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My sailboat Reflections and I were on the final leg of a journey from the East Coast back to San Francisco Bay. Entering San Francisco Bay would have ended an amazing 12 year circumnavigation. About 2100 hours on June 12, 2012 a whale breached and landed on the portside stern of my 50' sailboat. At that time, I was sitting on the forward part of the pilothouse, looking aft at the beautiful night sky. The sea state was about 4, and I was doing only about 2 knots under sail, it was a very quiet evening that soon changed. A sudden collision with the whale was so powerful it felt like the bow was lifted out of the water. Within seconds I felt a second 'bump' and the boat turned sharply to port. Great _boat _picture Turkey CoveLuckily for the whale it landed where I store my 7 large boat fenders, although the whale left behind evidence that it had been injured in the encounter, there were two large pieces of its flesh on the stern deck. The whale broke a 2" diameter 10' tall stainless steel tower that held a wind generator, and various antennas, which eventually fell off as the tower swung back and forth.
While the boat's three bilge pumps struggled to pump out the ocean water, I went back to work trying to get the boat back on course; I tried to locate the problem with the steerage, because the direction of the boat's drift was toward the 'freighters lanes'. I could not find why I did not have steerage. In a way, it felt like driving down the freeway and all of a sudden your steering wheel falls off. After that I tried to find where the water was coming from. I check the aft head where there are two through-holes. Then under the galley where there is three through but could not locate the problem. I decide it would be a good time to put on my body floatation suit but it would not zip up. At that time I thought, "Things are not going very well!" This is when I started to resign to the fact that I was not going to make it that night. If this was going to be my last day on earth so be it, at 67 I have had a wonderful life. However, having family at 'home' and not seeing them again really started to get to me.
Noticing the water in the bilge was getting higher and higher, lack of steerage, at that point I knew I needed help so I set off my 2 ACR EPIRBS and my own ACR Personal Locator Beacon at approximately 22:45. DEB: On June 12th around 10:45pm I was awakened by a phone call from the Coast Guard stating they had received an EPIRB signal from Reflections. They asked me if Reflections was really out on the ocean, where approximately she was, a description of the boat and Max's sailing experience. Knowing that Max activated all 3 beacons, I knew something was wrong. After I gave them all the information I could, the Coast Guard said they would send a plane and call me back with an update.
MAX: I continued to call out on my handheld portable VHF for help, but no one answered. Appropriately 1:30 hours I saw that plane flying towards me with its navigation and landing lights on, truly it looked like an angel coming from the heaven, then hearing Lieutenant Amy Kefarls reassuring voice speaking to me on the VHF I knew then that I wasn't going to die that night. Knowing I was 450 miles south of the U.S. border and 51 miles from the Mexican coast. I had little hope that any Coast Guard would come to my aid, especially not the U.S. Coast Guard. Lieutenant Kefarl immediately started to ask questions about the time of the collision/problems with the boat and asked what I have done and checked. I told her I did not have steerage at all and the bilge pumps were having a hard time keeping up with the incoming water. She stated she would find a vessel nearby and ask them to come to my rescue. She asked me to throw my life-raft in the water. Lieutenant Kefarl was able to direct a merchant ship, which was about 45 miles away, and help guide the ship to my sinking sailboat.
DEB: 2:00am I received my second call from the Coast Guard, the plane had spotted Reflections and Max said, "that the steering was gone and he was taking on water." They also told me a freighter was on the way to help him but that it was 60 miles away.
MAX: Ocean Virgo2I started making my peace with God. When my spirits were the lowest, I spotted the rescue ship off in the distance. When I saw the size of the bulk carrier cargo ship, my immediate thought was, "I wish the Coast Guard had sent me a smaller ship," LOL. With help from a crew member I was able to climb the rope ladder, but after climbing that high with wet clothing and bodysuit, I was exhausted.
DEB: 7:30am my next call was Max, calling from the freighter Ocean Virgo. I was very happy to hear his voice. This is when I found out that a whale had struck the boat. 7:45am fourth call from the Coast Guard, asking if I had talked to Max. I said yes.
MAX: Ocean VirgoI spent 8 days aboard Ocean Virgo. The crew and captain were amazing; they were all from India, the nicest people I have ever met. I am still in contact with them today and hope someday to go to India and visit with them. I now have a craving for East Indian food after eating it for breakfast, lunch and dinner for 8 days. When I returned home, I later found out that the HC-130 Hercules aircraft was flown out Sacramento where I live. Over the years I have seen them flying overhead, never thinking someday they would be coming to my rescue. It was a horrible experience losing a boat you love, a boat that kept all of us safe for almost 30 years and a total mileage of over 36,400 at the time of the collision. That night still haunts me today.
When a news reporter asked me how I would describe the actions of the U. S. Coast Guard, in a word, I stated, "Perfect"! If it wasn't for the U. S. Coast Guard I would not be standing here today. Again, thank you U.S. Coast Guard for what you do and all of the lives you have saved.
EPILOGUE The Ocean Virgo was built in 2005 and is a registered member with AMVER
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