Crash or collision
Posted on March 8, 2019 by Philip Smethurst
Philip Smethurst- Captain of Ruach 47 foot Catermeran.
We left Fajardo Porto Rico on Tuesday 23 February 2016 at 8:30 am on a 375 nautical mile passage to The Turks and Caicos Islands. Winds were out of the south east at 15 knots and waves 6-8 foot out of the East and dropping. We sailed on a broad reach all the way for 250 nm. At 4:00 am on Thursday 25 beginning the third day of sailing. We were sailing on a wide birth west of the first of the shoals when we struck an object estimated one foot under water at around 9 knots it launched the starboard side of the catermeran tearing a hole in the hull and breaking the starboard rudder. The observed we were taking on water and began trying to find the hole to plug the breach and save the vessel. We let down the sails, disconnected the starboard rudder off the rack and pinion and began both engines on the port side rudder to keep us downwind and away from the shoals on our east. From inside the boat we could not find the hole and the water was coming in faster that all the bilge pumps could pump we also were engaging the starboard hand bilge pump. Realizing that there was catastrophic damage to the hull and there was no saving the vessel I began procedures for evacuation and the saving of the crew lives. At around 4:35 am I activated the first EPIRB beacon to alert all rescue operations world wide of our distress we also activated a distress signal on our Standard Horizon AIS to inform all vessels within the area to divert to us. We began MADAY calls on Chanel 16 on the vhf with 30 mile range. I manually disconnected the starboard battery bank to run instruments as long as we could while waiting for rescue. Passports and wallets were collected and crew sat on port side deck. At 6 am our main VHF radios went out due to water intrusion leaving us with only a hand held VHF. The Mayday call was responded to but ship Turks and Caicos Explorer who waited on stand by as a rescue vessel option and relayed messages for us to the cruise ship Princess who was 20 miles from our position, The Princess diverted to deploy a rescue craft to come to us as the first choice rescue option. The princess deployed there Princess FRC (fast rescue craft) after and hour we found that the FRC was adrift with engine trouble and US coast Guard out of Puerto Rico deployed their helicopter for out last resort rescue. Princess cruise ship deployed a second FRC to rescue the first one.
On Ruach we released our Tender from the davits and equipped it with ditch bag and water and supplies for survival and lashed it on a line on the port side.
US coast guard rescue helicopter arrived at around 10 am, swimmer deployed to our vessel and instructed is on evacuation procedures, crew was evacuated one at a time captain left last. Second EPirb was left on the port side chart table. It signals at around 10:30 am as water filled the port side.
No injuries we inflicted on crew and all arrive safe into Porto Rico.
Conclusion: we were surrounded by hundreds of Humpback Wales during the rescue, it may be that we hit one of them while sailing at 9 knots downwind, Turks and Caicos Explorer said that were mating in mass in the area, the vessel was not off course when the catastrophic accident happened and was not a result of negligence on any of the crew or captain. Thank you to Turks and Caicos Exporer for relaying signals, cruise ship Princess for diverting and deploying their FRC and to The USA coast guard for their amazing team and professional and safe rescue. USCG case number: 1012152
Words of wisdom
This was an “act of God”. nothing you can do to avoid it.
Thank you note
We always wish never to pull the trigger on the EPIRB. When I did I was amazed at its effectiveness, being 180 miles from Dominican Republic and 100 miles from Turks, we were rescued in only 6 hours. All ships diverted to us including 2 cruise ships. It was an amazing rescue! Thank you ACR.