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Trouble at Sea

The story of two sailing vessels that were lost at sea.

by Tami Gilliam, sailing vessel Heart of Gold & Judy, sailing vessel Lone Star Love

I worry about writing an article such as this as I don't want to discourage anyone from a sailing adventure.  Cruising is fun, you meet wonderful people, you see beautiful places, lots of wildlife, relaxing peaceful anchorages ... 

...but occasionally bad things do happen.  It is never fun to sit at anchor through a storm, sometimes while traveling you get caught in bad weather (Thane and I were dismasted in Tropical Storm Arlene in 2005) and very rarely you lose your boat as happened to two different friends of ours during the 2007 cruising season.  Following are their stories .... 

Paradox, a 35' Tobagos/v Paradox at Monkey Bay Marina in Guatemala.

Tom & Stanna are veteran cruisers who bought Paradox after she had been capsized and restored her.  Thus the name Paradox.  After much work, they sailed her to Guatemala.  We met them while at Monkey Bay Marina.  Paradox left Monkey Bay and headed down to Honduras before making the trek up thru Belize, Mexico and then across the Gulf of Mexico. 

Paradox was crossing the Gulf of Mexico from Mexico to Florida on April 10, 2007.  A tornado force wind struck them and flipped them over.  Their EPIRB went off for a brief moment, but stopped transmitting when it was out of the water.  Tom and Stanna were trapped, with the EPIRB, in the starboard pontoon of Paradox all night.  They were buddy boating with several other boats and when Tom missed his two morning check-ins to the net, the red flag went up.  Cruiser's from the NW Caribbean Net started engaging communications with the 14300 Ham net and the Coast Guard.  At about the same time, Lone Star Love and other registered boats in the Caribbean area received an email from the Coast Guard telling them that the EPIRB on Paradox had sent out a signal, but had stopped transmitting.  Later that afternoon their EPIRB started transmitting again and the Coast Guard had enough information to start a search.  They were spotted standing on the upside down hull of Paradox by a fixed wing aircraft at 4:00 pm and a Coast Guard helicopter picked them up at 5:30 that evening.  They were safe and uninjured. Paradox was left drifting and headed for the coast of Cuba.

Tom & Stanna at home in Colorado.  Grethe & Gunnar were visiting!We received this email from our friends Tom & Stanna after they had returned home to Colorado:

Thanks so much for writing to us. We can hardly express how much it means to us to have the care & support from all the NW Caribbean cruisers.  We are fine, no injuries, and we are OK about the loss of the boat.  We think the Coast Guard is absolutely the best department of the US government! 
On Friday night the Coast Guard contacted us to say a cruise ship had spotted the wreckage drifting about 20 miles off the coast of Cuba - it is moving pretty fast even upside-down.  Our best advice to all cruisers is to check your EPIRB and be sure you know how it deploys.  Thanks again for your support, we'll be in touch soon -- Stanna & Tom

More about Tom:  Tom was one of the "dinghy surgeons" in the story Dinghy Surgery on the Rio.

 Sailabout, a Panda 35Grethe & Gunnar learn the Tango at Monkey Bay Marina in the Rio Dulce, Guatemala.

Gunnar & Grethe are a truly adorable, funny, fun couple.  Teachers from Norway, they took a year sabbatical.  They bought Sailabout in January in the Rio Dulce River in Guatemala and their goal was to sail to New Zealand.  Greta insisted that they install a Single Sideband High Frequency Radio or better known as an SSB.  She finally got her radio when they were in Jonesville, Roatan.  Several boaters finally convinced Gunnar that he had to have the radio for safety, since they were planning such a long crossing.  Doug, from Kristiana, and Bob, from Shamal, helped Gunner install the radio and they both taught them how to use it.

Sailabout leaving Monkey Bay Marina for their ill fated cruise.After exploring Guatemala, they left Monkey Bay Marina for their sailing adventure.  They worked their way down thru Honduras, Columbia ... all the way thru to the Panama Canal and started their trek across the Pacific. 

