by Norman Pilkey, had crashed through a floor board and into the bilge, and its rudder and engine weren’t functioning.

Cosmos, Theodore Weber’s 43-foot Hans Christian ketch, was creeping through the 35-foot night seas at about 2 knots. But, under the glare of a helicopter’s flood lights, the rescue swimmer sent by the Navy to evacuate severely injured Joe Wilson couldn’t reach the boat. His arms drove into the swells with machine-like ferocity, but he was losing ground.

Weber ran forward, doused his storm jib and threw a life ring as the chopper hoisted the swimmer, Petty Officer 2nd Class Lee Lyons, and dropped him again, closer. Reaching the sailboat’s boarding ladder, Lyons handed his fins up to Weber and, panting, climbed aboard.

“Good job!” Weber encouraged. “My God, nice going!”

Barely able to talk, Lyons descended into the cabin and examined the injured Wilson. The 83-year-old bled profusely from injuries he had sustained nine hours earlier, when the May nor’easter had capsized Cosmos. But he was able, with help, to stand.

Running low on fuel, the helicopter radioed that they had only 25 minutes left, and together Lyons and Weber guided Wilson up the ladder to the cockpit. With Wilson — wearing jeans, a sweatshirt and two life vests — sitting on the edge of the boat with Lyons next to him, Weber gave his elder friend a shove, and in seconds the two forms harnessed together were being hoisted up through the blowing mist. Weber stood on Cosmos’ deck as the chopper, its floodlights dimming, disappeared into the night.

***

As the rescue of Joe Wilson unfolded, the situation aboard the Bavaria 41 At Ease, 200 miles to the southwest, had deteriorated. The good news earlier in the night was that the sailboat stopped short of a complete capsize when it fell off the enormous wave. Looking down into the clear sea water, first mate Jerry McCarthy saw the side of the cockpit coming back up toward him. He stepped on the rail and walked into the cockpit as At Ease righted itself. Then he hauled skipper Robert Cummings aboard over the transom.

Recognizing the hazards of continuing to lie a-hull, the men thought the best move would be to motor into the seas, but the engine wouldn’t start. When it finally jumped to life Cummings shifted into gear. Almost instantly something fouled the propeller and yanked the engine to a halt. In 40-foot seas and 60-knot winds, the sailors decided it was too dangerous to remain on deck.

Down in the cabin, they found everything turned upside down. Moreover, there was a substantial amount of water inside the boat. They found that a small hatch — less than 1 by 2 feet — in the cockpit coaming above the port quarter berth had blown out when the boat fell on its side, and water was washing in. McCarthy grabbed a piece of plywood from the saloon couch and covered the hatch, while Cummings used a boat hook to jam the plywood in place.

Now the men realized At Ease was listing to port and that some wiring, submerged in sea water, was beginning to smoke. Cummings disconnected the wiring, and they turned their attention to bailing. At Ease is a shallow-bilge boat, and the bilge pump is on the centerline. But water had collected on the port side, lower than the bilge, making the pump useless.

The men had been working around the cabin for about 45 minutes when they decided to give the Coast Guard a situation report. The result was a one-hour communications check. They didn’t want to give up on the boat, although they began over the next few hours to realize that at some point there might be no alternative. This was the topic of conversation at 9:30 p.m. Friday, May 6, when they decided to try to get some sleep. During the night they napped and repaired their patch on the quarter berth hatch, and bailed when there was nothing else to do.

Both men were asleep at 5:30 Saturday morning, May 7, when At Ease was capsized by another big wave. This one carried away the companionway board and sent water flooding into the cabin. With two openings in the boat, McCarthy activated his emergency locator transmitter — Cummings had one, too — and Cummings made a mayday call on the VHF radio. The call was relayed to the Coast Guard by a nearby ship.

***

Petty Officer Matt Doscher had come on duty at the Coast Guard search-and-rescue Command Center in Portsmouth, Va., at 6 o’clock that Saturday morning. When the mayday was relayed to him by both Group Fort Macon (N.C.) and Group Hatteras (N.C.), he and watch mate Lt. Libby Pruitt decided to launch a C-130 aircraft and a helicopter.

