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Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

13 May 2017 | Santa Rosalia, Mexico
A mayday call declares a life-threatening emergency. That is not a call I want to hear on the marine VHF radio, but I have heard it twice.

The first time was years ago off the Washington coast. A 55 foot motor yacht was on fire and the crew was abandoning ship. We could see the plume of black smoke rising thousands of feet into the air from twenty miles away. Everyone from the distressed boat was picked up by a nearby vessel, plus the USCG was soon on the scene.

The second time was today. We were about twelve miles SSE of Santa Rosalia, and just west of the southern end of Isla San Marcos, in the Sea of Cortez. The mayday call came from the 42' sports fishing motor yacht Free Spirit, whose captain said the boat was sinking. They were taking on water and could not find the source, and were deploying their life raft. He clearly gave the coordinates for his position, which I plotted and saw was about in the middle of the Sea of Cortez, about 46 nm from me in a straight line, further by the shortest feasible route. My VHF communication with him was marginal and I was surprised that I had VHF communication at all for that distance, but I did get clearly his position.

Another sailboat besides S/V Ubiquity heard and communicated with the boat in distress, S/V Fathom. Fathom was a little closer to Free Spirit and had clearer VHF communication with Free Spirit, and Fathom and Ubiquity had good VHF communication.

Our attempts to solicit help on the VHF got no response. I told the Fathom's captain that I would try to alert Mexican authorities and would get back to him, while Fathom set a course for the distressed boat.

Using the HF radio on S/V Ubiquity I was not able to contact anyone locally, so I tried getting help on the Maritime Mobile Service Network, a U.S. service at 14.3 MHz on the ham bands. I immediately got a contact, and although I could barely hear him he was able to get my full information on the mayday and through the USCG alert the Mexican authorities.

At the same time I tried to contact the port captain of the nearest port, Santa Rosalia, using the weak cell phone signal we had. When that failed, I tried to phone the port captain at Puerto Escondido, to the south, and was able to leave the full information about the mayday with his assistant, who said he would immediately contact the port captain.

I received confirmation from both the Maritime Mobile Service Network and from the Puerto Escondido port captain that the Mexican Navy had been notified and was dispatching a boat to the location.

We did not hear from the boat in distress for an hour, the last communication saying they were deploying the life raft. I thought the boat had likely sunk. Then the captain of Free Spirit came on the VHF again saying they had found and stopped the leak, were trying to pump out the boat, could not start the engine, had deployed the life raft but not abandoned the boat, and did not yet want to cancel the mayday.

After that I heard the Mexican Navy boat on the VHF calling for Free Spirit. I was not able to hear any response from Free Spirit.

I know no more about the final outcome. The likelihood of a good resolution was increased by: the efforts on the distressed boat to save the boat and communicate their distress, the recreational boats relaying the mayday information, the Maritime Mobile Service Network, the port captain's office at Puerto Escondido, and the Mexican Navy.


Postscript on the Final Outcome of the Incident:

I received the following communication from the Maritime Mobile Service Network about the final outcome:

"I just spoke with the Coast Guard Sector San Diego. The lieutenant on duty contacted the Mexican Navy, and the final disposition is that the motor vessel Free Spirit was towed to the Port of San Carlos safely and all persons on board are safe at the port. It looks like a great resolution to a very intense situation."

Postscript 2: On-Line Write-up of this Incident

There is now an on-line write-up of this incident.
Vessel Name: Ubiquity
Vessel Make/Model: Pacific Seacraft 34 sailboat, 1987, hull #67
Hailing Port: Portland, Oregon
Crew: Brian Stipak, Leslie Sawyer, sometimes others
Captain Brian Stipak typically sails with one additional crew member aboard, most commonly Leslie Sawyer. Leslie is an experienced sailor, and she sailed on most of S/V Ubiquity's 2013 Vancouver Island circumnavigation and the 2015 Haida Gwaii cruise. [...]
Home Page: http://web.pdx.edu/~stipakb/Ubiquity-Cruising.html
Ubiquity's Photos - Main
Marina Los Cabos in San Jose del Cabo, Sailing west of Cabo Falso, Canal de Cerrlavo, Playa Bonanza, La Paz, loading S/V Ubiquity on freighter
88 Photos
Created 25 April 2018
Shows the “ghost town” of empty boulevards built by the government in Puerto Escondido, ashore on Isla San Juan, sailing south to La Paz, and several photos in La Paz, March 2018.
55 Photos
Created 23 March 2018
Santa Rosalia, Whale Watching, Isla Carmen including the Abandoned Salt Mine and Town at Salinas, March 2018
116 Photos
Created 20 March 2018
Midriff Islands, and the Bahia de Los Angeles area
48 Photos
Created 19 March 2018
Marina San Carlos, Marina Seca, Exploring the San Carlos Area, 2017, 2018
41 Photos
Created 19 February 2018
Cruising north in the Sea of Cortez from La Paz to Santa Rosalia. Then crossing the Sea to Bahia San Pedro, before arriving at Marina San Carlos, north of Guaymus, Sonora, Mexico. We hauled S/V Ubiquity at San Carlos for storage at the Marina Seca on-land storage facility for the summer.
119 Photos
Created 24 August 2017
Cruising in the La Paz area, Spring 2017. El Cardoncito, San Evaristo, Isle San Francisco, Playa Bonanza
94 Photos
Created 3 April 2017
34 Photos
Created 13 January 2017
13 Photos
Created 8 January 2017
October 7-9, 2016 get-together of friends in Cathlamet, Washinton. Photos show the kids in the group having fun.
6 Photos
Created 13 October 2016