Loss Of The Sailing Vessel J/World – Part 4

Part IV

Barry scrambled to get inside the liferaft so we helped push him in… and right into all the water inside it. He didn’t expect to be swimming inside the raft as well. I decided to get in, as I knew I was able to lift myself in. Slight moment of disorientation as you enter and go back underwater, but when my head popped up, I was good. It felt like the bottom was being pulled down (because of the weight of the water) so I asked everybody to check lines around and make sure we weren’t still attached to the boat. Barry said something like we needed to get the water out of the raft before anybody could come in and I said, no way, everybody comes in and then we bail. I told Judy to come in next and asked Mark to help push her in. I told her hold her breath, we are sitting in water. She came in and sat in the back. I saw a bottle of dish liquid soap float by so I asked Mark to grab it. I tossed it inside the raft. I asked again Mark and Ray to go around the liferaft and check to make sure nothing is pulling down but told them to not under any circumstances to let go of the raft. Mark came in first then Ray.

First was to get all the water out. Ray used his hat as I started bailing with my baseball hat. Barry emptied his bag and started using that. I made Judy make a mayday call. She was repeating the lat and lon and going from 16 to 69. I said to wait a bit for people to answer. Still Nothing! I heard the EPIRB beep, so Barry said to keep the antenna up and towards the opening, Judy grabbed it and did so as it was floating inside the raft. I took the piece of paper with lat and long for her to look at it, although I had made them memorize it in the cockpit when I came back up. (29’18.4N and 116’39.W) I explained to her what to say slowly articulate and wait before repeating or changing channels.

My hand was hurting but I kept on bailing, this time I took my shoe and used it as a cup. It seemed to work better. Barry did another VHF call from his radio. I said it would be best if we conserved the batteries and only do radio calls every ½ hr or so. I said that we were still far out and that eventually all the boats from the Baja Ha-Ha rally that had stopped at Sin Quintin would make it down and would be able to hear us. I took one of the paddles and turned the raft around as waves and wind were crashing inside. Barry and Ray were still bailing with the bag together. One had the bottom and one the top. The water was slowly coming down. I could now see part of the wall.

Now the wind was pushing the roof and the raft in the right direction. The waves were pushing us towards shore. Ray got tired, then Mark took over for Ray and Ray sat in the back and became silent. He said he had to remember to breathe. I kept trying to be uplifting and tell jokes and explain how things were going to be. I explained how the EPIRB worked, that the USCG was already on the phone with Wayne, and his parents were also on the contact list. I assured them that he would confirm our position, and that they were already probably on their way. I said that all the Ha-Ha boats were on their way down and that soon we’ll see some and/or have radio contact. I explained that the seas and the winds were in our favor and pushing towards land. I kept asking everyone one by one if they were ok. I told Judy that I would take care of her and bring her home; I told them I was the captain and I was going to take them all home safely. I was trying to keep the morale up. I told Judy to pray, to pray to god. She did another mayday call. I did one in Spanish again and in English and again on 69. I saw 2 things float by: my baby powder bottle, and my Sarachi hot sauce. Some waves were crashing on top of the raft and water was coming in thru the little fresh water collection drain tube. Barry and Ray got seasick.

After a good two hours of bailing water out, we were now sitting in little puddles. We could see what we had and I decided to inventory what we had and see what the next step was. The line from the sea anchor, the line from the EPIRB, the lines from the spare caps in the liferaft, the line that was used to pull the raft and inflate it, the line that’s attached to a doughnut that you throw over at someone and another white line were all tangled. Mark and I untangled the lines and put things away. Ray was quiet, but ok. I emptied the dish soap in the ocean and gave the bottle to Judy so she could continue bailing some water. I gave Ray my shoe so he could continue on his side. They would pass it to me and I would toss it over board. I had to pee, so I took my lifejacket and my top off. I took my foulies pants down, and while Barry and Mark were holding my legs I stuck my butt over board. I sat there very comfortably. I had to put everything back on. Wet and cold, we were all shivering.