Lt. Andy Barrow had duty that weekend as a helicopter co-pilot. He was awakened in his Station Elizabeth City (N.C.) bunk when the warbling alarm was sounded for the C-130 launch; 30 minutes later, he was dressed and in his chopper with pilot Lt. Cdr. Dan Molthen, flight mechanic AMT2 Randy Swanz, and rescue swimmer AST3 Jeremiah Loser, taking off at the same time as the C-130.

When they reached At Ease, about 35 miles off Cape Lookout, N.C., the weather had cleared, but winds were still 35 knots and seas 25 feet, with larger swells. Hovering at 100 feet, they could see the 41-foot boat bobbing like a toy, with a Lifesling streaming behind on its tether. Loser clipped onto the chopper’s cable and soon was swimming up to the sailboat’s ladder. But the movement of the boat in the steep, high waves prevented him from boarding. One wave would yank him out of the water, dangling from the bottom rung, and the next would dunk him. Hanging onto the Lifesling tether, he urged McCarthy to jump in.

Moments later and with McCarthy in the chopper, Loser, who had let go of the line, was too far from At Ease to swim back. He was hoisted from the water and deposited upwind of the boat. Drifting back and swimming, Loser got Cummings into the water and hoisted aboard the chopper. By now, Loser had been riding big waves for 18 minutes. He had swallowed too much sea water and was vomiting in the ocean. On board the chopper, Swanz saw the problem and lowered the cable with a bare hook to yank the swimmer to safety.

***

By this time Chris Ferrer, who had been terribly seasick aboard Almeisan, was feeling much better, despite the fact that the wind now was blowing 35 knots and seas were building as the 45-foot Hardin ketch approached the warmer water of the Gulf Stream. Almeisan was sailing southeast into a southerly wind — not its best point of sail — under the “fisherman,” or staysail, and the mizzen.

In the early afternoon, Ferrer tried to come about, but the boat did just as poorly on a port tack. Ferrer noticed that the fisherman’s luff was scalloped, and skipper Thomas Tighe discovered that the head of the sail had ripped out. Given the building seas and the boat’s difficulty sailing to windward, the captain decided to douse all sails and lie a-hull until the wind shifted and blew from astern. This choice would decide Almeisan’s fate, although for the moment she took on a comfortable motion, drifting at 2.2 knots about 300 miles from Bermuda in 75-degree water.

***

Opinions among experts and seasoned sailors vary concerning the practice of lying a-hull, the same technique that At Ease had employed about 18 hours earlier. In the fourth edition of K. Adlard Coles’ “Heavy Weather Sailing” revised by Peter Bruce, the author notes that “the ease with which types of yacht will lie a-hull is variable. … The problem, of course, is that the boat is vulnerable to breaking waves from broadside-on, and to paraphrase Andrew Claughton in Chapter 32, ‘Breaking waves do not have to be very big to roll any sort of small craft right over, whatever her hull features.’ ”

Marine expert Claughton, in fact, states that any boat can be capsized by a breaking wave that is 60 percent of the boat’s length. By this calculation, it would have taken a 24-foot breaking wave to roll At Ease.

Veteran offshore cruiser Steve Dashew, co-author with his wife, Linda, of “Surviving the Storm, Coastal and Offshore Tactics” (1999, Beowulf Inc.), is much more blunt in his assessment of lying a-hull. Asked when the practice is appropriate storm management, he replies: “Never!”

Dashew says it is always better to have the ends of a boat pointing into the waves. In his book, he writes: “The majority of people who lie a-hull in breaking seas end up capsized.”

And world cruisers Lin and Larry Pardey in their “Storm Tactics Handbook” (1995, Pardey Books) also quote Andrew Claughton, as he notes that a boat that would be capsized by a breaking wave would survive it if — perhaps with the help of a sea anchor — it did not present its beam directly to the wave but pointed into the sea.

***

On board Almeisan, Tighe prepared a dinner of macaroni and cheese with some ham, which he served at about 4 p.m. Saturday. Dinner was over and everyone was in the cockpit when the ketch was boarded by a wave that tore into the canvas and vinyl cockpit enclosure, ripping out the port side curtain. The companionway slider was open and the drop boards removed, and a substantial amount of the wave made it into the cabin through these openings and through hatches that were part of the cockpit seats, which open directly into the galley and a berth below and weren’t dogged. The crew, startled to see so much water in the cabin, dogged the seats shut and began mopping up. Tighe admitted that he had never had a problem leaving the companionway open at sea.

