Rescue at Sea
13 April 2017
Towing s/v Molly J. I took advantage of a lull in the waves, put the boat on autopilot, and quick shot this photo. While it looks flat here, the seas were lumpy, maybe four to six feet.
March 28, 2017
1700 - Jay and I had just finished preparing Cadenza for the next leg of our journey. The plan was to weigh anchor at dawn and head north to the next anchorage, Ipala, 50 nm. Since we would have no service for the next few days, Jay checked his email one more time. This is what he found:
Where is Cadenza currently anchored?
The sail boat Molly J, two souls aboard (Jon and Lisa) was enroute to Mazatlán from Barra de Navidad. Their last known position is N19º 49.072, W105º 27.426. Their engine has stopped. They have been in strong winds all night and they have decided to turn and run south to Chamela and will have to anchor under sail. Both have heavy sea sick issues and lack of sleep. They are attempting to sail southbound from that position to Chamela. It is unknown their current speed. It was advised that they will attempt to slow their forward movement for an early morning arrival in Chamela. They may need some help in the anchorage.
I will put out an emergency call on VHF 22 first thing on the net tomorrow. I will also put out an emergency call on Picante and Amigo nets in the morning.
If you have a cellular phone number I could call you with any updates as they become available.
My contact info is...
Thank you in advance for any assistance you can provide.
We decided to call s/v Linger Longer and ask them to watch out for the Molly J. They had just left the bay, heading north overnight to La Cruz. It wasn't that Linger Longer needed to do anything for them other than to let them know people were aware of their circumstances and ready to help if needed. We wanted to put their minds at ease. About an hour later, Linger Longer was able to connect to the Molly J via radio and relay to us that they were on their way to Chamela Bay. Linger Longer let them know we were keeping our radio on, as well as our spreader lights, to help guide them in when they got there. We kept the radio on, as I fixed dinner. Eventually, Linger Longer was out of radio range and the Molly J was in our radio range, so we took over from there.
We quickly learned that nothing was working. The engine was kaput. The radio was hit and miss. Jay asked about the mainsail and Jon said, "Frankly, we've been in the Barra marina for the last two years and we hadn't planned on sailing. We were going to make a straight shot up to Mazatlán, motoring." Then, said something to the effect that he couldn't raise the mainsail and his electric winch was broken. Understandably, Jon sounded exhausted and frustrated.
The next transmission we get, Jon says they have good wind and are sailing five knots. He is a little more hopeful, despite they will get to us after dark and he has never been in this bay before.
Approximately 2130, Jon radios us and says he is near the entrance to the bay, but the wind has died. They tried to make the entrance but got pushed south by the current. The situation was not looking good for them getting into the anchorage. Jay kept talking with him, trying to keep his spirits up. Jon was going to make another attempt.
Meanwhile, Jay and I were conflicted. Should we go out there and help them? It was pitch black. It was a dangerous proposition. We had never towed anyone and to go out and try to get them in the dark, could put all of us in danger. Still, it was a difficult decision as there were two people out there, tired, sick, and most likely, frightened.
Jon's second attempt failed. He called us on the radio and said that it looked like the only thing they could do was stay out there all night, away from shore, flopping around in the sea. Jay asked if they were okay, was anyone hurt, or were they in any serious danger. Jon said no, they were just tired. Jay asked if he understood why we couldn't come out there to help them that night. If they were in mortal danger, then, of course, we would try to help, but if not, it was just too risky. "Yes, of course I understand." He said. We promised to keep the radio on all night and check with him in the morning. Our last contact that night was midnight and they were away from shore and okay. Knowing this, didn't relieve our anxiety and it was a restless night, praying that they were safe.
March 29, 2017
0530 - Jay and I have tea and coffee and make our final preparations to leave the anchorage.
0700 - Dawn is arriving. (It arrives late here because we are on the most western side of the central time zone.) Jay calls Molly J on the radio. Lisa answers. "How are you doing?" Jay asks.
"Okay, but can you hold on a second. We just ripped the genny." Jay and I look at each other with the understanding that we have to go out and help them. Lisa comes back on the radio. "Hang on. Jon is coming."
Jon sounds like a man defeated. "We just ripped our genny on the radar tower." He sighs. He goes over everything that has gone wrong and finally says, "We're in dire straits here. If I throw you a line, could you come out here and tow us?"
"That's the plan. What is your waypoint?"
The waypoint was a bit off, but we finally saw them on radar and headed out their way. We were powering into the waves which were about four to six feet. It was much lumpier than we expected. There was little wind. Jay drove the boat in close, so Jon could throw me the line. I caught it, only he threw it mid-ship. "It's tied up! Why did he tie it up? I can't get it untied!" (Now, I understand. He wanted the weight of the bundle to drop over to our boat and not leave the line dragging in the water.) I had to get it from mid-ship to the stern quickly. Only this meant I had to get it around the kayak rack, the Lifesling and the solar panel, under the lifeline and through to the cleat in a manner of seconds. "It's pulling me! I can't get it untied! Jay!" I was caught between the dinghy and solar panel.
"Watch out for the solar panel!" Jay yelled as he ran over and took the line from me. He sent me to the helm. This is probably where I should have been in the first place.
After a few tense moments, we were tied together and I put Cadenza in gear and we started back. We were about four and a half miles from the entrance to the anchorage, going three knots. Towing a 40,000-lb. boat is risky. For many reasons, as you can imagine. Fortunately, we were now going with the waves, instead of against them. Still, they were four to six feet and sometimes, one would be on the crest and the other in the trough. If it was Molly J on the crest, she would start sailing down the wave, loosening the tow line. Then, we would rise up and snap! Jay was tending to the line, trying to prevent it from snapping. Once, the tow line whipped against his stomach, causing a bruise. Ouch! He was also worried it might break. The line Jon sent over was Dacron which doesn't stretch like nylon. When we got back to the anchorage, Jay noticed the tow line had worn and was close to breaking.
In Chamela Bay, Jon dropped the tow line and we waited for them to lower their anchor. Our next maneuver was to set their anchor by throwing the line back to them, so they could tie it up to their stern. This way we could pull them tight. The tow line was now wet and when Jay tried to throw it, it whipped around and slapped against his leg, causing a bruise about the size of a football. That one really hurt. He decided to use one of our lines and got it ready as I drove the boat around for another try. That didn't work either. Nor did the next try. Both times, it was pulled away before Jon and Lisa had a chance to tie it down. On the fourth go around, I said a silent prayer. I was proud of my driving ability - having to bring Cadenza so close to Molly J without hitting her - but I was tired and afraid I was pushing my luck. Success! The Molly J, with Jon and Lisa on board, was safely anchored in Chamela Bay.
I have no idea what time it was. Sometime around mid-day. Too late and too tired to sail to Ipala, Jay and I anchored our boat again, had a bite to eat and went back to bed. That is how I spent my birthday.
NOTE: Besides Dazzler, Linger Longer and Cadenza, there were a lot of other boaters who helped the Molly J. We heard from Lisa that a freighter stood by them on the 28th for two hours, making sure they were okay. That same day, s/v Karvi, with Dan and Nancy who were on their way to Ipala, turned around and sailed back to the Molly J. They stayed with them for four hours. Dan and Nancy had cell phone coverage and called around to see if they could be towed. Eventually, knowing the Molly J had sails, food and water for a week, and everyone on board was okay, Dan encouraged them to sail back to Chamela Bay where we took over. Once anchored, Mark on s/v Jolly Dogs spent an afternoon helping Jon check out his engine. There may be more, but you get the idea. The cruising community looks out for each other.