Rescue in Johnstone Strait
28 May 2013 | posted at Pruth
Photo: The sailboat Perdon undertow by Osprey
We were motoring north in Johnstone Strait and looking forward to arrival in Port McNeill in about an hour. It had been another long windless day and we were both tired of the constant rumble of the engine. Then a voice came over the radio calling the Coast Guard. A sailboat had hit a log off Cracroft Point, damaged its rudder and needed a tow. A quick check of the chart showed its position seven miles away from us - back in the direction we'd come. But we were the only boat visible for miles. There was no one else to help. Only the cruise ship Diamond Princess was in the area.
We turned around and headed back, slowing down to let the Diamond Princess go by. We found the sailboat, Perdon, drifting off to the side of the channel with two men on board. The Perdon's crew set up a bridle on their bow. We set up a bridle off Osprey's stern, tied two mooring lines together and handed the line to them. The boat towed easily, riding off to our starboard because of the angle of their damaged rudder. Their propeller was undamaged so they could help by running their engine.
So far so good, but how would we bring a boat with no steerage into the marina at Port McNeill? I had called ahead and reserved two spots for us but they were inside the marina and required maneuvering. To make matters worse, the wind, which had been calm all day, had started blowing.
We were approaching the marina when we heard a call on the radio. The harbor master was calling to say there were two spots on the end of the outermost dock. The wind obliged by slowing down and we tied up without difficulty.
Once on the dock, we met Jim and Ken who were sailing Perdon from Shelton, Washington to Homer, Alaska. There had been a lot of debris in the water and they had put the boat on autopilot for only a few minutes. They had hit not just a log, but a tree. It had gone under the keel and struck the rudder, apparently wedging it against the hull.
The next morning we saw Jim and Ken off on a commercial tow to Port Hardy -- the only haulout facility in the area. We didn't envy them their task of fixing the rudder.
That afternoon we were eating lunch at Tia's Café when Graham MacDonald, a machinist-mechanic who had helped us with repairs several years ago, walked into the restaurant for a cup of coffee. He walked over to greet us and we told him the story of the tow.
"We've got all kinds of facilities to help in times of emergency," said Graham. "But when you come down to it, it has to be boaters helping other boaters. When that stops, we'll all be in trouble."