Hanalei Bay to San Francisco
Noon HST position: 41.50.33N by 137.12.05W
Miles since last noon: 171
Total miles of passage: 2098
Avg. Miles per Day: 140
Sail: Running under large genoa
Wind: SW to SSW 20 - 25
Sky: Mostly clear
Air Temperature: 76 degrees
Sea Temperature: 65 degrees
I'm in the cockpit. I don't know why. I look up and off MOLI's port quarter and to the west, mast and sails. Maybe four miles distant. Hull down. A sailboat.
My first thought: SOLACE! Steve and crew have, in fact, repaired their pedestal steering and are underway these past 24 hours. She's faster than MO, but that's too fast. Last report put her over 200 miles to our stern.
Second thought: something's wrong. Even without binoculars I can see that the sail set isn't working. With binoculars and from the top of the larger waves, it's clear the genoa is luffing terribly.
What are the odds I'd encounter a sailboat here that was making due east for the coast and that I'd see it just the moment its crew lost control of the headsail?
Seeing another sailboat has sufficiently small odds. But there's nothing due east except Crescent City, California, a fishing town, and due east is the wrong heading given coming weather.
I wait five minutes. No need to bother them if they're on the foredeck, I think.
Five minutes later the sail is still beating. I call on channel 16. I call repeatedly. No answer.
A sinking feeling in my gut. I have to go.
MO is running fast. Winds have been 20 - 25 SW and SSW for several days. The wave train is large and long period; seas 10 and 12 feet and breaking happily. Really beautiful stuff. But it makes for slow action on deck. The starboard genoa pole is still out from yesterday, a vain hope, and to port and out free, the large genoa. It takes fifteen minutes to pull the pole, rig for the number #2 jib and tack about.
It takes another twenty minutes to work up to the vessel's position.
Here's what I wrote to Joanna and my friend, Kelton, immediately after the sighting...
Subject: URGENT. POSSIBLY ABANDONED SAILBOAT. PLEASE FORWARD TO COASTGUARD
Date: September 25, 2016 at 4:18:49 AM PDT
JO, KELTON, which ever of you can get to this first. URGENT.
I have discovered a *possibly* abandoned vessel, a sailboat, adrift, sails out and torn.
Urgent because vessel does not appear to have been adrift/abandoned for very long.
PLEASE CONTACT LOCAL COAST GUARD AND FORWARD INFO. ASK THEM TO ROUTE ACCORDINGLY. I don't know who to contact or would do myself.
Abandoned Vessel Position: 41.49.463N. 137.20.131W.
Sighting Time: 1100 Hawaii Standard Time.
Sighting Date: Sept 25, 2016.
Vessel Approximate Course ESE.
Vessel Approximate Drift Rate: 2-3 knots.
Vessel Name: Wave Sweeper.
Vessel Port: Vancouver, BC.
Description: Sloop. 30 - 35 feet on deck. Yellow hull. Fiberglass. Home-built dodger of wood. Jib out and torn to ribbons. Main out and boom down and in water, sail also torn. Main hatch open. Boat appears to be dragging a drogue from quarter lines; drogue not seen. No dinghy seen, though a kayak on coach roof. No life raft seen, nor place for canister observed on boat deck or rail.
Action: Multiple hails on VHF, channel 16, upon approach and departure and via air horn upon passing by. No response.
Scan of area found no other debris or sign of raft.
I made two close passes and have departed the scene assuming boat is abandoned.
I was still panting when I wrote this. Reading every sentence aloud. Typing as fast as could. Hurry, hit send. Good.
Because you just don't know. It all looked so fresh. No weed on the hull. No bird shit on deck. The kayak at the ready. The BBQ on the rail. Hatches open. I half expected someone to come popping from below. He'd offer me a beer. "Hamburgers up in a jiffy, mate. Sorry about the mess."
Except for those awful sails. The banners of ghosts. They could only mean disaster. Loss of control. Loss of self. The kind of panic that unhinges a person in a second.
Something terrible had gone down here, and it looked like it had gone down yesterday.
Joanna immediately contacted our local Coast Guard station, and they routed my email and photos to the Offshore Rescue Unit.
Here was the response...
Sent: Sunday, September 25, 2016 2:44 PM
To: JOANNA BLOOR; RCCAlameda1
Subject: RE: [Non-DoD Source] Fwd: URGENT. POSSIBLY ABANDONED SAILBOAT. PLEASE FORWARD TO COASTGUARD
The Sailing Vessel WAVE SWEEPER was the subject of a Search and Rescue case from July 19th of this year. The master of the vessel was rescued and brought safely to shore.
Thank you very much for your report.
United States Coast Guard
Rescue Coordination Center Alameda
I had been trending slowly NE under deeply reefed jib. Waiting for word. Waiting for orders or release. Release from responsibility and that horrible dread.
When the note came, relief. I had misread the signs. That's OK. The story had ended well, at least for the man.
I opened the big genoa and we flew free again. Hull down, that dead boat astern. Sails still beating their warning. Then she was gone. I breathed in. Shake it off, man, shake it off...
Because a sailboat is rocket ship traversing vast, open space. This is its chief attraction and its chief danger. Because after a time one becomes as comfortable with the space as with the rocket ship. One feels a familiarity, a kinship...with both. Or worse, one feels a certain invincibility. One forgets that the thin fuselage of the ship is the only thing keeping doom at bay. That the space is alien and uninhabitable. That it does not wish harm; it does not wish, but that it is prone to random violence. That it eats your mistakes for breakfast.