Early in the morning on May 4, 2007, friends on sailing Valentina were listening to their SSB and picked up a Mayday on the net frequency cruiser's in the NW Caribbean listen to every morning.  It was friends Gunnar & Grethe from Sailabout and they reported that they were taking on water and do not think they can get it under control.  They were alone, in a storm and their fore stay had broken loose from the fitting down on the dolphin striker at the water line.  Water was coming in the fitting.  The bow sprit was torn loose and the anchors were banging against the hull.  They were in 12 -14 foot seas with 20+ wind and squalls.  They set off their EPIRB.  Gene and Brenda from sailing vessel Queen Mary called the 14300 Ham net to let them know that a Mayday had been received from Sailabout and they are 700 miles west of the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean.

By late afternoon, the Coast Guard has not only received word of the Mayday from the SSB net, they have also picked up the signal from their EPIRB.  Gene on Queen Mary relayed between the Ham net and Sailabout and two other sailboats that were close to Sailabout.  By law, all vessels in the area of the stricken vessel are required to go to the assistance of the stricken vessel.  The two sailboats changed course and started to make way to Sailabout.  Mokisha was released from trying to aid because even with both their motor and sails they can not make any headway toward the stricken vessel since the winds are 20+ knots on the nose with 14' seas.  The other vessel named Demarri was making good headway toward Sailabout.

Sailabout during a storm in the Pacific Ocean.About mid-day Gunnar got the water flow under control.  Sailabout lost its forestay and the entire bow pulpit including the dolphin striker.  With the water flow under control Gunnar was able to assess the rest of the damage.  He had no way to rig a line forward to hold the mast and was afraid it would soon come down.  If it did, he would not have any radio communications.  He also did not have enough fuel to motor back to the Galapagos, so without being able to sail or motor, their only choice was to abandon ship.  There was also no way to tow a sailboat 700 miles back against the current.

As the day goes on, Gene was still relaying between the Ham net, Demarri and Sailabout.  The Ham net was coordinating with the Coast Guard to see if any large ships were in the area.  There were two and both started making headway to reach Sailabout.  At the same time, the Coast Guard sent out a P3 Orion aircraft to drop a life raft and emergency supplies.  Demarri was the closest and would stand by Sailabout till a larger ship could reach them.  Demarri and Sailabout were both headed to the Marquises Islands some 2,200 miles away. Demarri could not take Gunner and Greta on board as they did not have water or provisions to sustain four persons for another 20 plus days at sea.

Gunnar and Grethe were in luck as the first and closest ship to assist them was a Norwegian freighter named Bell Nor that was headed for Panama and then on to Brazil.  A boat from their own country was going to be rescuing them in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!

As the day went dark into the night the two sailboats got closer and closer to one another.  Gunnar was motoring at about 5 knots toward Demarri and their combined speed of about 11 knots got them together about 8:00 pm.  The two boats were then in VHF radio range.  The Bell Nor was not scheduled to arrive on the scene until the next morning after 9:00 am.

It was a long night for the two sailboats, but Demarri stayed close to Sailabout and both boats informed the Coast Guard that the emergency and supplies drop would not be necessary.  The pilot of the aircraft talked to Demarri and Sailabout as they passed overhead and circled them to make sure that they did not need the drop.  Both sailboats felt like it would be a waste of money to drop it since the water flow was under control on Sailabout.  After the Coast Guard assessed the situation themselves, they called the drop off.  The pilot said to Demarri and Sailabout, "We live to serve".  Everyone listening on the Ham Net said it really touched their heart when they heard that.  After agreeing that Sailabout would be okay, they circled again and headed back home.

