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 email@example.com