The Coast Guard rescued a millionaire Pinterest investor, his son and three crewmembers after his $2.5 million Gunboat’s mast broke in heavy winds and high seas.
The rescue was made Friday afternoon about 200 miles off North Carolina, the Coast Guard said.
Video footage captured by the Associated Press shows the five being hoisted to a Coast Guard helicopter.
Brian Cohen, who was one of Pinterest’s early investors, and his son Max were among those rescued from the 55-foot catamaran, called The Rainmaker, Gunboat founder Peter Johnstone told Soundings.
“They were very much sailing the boat exactly as we would recommend, with the board up and under terrific sail,” Johnstone said. “This weather event that hit them didn’t look any different from the prior handful of squalls they’d been through that morning, so the crew didn’t think there was anything different to do. But when this squall hit, it was a wall of wind and water and lightning.”
The crew described it as a “complete whiteout,” Johnstone said.
“The boat accelerated dramatically, and as they’re reaching sail, they hear a loud crack and the rig came down,” Johnstone said. “They were in really confused seas.”
Two of the three crewmembers have 20,000 to 30,000 miles apiece aboard Gunboats. “I trust those guys,” Johnstone said. “They knew the boat. They were confident about how she was handling.
“Buoy reports show waves were 12 to 14 feet, but if that’s an average, you’re going to have outlying waves twice that size,” Johnstone said. “If you throw in a microburst, you’ve got a recipe for shock-loading the boat well beyond what anyone would have imagined.”
A news report saying the boat “malfunctioned” doesn’t characterize the accident correctly, Johnstone said. The microburst caught the crew off guard, and there was no time to get the sails down.
“We double-check the engineering before delivering a boat and every aspect of it. I’ve got total confidence in the boat,” Johnstone said. “I’m actually just grateful it didn’t go over.”
The crew cut away the rig, and the boat had full fuel tanks, but there were sheets fouling the propeller.
“Nobody wanted to dive on the props, and they weren’t certain they could get out before this next swell explodes on it tonight,” Johnstone said on Sunday. “The boat can certainly handle what’s thrown at it.”
A nearby freighter tried coming to the rescue but wound up “impacting them quite severely and repeatedly,” Johnstone said. At that point the crew called off the rescue so that The Rainmaker, which was profiled along with Cohen in a September Forbes article, wouldn’t be irreparably damaged.
Petty Officer 1st Class Allen Facenda, an operations specialist in Portsmouth, said Friday’s incident was challenging because of the distance from shore and the conditions.
“The crew we rescued had a registered and up-to-date emergency position indicating radio beacon that told us their exact position,” Facenda said in a statement. “All five people were wearing life jackets and were prepared to abandon their vessel in a life raft. We were happy to get there before that became necessary.”
The Rainmaker remains at sea, and a tuna boat planned to retrieve it Monday, Johnstone said. One of the top builders at Gunboat is accompanying the boat to help prevent damage if it winds up being towed. Johnstone acknowledged that maritime salvage law could mean that the boat will become tied up in litigation, but he hopes all parties are “behaved well.”
“He’s going for salvage,” Johnstone said. “We’ve been allowed on the boat with the understanding that it’s a salvage operation.”
“We’re going to do everything we can to get this boat back to 100 percent as soon as we can and get the owner back in the saddle.”