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Mishaps & Rescues June 2012


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When a Seattle dry dock sunk this spring, the 140-foot tugboat it contained capsized with an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 gallons of diesel on board. The salvage operation took eight days. The fuel remained sealed on the tug and was later removed.

Two stories of survival against the odds

A young Panamanian hotel worker survived 28 days adrift in a small open boat in the Pacific and a Texas man survived more than 30 hours in the Gulf of Mexico after his boat sank.

Adrian Vasquez, an 18-year-old maintenance worker at a seaside hotel in Panama, accepted an offer from two friends to join them on a fishing trip to earn some extra money, according to an Associated Press report.

On March 23, Vasquez was found drifting alone off the Galapagos Islands, more than 600 miles from where the trio had set out. His two friends had died and he likely owed his survival to a sudden rainstorm, the Ecuadorean coast guard captain who helped rescue Vasquez told the press.

Vasquez and his friends were returning to Rio Hato, Panama, on Feb. 24 when the boat’s engine failed within sight of land, according to the AP. They had a jug of water on board and reportedly had caught a good haul of fish.

During their first few days adrift, the young men grilled fish on the boat, Vasquez told the AP. The fish rotted after their ice melted, so they had to survive on what they could catch with their net.

The older friend, who was 24, stopped eating and drinking after two weeks and died March 10, the AP reports. The other friend, a 16-year-old, died March 15, according to the report. Vasquez reportedly pushed both bodies into the ocean.

Out of drinking water, he was nearly dead when it rained March 19, the AP says, and he was able to collect 4 gallons. He spent the next five days eating raw fish before being spotted by a commercial fisherman working on a skiff from a mother ship.

The Panamanian’s story took a disturbing turn when news reports surfaced that bird-watching passengers on a cruise ship had spotted the small boat two weeks before the rescue and reported to ship personnel that someone on the boat was waving for help. There were three people on board the small boat at the time, the witnesses said.

The Star Princess sailed on without stopping or reporting the incident, according to news reports. (Read William Sisson’s report on the tragedy in his Under Way column, Page 14.)

In the Gulf of Mexico accident, Ken Henderson, 49, lost his best friend, Ed Coen, 48, after Henderson’s 30-foot Scarab took on water and the engines failed, according to published reports.

Henderson says he made two mayday calls on the VHF March 23 as the boat sank, but got no response, according to reports. The men were beyond cell phone range. He and Coen put on life jackets and strapped themselves together so they wouldn’t become separated. For more than 30 hours they struggled to survive and signaled for help, according to reports. When Coen became hypothermic and couldn’t kick anymore, Henderson says, he made a difficult decision. “I told him, ‘I need your help,’ or we would both be stranded out here and die,” Henderson told The Courier of Montgomery County (Texas).

He says he told Coen he would try to swim for help. He cut the strap connecting their life jackets and left his friend. He swam for miles and made it to an oil rig in the early hours of March 24. At 2:30 a.m., he used a phone on the rig to call his wife and the Coast Guard, according to the Coast Guard. He also found food and water.

Henderson was later brought ashore by the Coast Guard. At 8:45 that morning, a fisherman found Coen dead.

Sail racing tragedy

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A Sydney 38 was thrown onto rock outcroppings in the Farallon Islands off San Francisco after being slammed by large waves during the Full Crew Farallones Race on April 14. At press time one sailor was found dead, and four remained missing and were presumed dead. Seven of eight crewmembers were knocked overboard when Low Speed Chase was rolled, according to reports. The boat’s owner and one crewmember were airlifted from rocks; a third sailor, who managed to stay aboard the yacht, also was rescued. Several of the yachts participating in the annual 58-nautical-mile race turned back, mostly due to equipment failures caused by the rough conditions. Look for a report on the tragedy in the July issue of Soundings.

Waving from a capsized hull
Annapolis, Md.

The Coast Guard rescued a man from a capsized sailboat at 9 a.m. April 8 in the Severn River. A pilot aboard a bulk freighter contacted Sector Baltimore watchstanders at 8:30 a.m. after spotting the man waving from the overturned boat a mile north of the Annapolis anchorage.

Sector Baltimore dispatched a 25-foot response boat-small from Station Annapolis, which was aided in the search by two SysCom helicopters, Maryland Natural Resources Police and Anne Arundel County Fireboat 19. The Station Annapolis crew found the man and transferred him to Anne Arundel County emergency medical services. He was suffering from hypothermia and was flown by SysCom Trooper 6 helicopter to the Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center. He was reported to have been atop the boat for more than nine hours.

“We like to emphasize that boaters try to stay with their vessels if at all possible,” Lt. j.g. Salomee Fisher, Sector Baltimore command duty officer, said in a statement. “It gives the first responders a larger object to look for during their search. Also, file a float plan and give it to someone so that they can make a report as soon as you’re overdue. These things greatly aid the likelihood of being found in an emergency.”

In Our Wake

On June 28, 1877, Capt. Charles Fozzard tried to outrun a storm in his schooner, Frank E. Stone, seeking shelter in Ponce de Leon Inlet in northern Florida. The inlet had earned the nickname “Killer Inlet” for its shifting bar and erratic crosscurrents. Though the schooner lacked adequate ballast, Fozzard tried to cross the bar. The boat was thrown on her side, her masts and sails dragging. With passengers and crew clinging to the keel, the captain swam almost a mile to shore, acquired a boat and returned to rescue all but three of the passengers.

Capsized boat, 10 in water
Coast Guard Station Miami Beach, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and TowBoatUS rescued 10 people April 7 from a capsized boat 250 yards off Sea Isle Marina. Watchstanders at Sector Miami received a report of 10 people in the water clinging to a capsized 14-foot boat about 250 yards from the marina at 7:58 p.m. A Coast Guard response boat-medium crew located the boat at 8:10 p.m. and recovered four adults and three children. TowBoatUS recovered one adult and two children. All were safely transported to EMS personnel on shore with minor medical problems. The boat was towed to the marina.

Fishing vessel taking on water
Montauk, N.Y.

The fishing boat Shamrock founders off eastern Long Island.

The Coast Guard came to the aid of a fishing boat taking on water March 31 about 65 miles southeast of Montauk. Sector Long Island Sound watchstanders were notified at 10:30 a.m. by the fishing boat Ocean Pride that the Shamrock was taking on water with four people aboard.

Coast Guard rescue jet and helicopter crews from Air Station Cape Cod, Mass., were deployed, and the jet dropped two dewatering pumps just before noon and returned to the base. The helicopter remained at the scene to monitor the crew’s efforts to save the boat.

The master of the Shamrock reported that a plank in a forward compartment of the hull was damaged, causing the flooding, and that the on-board dewatering pump could not keep up with the flooding. Seas were 10 to 12 feet and winds were 10 to 20 knots, gusting to 30. The water temperature was 45 degrees, and the air temperature was 39 degrees. The crew of the Shamrock donned survival suits and a life raft was ready to deploy if conditions worsened.
They got the flooding under control with the help of three additional pumps and returned under their own power to New Bedford, Mass.

This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue.