Passage Maker - - Contents -

Jonathan Cooper

On the morn­ing of June 17, the Coast Guard Pa­cific Com­mand Cen­ter re­ceived an EPIRB sig­nal from Ke­laerin, a 46-foot sail­boat floun­der­ing in big seas 180 miles off Wash­ing­ton. Ves­sel own­ers Joy and Jim Carey were in­jured and suf­fer­ing from hy­pother­mia af­ter Ke­laerin had been dam­aged by a suc­ces­sion of waves dur­ing the night.

The Careys were ex­pe­ri­enced, veteran cruis­ers. In fact, this trans-Pa­cific voy­age from Oahu, Hawaii, to Belling­ham, Wash­ing­ton, was to be the fi­nal leg of an ad­ven­ture that had spanned 17 years and taken them more than 70,000 nau­ti­cal miles.

Ke­laerin left Hawaii on May 26 with a favorable fore­cast for the cross­ing. The pas­sage was go­ing smoothly un­til the 21st day un­der­way when a GRIB fore­cast showed a sud­den de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of con­di­tions. Joy Carey de­scribes the ex­pe­ri­ence: “Even­tu­ally we were sail­ing bare poles at al­most 5 knots down steep waves, the largest waves I had ever seen while cruis­ing. I es­ti­mated they were 30 feet. We de­cided to keep one-hour watches. … I awoke around 3:30 to a hard hit by a wave, so hard it lit­er­ally felt as though we had been hit by a train.”

The im­pact ripped the life raft off its deck mounts and took the dinghy. The wave shipped green wa­ter through the main hatch and de­stroyed nearly ev­ery­thing below deck, as well. The SSB ra­dio and elec­tric bilge pumps were in­op­er­a­ble, and the Careys weren’t sure if the hand­held VHFs were op­er­at­ing prop­erly. Ke­laerin was in bad shape, as was the crew.

Less than four hours af­ter the EPIRB was ac­ti­vated, a Coast Guard Jay­hawk heli­copter based on the Co­lum­bia River dropped a rescue swim­mer to Ke­laerin. The swim­mer grabbed a trail­ing line in the wa­ter and boarded the boat to de­ter­mine a strat­egy. The plan was clear: It was time to go.

At 180 miles from shore, the Jay­hawk had barely enough fuel for the re­turn trip. “When we dis­em­barked the ’copter, I hugged all four Coasties; Jim shook their hands,” Joy writes. “The pi­lots came around with smiles on their faces — a job well done, a suc­cess­ful rescue. Then they told me that I was pretty cool on the ra­dio, and it helped them a lot.”

Jim and Joy Carey were well-pre­pared to be at sea; af­ter all, they had set out to sail around the globe in 2001. Bad luck, how­ever, spares no one.

In read­ing Joy’s ac­count of the rescue, two things stand out. First, the EPIRB saved their lives. Sec­ond, their ex­pe­ri­ence, com­bined with the pro­fes­sion­al­ism of the Coast Guard rescue team, helped them make the cor­rect de­ci­sion to aban­don ship. Con­sid­er­ing ev­ery­thing that went wrong in such a short amount of time, and how close to the edge the Jay­hawk crew had ex­tended them­selves, any num­ber of fac­tors could have spelled peril.

With the launch of “Safety and Rescue at Sea,” a new on­line Boaters Uni­ver­sity course from re­tired rescue swim­mer Mario Vit­tone, it seems an op­por­tune mo­ment to re­mind read­ers that we can never be too pre­pared on board or too well-trained in mat­ters of safety. Whether you’re near shore or 180 miles out to sea, when Mother Na­ture lashes out, you will need to lean on ev­ery­thing you have learned to sur­vive.

Jonathan Cooper Ed­i­tor-In-Chief ed­i­tor@pas­sage­maker.com

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