Ferrer, a computer specialist for an insurance company, began his watch at 7 o’clock that evening inside the repaired cockpit enclosure with crew mate Ronald Burd, a retired engineer. The wind began backing around and was coming from the west at 11 p.m., when the watch ended and Lochlin Reidy came on deck for the first time in more than a day because of seasickness.

Ferrer was feeling so much better that he decided to keep Reidy company during the dark hours. Out beyond the protection of the cockpit enclosures, an occasional wave slapped Almeisan’s side like a cowboy swatting his horse’s flank. At one point, the wind reached 47.7 knots on the instrument, and it was steadily blowing between 35 and 45 knots. At 2:30 a.m. Sunday, May 8, Kathy Gilchrist came up from her cabin and Ferrer went below to a bunk under the pilothouse windows.

Gilchrist, a legal secretary, had set an alarm clock so she wouldn’t miss her 3 a.m. watch. She brushed her teeth and climbed up to keep Reidy company, clipping her tether to a padeye in the cockpit. Reidy, also a retired engineer, seemed to be over his seasickness. He was his jolly self, which made her happy. Earlier in the trip, he had told her that the burgers in Bermuda weren’t fit to eat. Now he told her he was changing his order; when they landed he was going to get a double cheeseburger.

Tighe appeared in the companionway at about 3:10, the glow of the cabin’s red night lights behind him, to ask whether Reidy had made an earlier log entry. Reidy was in the midst of explaining that he was unable to find the logbook for the midnight entry when the big wave struck.

In an instant, Reidy found himself in the warm water of the Gulf Stream with Almeisan upside down above him, her mast pointing straight for the ocean floor. He calmed himself and waited, and the boat began to right. Reidy was still clipped on in the cockpit when the boat came up, and so was Tighe. But Gilchrist was hanging over the side, clutching desperately to a stanchion.

Disorientation reigned below.

Burd had been in a starboard bunk when he’d heard a double bang. The boat had righted itself by the time he’d got up and turned on a light. He found water throughout the cabins, knee-deep in the forward and aft cabins, and right up to the raised saloon. There was debris everywhere, and most of the cabin doors were off. Still in his pajamas, he walked across the saloon and climbed the companionway. There was a lot of shouting up in the cockpit.

Ferrer, who had fallen asleep on the saloon settee, heard the same bang, and found himself under water and beneath a lot of debris and a blanket. Confused, he tried to calm himself and watch in the red light which way the bubbles were going. Clawing his way to the surface, he heard Tighe yelling for someone to start the engine. He reached a control panel in the galley and flipped a switch, but nothing happened. Then he heard Reidy yelling for him and Burd to come on deck.

Ferrer, who at this point didn’t understand Almeisan had capsized, found his harness with its attached life vest already inflated and struggled to put it on. Climbing to the deck in his harness, T-shirt and pajama bottoms, he found a surreal scene. The hardtop over the cockpit was cracked, the cockpit curtains shredded. And Tighe and Reidy were bent over the side, holding Gilchrist — who was clinging to a starboard stanchion — but were unable to haul her on deck. She was in foul-weather pants and sea boots, which had filled with water. She had her inflatable harness on but no foul-weather jacket, only a sweater. All the weight was too much for her to clamber on board herself.

Ferrer clipped on then helped lift Gilchrist up over the rail. She wasted no time leaving the cockpit, but what she found below was of little comfort: a cabin door floating in sloshing sea water and shattered glass everywhere. Looking up, she could see that one of Almeisan’s big forward-facing windows — about 2 by 5 feet — was gone, and the ocean was freely washing in through the opening.

When Tighe saw the same sight, he announced it was time to go. If the boat was not yet sinking, that huge opening forward suggested to him it was only a matter of time. He activated an EPIRB and gave it to Gilchrist to hold. Then he turned on the deck lights on the mizzen mast.

***

The Coast Guard in Boston at 3:39 a.m. was first to get the EPIRB signal, but it came with no position attached. Boston called the registered phone number for the EPIRB, and a woman gave Almeisan’s position as of 8 o’clock Saturday night. The location was on the border between District 1, which includes Boston, and District 5, which includes Portsmouth. Lt. F. Bruno Baltazar was a watchstander on duty in the Portsmouth Command Center. He quickly calculated that given the drift of sailboats, Almeisan should have been within 24 miles of its last known location, and he put out an alert to all mariners to be on the lookout. He soon was talking with the captain of a ship 90 miles away who said he would turn toward Almeisan. But it would take a while; in 20-foot seas and 40-knot winds, the ship was doing only 5 knots.