I decided to inventory and check out what we had in the life raft’s emergency bag. There was a list of everything in it. I made Ray open it and pass me everything one by one. I would read it, and then I would explain what everything was. We put the water emergency rations in the waterproof bag. I put all the flares, repair kit etc in the original plastic bag. The raft felt really unstable and we tried not to move too much. I took the flares and showed everybody which kinds and how they worked. I took the ‘how to survive in a liferaft guide’ and started reading. I asked everybody to pay attention. It said a bunch of stuff, but basically, first pump out water, second set sea anchor, third pump floor etc. etc. It explained how we should not eat or drink for the first 24hrs. We had no food, but I told everyone that we now had to start to mentally prepare ourselves for a 3-day stay. I said we weren’t going to drink anything, expect right now everybody could get a cap full of water with a Dramamine; I didn’t want anybody else seasick. Barry and Ray vomited theirs back out. Barry turned on his GPS and according to the new longitude I reassured everyone saying we were heading towards shore and in the right direction. I took the blue pump from the bag and asked Mark to pump the floor up. I had seen the valve on the left corner, and I asked everyone to check around themselves to see if there was not another. It was the only one. He unscrewed the top and as no air was coming out and attached the fitting and started pumping. I heard Ray say, “I hear something.” I heard this deep engine roar, like a big ship far away. I lifted my body out the opening and looked out; straight out west was a chopper.

I immediately recognized the US Coast Guard colors. It was orange with that white stripe. I yelled it’s the coast guard, it’s the US coat guard helicopter. They’re here for us. I don’t think they believed me because nobody said anything. I said flare, flare, lets send a flare. Judy didn’t want to waste one because it was daylight. They were abeam of us and if that flare didn’t go fast they would pass us. I grabbed it, Barry held me on to my waist and I unscrewed the bottom, held on the ridged part and pulled the string. It immediately shot out. I aimed it right at them, high up. It went straight up and as its making its way down it becomes red. The helicopter kept going, I couldn’t believe it. I then yelled radio, radio them. Barry got on and said something like helicopter or USCG this is JWorld. They immediately responded: “Vessel hailing USCG helicopter, come in.” I can’t remember what Barry said but they asked for our position so Barry checked on his GPS, and while he did so I got on with my VHF and said we are not in a boat we are in a liferaft, I repeat we are in a liferaft and you just passed us, you just passed us, please turn around. I really think it slowed down and I saw it make a big u-turn. They said something and I saw them come right at us. I said you are heading right for us; you are heading right for us. I heard him say affirmative we have a visual, we see you. I looked down at everybody in the raft and said we are saved, they are here and they see us.

I got on the radio and said that we had 5 people onboard, all in lifejackets and that we were all well. They said to stand by and they would assess the situation. It came right next to us, and I told everyone we were going to ok. I kneeled down and breathed a sigh of relief. They said they were going to send a diver down and that he would give us direction on how he would take us one by one into the basket. I saw the diver sit on the opening with his flippers on and as they were lowering him down I told everybody one by one to have a look.

Wayne here… so that is Eugenie’s account. At about that moment, USCG’s Kevin Sullivan, the Command Duty Officer in the USCG District Eleven Command Center, called me and told me that the helicopter was lifting five people out of a liferaft. Everyone was ok.

Small world: here’s a shot of our trusty blue boat in better days… this was in the 2008 Rolex Big Boat Series, on the way to a final position of third overall. See that guy up front, running the tack of the spinnaker out for a set? That is LT Kevin Sullivan up there.

Made the cover for a fine performance too:

Thank again, Kevin, and to the whole group at the USCG!

Anyhow, I’ll be back in a couple of days to follow up with some general comments and observations… we can all learn a lot from the misfortunes that befell our team, and from the gear, the actions, and the help that contributed to their speedy and safe return home..

All the best,

Wayne Zittel and the J World Team

4 replies
  1. boat de jour
    boat de jour says:

    Wow! Just read this story, got pretty choked up while reading it. Glad you all had a happy ending. Gives me a lot to think about for our sailing adventures.

  2. John
    John says:

    Great work under pressure. Who would have guessed a whale? That is a real life Moby Dick story. Great job in the heat of the moment. Heroic effort.

    -John Montgomery

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    When you might have a minute, will you post “lessons learned” for those of us who are not as experienced as you are? We would all appreciate it. So glad that you are all okay. Thank you.

  4. Pat
    Pat says:

    I wonder if researchers will ever figure out whether it might be possible to make a device that would warn whales of a sailboat’s presence. And, I wonder if you have any thoughts about the ideal life raft and preparing crews for having to ditch.

Comments are closed.