MS Belnoir picked up the crew of Sailabout in the Pacific Ocean.As daylight broke, the sailboats were still together waiting for the Bell Nor.  It arrived and got Gunner and Greta on board without injury at about 10:30 am.  To board Bel Nor Gunnar & Grethe had to climb a 50' ladder while bobbing around in the waves.  Gunnar was instructed by the Coast Guard to put Sailabout in gear and lock the auto pilot on a course of 355˚ and then get off the boat, probably to use as much fuel up as possible before she sinks.  It was estimated that it might take two days before Sailabout would sink.  Demarri was released from service.  To the crew of Demarri .... THANK YOU.Gene & Brenda, s/v Queen Mary


Many thanks also to Gene and Brenda from Queen Mary who stayed by the radio thru the whole ordeal and were key players in the rescue of our cruising family members.

SaltySailors received this email, forwarded from Gunnar's son. 

Dear friends,
Thank you to everyone for your concern during our stressful time in the Pacific and it was so nice to hear the voices on the Ham radio from some of you.  We did hear Hal on Griffin and Sheri and Bob on Shamal.  Thank you Doug - for making us buy that radio.
We are now on a 47000 ton bulk ship, MS Belnor, on our way to Paranagua in Brazil, via Cape Horn!!  ETA 24.may.  The ship is Norwegian registered, but it has an all Chinese crew.
What happened?  The bow-chain to the bowsprit broke.  Where - I don't know. After that the hole bowsprit-construction, with the two anchors was swinging and smashing in to the bow in the 2 - 4 meter waves.  We were 719 n Miles from Galapagos.  To get back to Galapagos was impossible because then we had to go against the wind and waves.  The weather forecast was forecasting worse weather the next days.  The mast was hold up by the inner forestay, but we were afraid it would come down as well.  Mayday was called out and we finally got contact with a very professional net controller on the Ham-net.  After that everything was out of our hands.  After a few hours a British sailboat , Damarri, turned and stayed with us till MS Belnor arrived.  He took care of all radio contact with USCG, Ham-net and other radio contact.  It was very reassuring for us to have he and his wife to help us.
What now?  Now we have to continue our year as backpackers.  The house is rented out and we have no work.  We will try to make the best of it by visiting places in South America and USA etc.  We are happy to receive suggestions for not expensive and nice places to stay.  We were asked by a Norwegian newspaper what was the best single experience so far and both Grethe and I said simultaneously: ”People we met”.  We hope we can stay in contact with all of you in the future.  So for now, we can only say one thing: f..n!!!!
Best regards from, Grethe and Gunnar

6/07/07:  Update on Grethe & Gunnar

Gunnar & Grethe are currently in Maragogi, north of Maceio in Brazil.  Here's what they had to say about how they got there ....

Grethe w/ a crew member of the Belnor rounding Cape Horn. Grethe enjoying the food on the Belnor.
Grethe w/crew member of the Belnor rounding Cape Horn Dinner aboard the elnor. 
Grethe said they both lost
about 10 lbs. during the trip.

Gunnar & Grethe rounding Cape Horn on the Belnor.

Gunnar & Grethe rounding Cape Horn on the Belnor.

Maragogi, BrazilMaragogi is a very small village with no tourists just now.  In high season it has some Brazilian tourists, but now we are almost alone.  We stay in a Hostel as the only guests.  Hundreds of miles with beaches and outside this village is a big reef.  The reef is perfect for diving and it also protects the beaches from the big waves.  This is a very nice place.   

We were stuck on a ship for three weeks because of a misunderstanding. Paranagua - sounded similar Panamá.  The ship was sent to get us since their destination was thought to be Panamá.  However, their true destination was Brazil. 

 We will fly to Florida at the end of June. 

Editor Note:  Gunnar & Grethe had hoped to get to Panamá and hire a search crew to find Sailabout.  Because of this misunderstanding there was no hope of finding her.    

Thank You US Coast Guard
for being out there for us cruisers!

Thank you US Coast Guard.

USCGC Drummond ... Heart of Gold's Special Heros!

Maritime Mobile Service Network Story on Sailabout.




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