Baltazar and his watch mate next called Air Station Elizabeth City and launched a C-130. In the meantime, three more ships at sea were diverted.

***

In the minutes that followed the capsize of Almeisan, Tighe had shoved the ketch’s life raft over the side. It inflated, but in 50-knot winds it blew to the end of its tether like a kite. Reidy and the others began trying to haul the raft back. The tether cut their hands, so they tried winching. Finally, they brought the raft alongside Almeisan, but they needed a better tether. Reidy had an idea: He would unclip his tether and dive headfirst through the door in the life raft canopy. Then someone could hand him a decent line that he could attach inside the raft.

With that, he unclipped and dove. Gilchrist was in the companionway with the EPIRB; the three men on deck were clipped on and leaning over the port rail, watching Reidy get into the raft. They never saw the wave behind them. In an instant, Burd, who had been beside Ferrer, was dangling by his tether in the water beside Almeisan. When Ferrer looked up, he was surprised to see Tighe in the water 30 yards away and the life raft 30 yards beyond him. He could not see Reidy. And under bare poles, Almeisan was sailing away from the captain and the raft.

Now Burd was calling for help. Ferrer unclipped one of his two tethers and reclipped closer to Burd, whom he dragged aboard. When he looked back, he could no longer see Tighe or the raft. With no sails or engine, there was no way to turn the boat around and look for the two men overboard.

***

A C-130, launched from Elizabeth City in response to the EPIRB transmission, made radio contact with the survivors on Almeisan at 8 o’clock Sunday morning. At 8:54 a.m., when a Jayhawk helicopter was launched from the same station, the Coast Guard was aware that Tighe and Reidy were missing and that the survivors were bailing as best they could but wanted to be rescued. Merchant ships in the area of Almeisan had been contacted. The Bahamian-flagged Castillo du Butron, the Norwegian ship Front Brabant, and the Sakura Express from Panama all were steaming toward the sailboat. Almeisan was 475 nautical miles east of Elizabeth City, well beyond the range of a Jayhawk. But the Coast Guard knew the USS Trenton, an amphibious transport, dock was 170 miles east of Elizabeth City. Lt. Eric Bader, 33, aimed his Jayhawk toward the Trenton for refueling.

***

Help first arrived above Almeisan in the form of a C-130. The plane’s crew talked with Ferrer by radio and told him they would drop supplies: a life raft and pumps. The aim was good, but the pumps and raft bounced off the rocking sailboat’s deck before anyone could retrieve them. By now Gilchrist, Burd and Ferrer knew that the Sakura Express was nearby, and no one was panicking. If the air drops didn’t work, the ship surely would save them.

It was 4:30 p.m. when the ship arrived. Looking up from Almeisan, the crew saw a floating city. Sakura’s captain told Burd on the radio that a line would be dropped. Ferrer went on deck, and when the ship’s crew threw him a line he tied it to the windlass. The motion of the ship now yanked Almeisan bow-first toward the ship, snapping the sailboat’s bowsprit like a twig. The teak toe rail splintered, and the deck and hull joint started to separate when Almeisan’s side slammed against the ship, and the mizzen mast lost a spreader. As the 30- and 40-foot waves passed Sakura, Almeisan rose to deck level one moment and then fell to the ship’s waterline.

Seeing the violence below, Sakura’s crew dropped their end of the line and withdrew about a mile, far enough that in the enormous seas the Almeisan crew was unable to see the huge orange ship. Soon the Navy ship Seay arrived and threw a line to the sailboat, which began drifting back along its side. The ship was discharging water, and Ferrer, on deck, thought nothing of it until Almeisan reached the torrent and the sailboat began taking on water. He threw off the ship’s line and the sailboat slid back along the ship’s side until it was under its stern, which had been raised by a wave. When the stern settled, it came down on Almeisan, crushing what was left of the hardtop and almost submerging the entire boat. But Almeisan squirted free, and Ferrer went below.

“Hey, guys, that’s scary,” he told Burd and Gilchrist. Burd had been on the radio the whole time, and the crew now knew that a helicopter was only 15 minutes away.

