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Rented EPIRB brings ocean rescue — twice

Three Maryland men homeward bound from the Annapolis-to-Bermuda race in late June abandoned their storm-battered Canadian Sailcraft CS-30 sloop and were rescued by the Coast Guard about 100 miles off Cape Hatteras.

Bob Seay, 43, owner of The Perfect Day, was pulled from the sea in a helicopter rescue basket along with fellow crewmembers Bruce Serinis, 53, and Brad Howard, 41, all of Severna Park.

In a first-person account of the harrowing ordeal in SpinSheet — a free monthly Chesapeake Bay sailing magazine based in Annapolis, Md. — Seay said he “had spent the previous year transforming the boat from a Bay cruiser to a bluewater racer with a new engine, new sails, new hatches and rigging.”

Seay vowed he would never go offshore in a 30-foot boat again unless the boat was built for an offshore passage. He has since purchased an Olson 30 for racing on the Bay.

Their troubles began before they got out of Chesapeake Bay in the biannual race to the Onion Patch when they pulled into Little Creek, Va., to repair a persistent leak in the foredeck region. After clearing the Bay, they returned to Norfolk to repair a leak in the fuel tank.

The crew of five finally arrived in Bermuda on June 18 and was awarded the Cook’s Trophy for coming in last. A reduced crew of three departed June 23 for the trip home.

Good weather was predicted, but four days into the voyage the wind began building to 30 to 35 knots with 15-foot seas. “The boat was taking a pounding,” Seay wrote. “The mast chocks [repeatedly] fell out and the mast started pumping wildly. I feared we were going to lose the rig and I tried to get the wedges back in place.”

A deck to hull joint forward, perhaps the problem they repaired in Little Creek, had apparently separated and they were taking on water but, for the time being, they managed to keep ahead of it.

“We had secured the life raft on deck when the engine decided to start sputtering and kept shutting off,” he continued. “With only a small headsail, damaged rig, and no engine, we were in trouble.”

They set off their 406 EPIRB, a loaner from a BoatU.S. program that makes the emergency beacons available for $50 a week.

When the Coast Guard arrived the first time, the wind and seas had diminished and the engine was running. The weather forecast looked good so they declined to be taken off the boat and decided to head for Norfolk under power.

A Romanian tanker, Gulf Grace, was diverted for assistance, and provided fuel and supplies.

But the weather turned bad again. “The wind clocked to the northwest and all hell broke loose,” Seay wrote.

“The seas built to 20-plus feet and the wind was 40 to 45. The waves were steep as hell, and we would climb each one close on the wind at just about full throttle, and then at the top just crack off a hair to get an extra push from the trysail.

“Once we got through the top, nearly broaching a couple of times, the boat would shoot out the back and freefall into the trough. The mast repair job did not last long, and the mast started pumping again.”

Seay writes: “I loved my boat and think that CSes are well built, but she was starting to struggle under the strain. She was moaning and creaking like I’d never heard before, and the water was coming in though numerous leaks. I was wondering if the bulkheads were separating from the hull.”

The three men agreed to call the Coast Guard Atlantic Area Command Center in Portsmouth, Va., by satellite phone and set off the EPIRB again. According to Seay, the officer on duty said, “Hello Perfect Day. Are you ready for us to come get you?”

A C-130 from the Coast Guard Air Station in Elizabeth City, N.C., followed by a rescue helicopter, arrived on the scene in pitch black darkness. A rescue swimmer was lowered off the stern of the boat and yelled to the men to jump in, one at a time.

“I lashed the EPIRB to the binnacle and left it on, hoping it would help me get my boat back,” writes Seay. Before he went over the stern, he also lowered his swim ladder to help him get back on board when he returned.

Two days later, Henry Morgan in his J/42, Dolphin, spotted the abandoned Perfect Day and sent a man in the water to board her. They considered trying to put some men in her and getting her to Norfolk but decided against it. They radioed the boat’s position to the Coast Guard.

The sailboat, left on its own, survived for weeks until it finally went on the rocks in August and was wrecked at Sambro Island Light, off Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Seay’s insurance company was not interested in attempting to salvage her due to her age and value, Seay reported.