***

The Jayhawk had spent five hours on the USS Trenton as the ship steamed closer to Almeisan. When their calculations showed they had enough fuel to reach the survivors, pick them up and get to land, the crew from Elizabeth City took off.

Expecting winds of 30 to 40 knots and 15- to 20-foot seas, the crew found they were dealing with winds of more than 50 knots and seas 30 to 40 feet. Flying under a 200-foot cloud ceiling, they soon discovered that their navigational computer had failed, so pilot Bader flew by the magnetic compass while co-pilot Audie Andrey fixed the computer.

Arriving on the scene, they saw the Seay and the Sakura but couldn’t spot Almeisan. It was simply lost behind the huge waves. When they did locate the sailboat, they could see one mast was broken and the other swinging wildly as the boat moved around. They moved in, and normally the pilot would have used the Jayhawk’s “altitude-hold” function to hover. But altitude-hold was useless with the big waves, since the function would have had the chopper hopping up and down 30 and 40 feet. So Bader flew manually, and Andrey called out when a particularly large wave approached so the pilot could jump the chopper over it.

Fuel was running low on the Jayhawk, and the crew knew they needed a quick rescue. Flight mechanic James Geramita lowered rescue swimmer A.J. Thompson on a cable as Bader flew toward Almeisan. When Thompson was in the water, Geramita retrieved the cable, then lowered the floating rescue basket. A wave lifted the basket, the cable went slack, and it caught on the side of the helicopter. Geramita, wearing a harness, braved the wind and climbed out on the side of the chopper to free the cable. Andrey looked down now and saw the first survivor in the water with the swimmer, both of them drifting away from Almeisan. Soon, Geramita was hauling the swimmer, victim and basket aboard.

Bader and Andrey were making constant fuel calculations, and they knew they could stay on scene only five minutes more when they sent the cable down for the third time. It was 6:15 p.m., and there was still an hour of light left. But if the hoist failed, they would have to leave the swimmer and the victim in the water and head for land.

***

It had been 14 hours since Almeisan, lying a-hull, capsized — and only slightly less since skipper Tighe was slammed by a wall of water that ripped his tether loose from where he had clipped it. The same big wave had tipped the life raft upside down, dumping Reidy into the ocean, and had torn the raft’s tether from the rail to which it was tied. Reidy heard Tighe’s voice in the early morning darkness and swam toward him. They both were wearing Type 1 life vests — not inflatables — with strobe lights, as well as harnesses, so they hooked themselves together and took stock, rising and falling 30 or 40 feet at a time. The raft had blown far away, and Almeisan, its mizzen spreader light glowing, was being driven away by wind and waves. They couldn’t reach it.

“Well, this is just the way it is in my seminars,” Tighe said to Reidy, referring to a point when he would impress on his audience the vision they would see if they went overboard at night: the boat moving away from them, its lights on, and little chance of rescue.

The two men calculated how long it would take the Coast Guard to respond to the EPIRB that had been activated on Almeisan just before the sailors wound up in the water. It was about 3:45 a.m., and the men guessed that the rescuers likely would reach the ketch about 8 a.m.

As it turned out, that is about the time they saw a C-130. In the frothing white ocean, they waved their arms, but the plane banked away from them. They had gathered some ditch bags that washed off Almeisan, the straps looped around their necks. They were getting dunked once or twice a minute. The life vests were doing their jobs, keeping their heads back and feet up. But in these seas, the buoyancy caused their feet to point into the oncoming waves, leaving their faces vulnerable. Reidy managed to keep turning his back to the waves, but Tighe tired and after a while had difficulty communicating. About 11 a.m., Reidy saw the skipper holding his chest, and then watched as Tighe died. The first mate attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but unsuccessfully. He vowed to keep himself alive so he could return Tighe’s body to his family.

***

The third hoist brought Thompson, the swimmer, and Burd into the Jayhawk. Bader turned the chopper north toward Nantucket, the closest land that didn’t require flying upwind into what had become westerlies. It would be a long flight, most of it after dark and very close to the tops of the waves.

Nantucket was 270 miles away, and shortly into the flight the winds shifted, coming more from the north. The chopper’s progress slowed by 5 knots, eating into what already was a marginal fuel supply. Bader and Andrey recalculated and knew there was little gas left. Then darkness fell, and flying at 300 feet with night vision goggles, the pilots were unable to see the water. They had radar and an altimeter to keep them safe for the last hour.

Finally, Nantucket appeared on the radar screen about 50 miles ahead. Ten miles out, Andrey activated the landing lights at the unmanned airport. They were a mile from the field when they first saw the glow of the lights. The chopper set down at 10:15 p.m. with 20 minutes of fuel remaining.

***

At dusk, Lochlin Reidy began to wonder how the hell he was going to make it through the night. He still had Tighe’s body strapped to his, and he still rode on enormous seas. When he would reach the top of a wave, he would attempt to spin around, scanning the dark for lights. He held his strobe light above his head so it would flash in a complete arc. Oddly, there was some natural light — luminescence that flashed across the water when waves broke around him, playing tricks on his eyes.

The skipper of the Seay had become the on-scene commander of the search for the two missing sailors when the Jayhawk flew Almeisan’s survivors to Nantucket. At 2 a.m., Capt. Thomas Madden had told the Sakura Express to search a specific area of ocean. At first, the search was fruitless, so Madden asked the Sakura to tighten its grid. Soon, crewmembers on the ship saw Reidy’s strobe and reported it to Madden, who called in a nearby C-130, which dropped a beacon. The aircraft crew spotted Reidy with Tighe’s body but then lost sight of them.

When the C-130 flew over Reidy, he felt the wind move. He swam harder, and within minutes he was beside the ship.

“Captain! Captain! Captain!” he called out.

A voice replied, and a light shined down from the ship. Then flares rained down from the C-130, and Reidy decided to conserve his energy, knowing he would be rescued. He drifted back along the starboard side and then swam around the stern and up the port side of Sakura Express, alternately pushing or pulling Tighe’s body. But there was no more contact from the ship’s crew, and when he heard a whine near the bow, he thought of bow thrusters and swam away from the ship.

The flares stopped dropping, the strobe had quit, and time passed slowly as three big waves rolled him one after another. When he surfaced from the last, the Sakura, which had been lit like a busy city, was dark. Was it turning away? Reidy swam as hard as he could and reached the ship’s side. In the dark, someone threw a life ring, and a voice called down, asking about Tighe.

“He’s dead,” Reidy replied. He let the body go, and at 3:40 a.m. he climbed into a cargo net that had been lowered.

The radios in the Portsmouth control room had kept the watchstanders updated. When he heard that Reidy was aboard Sakura, Bruno Baltazar leapt from his seat and high-fived his watch mate, and everyone in the room cheered.

***

Thomas Tighe’s body was recovered two hours later, and the Sakura steamed toward Boston in settling seas. This left only the 50-foot wooden schooner Eskasoni still unaccounted for.

The oldest boat in the storm had been blown southeast to a point about 500 miles east of Charleston before Norman Pilkey and his crew got turned around. Without their satellite phone, they had only their VHF radio, on which they heard a Coast Guard broadcast asking mariners to be on the lookout for the schooner. Pilkey replied, and when a ship intercepted his call he said he was sailing for Beaufort, N.C. Worried that a shift in the weather could cause them to blow too close to Cape Hatteras, Pilkey steered a more northerly course for Chesapeake Bay.

Hearing nothing from Eskasoni, the Coast Guard eventually began searching marinas to no avail. “Once the Coast Guard is alerted, we will search it out like a hound dog until either Coast Guard resources are on scene … or we hear word that they have tied up safe,” says watchstander Geoff Pagels. “We finally heard that they had pulled into Norfolk.”

The event was over. Rescue crews had been impressed with the seamanship of all of the sailors. In every case, much had been done correctly, from the use of harnesses and tethers to calm behavior in trying circumstances, Coast Guard members reported.

Days after the episode, Robert Cummings was looking for a new boat to replace At Ease. Lochlin Reidy was pondering a future trans-Atlantic trip, although his family would hear nothing of it. Theodore Weber had brought Cosmos home single-handed and had returned to Bermuda to help another captain bring a sailboat to Annapolis, Md. And yet the ocean had taken its toll. Joe Wilson, the least experienced among the 13 sailors caught by the storm, was fighting for his life in a New Jersey hospital after surgery for crushed vertebrae in his neck, and a subsequent operation to relieve pressure in his skull. And Thomas Tighe, the most seasoned of the sailors caught in the storm at sea, was buried ashore.

Click here to read Part I of "Gulf Stream Rescue."