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Old 30-03-2015, 20:26   #1
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The Sinking of Sunshine

I saw this on FB yesterday. Isn't it a bit unusual for the Coast Guard to scuttle a boat with gunfire? Gotta give those cats some credit. Must have been really hard to sink.

The Adventure Ends
This column was very difficult for me to write. On March 19, Phil and I watched in horror as the Coast Guard shot a thousand rounds of 50 caliber machine gun shells into our sinking boat so she would not be remain a hazard to naviga-tion. She had been listing severely to starboard for several hours and had finally flipped over as she was being towed behind the Coast Guard Cutter Northland.
Three days earlier, we had left Isla Mujeres, Mexico, bound for Florida. We were motoring rather than sailing due to unfavorable winds and a opposing current. Suddenly, one of the engines began to lose power and then failed. About 30 minutes later, the other engine followed suit. This indicated a fuel problem of some kind, so Phil began trying to deter-mine the cause. The seas were five to eight feet, causing enough hobby-horsing that it was difficult for him to stay down in the engine room more than a few minutes at a time. He persevered long enough to change the fuel filters on each en-gine several times, bleed the fuel lines, even take fuel directly from a clean Jerry can of fuel to rule out dirty fuel. Noth-ing worked, and the strong diesel smell and high seas soon took their toll on both of us. We raised the sails, but could not make any headway.
We were only about 40 miles from Cuba and we used the VHF radio to hail any nearby boats that might give us a tow. Two boats responded to our "Pan Pan" on the radio, but both were deep draft boats that couldnít get us anywhere near the Cuban coast. Finally, we sent a text to our sons on a satellite texting device that our younger son had gotten for us. After calls to many agencies, they reached the Coast Guard, who said they had a cutter about 300 miles south of us that would head our way to see if they could assist us.
Exhausted from so many hours without rest and disheartened by our lack of choices, we decided we had to get some sleep. We lit up the boat with running lights plus a strobe light at the top of the mast to make sure other boats could see us, and fell into bed.
Late the next morning, the Coast Guard cutter arrived on the horizon. They first sent a small boat with a crew of three diesel mechanics to determine if they could fix our engines. They worked on the diesels for nearly two hours but, like Phil, could not get them started.
Those three returned to the cutter and three very experienced sailors were sent to see if they could help us sail toward Florida. The cutter would shadow us on the way. The sailing crew didnít have much more luck than we had. They got us moving north about three knots, then the wind died. They also discovered a steering problem that was going to make sailing more difficult.
Finally, it was determined that we should board the cutter and the Coast Guard would tow the boat to Key West. We set about securing the boat. I managed to close the hatches on the port (left) side of the boat, but the crew members told us not to worry about the rest because a special "towing crew" would get the boat ready. We had earlier noticed the sailing team trying to close the hatches from the outside and warned them that they must close them securely from the inside to make them tight. The Coast Guard crew instructed us to get two days of clothes, toiletries and any medication we needed and get aboard the small boat to be transported to the cutter.
Once on board the cutter, we were treated like honored guests. The Coast Guard personnel could not have been nicer. They took us to the flight deck to see how they were towing our boat and pointed out that a crew member would be sta-tioned there around the clock to make sure the boat was okay. They even set up a special light so they could see watch it at night. The tow line was long, about 100 yards. We noticed that water was flowing over the bow of our boat as she bobbed in the waves.
We were given a small stateroom on the boat, had dinner with the officers, then went to bed. The next morning, when we returned to the flight deck, we noticed that Sunshine appeared to be listing to starboard a little. Phil pointed it out to the guard on boat watch who assured us that she was fine. Later that afternoon the captain sent word that Sunshine wasnít doing so well and we should come back to the flight deck. We were astonished to see that she was listing severely to starboard, the same side we were told they would secure. At the same time, we noticed that one of the starboard hatches on the foredeck was open. Waves were flowing over the foredeck and into the open hatch. The reality of the situation became clear and we knew we were going to lose her. Several hours later, she had flipped completely over.
At that point, the captain told us that they could not leave her floating in the middle of the ocean. We were still many
hours from Key West and he said they had no choice but to sink her completely. The machine gun barrage lasted nearly an hour. She still didnít totally sink until they sent a crew out with fire axes to finish her off.
We arrived in Key West the next morning. We had lost everything on the boat except what we took with us: two chang-es of clothes, our passports and our telephones. Phil also had the foresight to grab his wallet. We had assumed we would be getting back on board when we arrived in Key West.
Now back home in Indiana, we have spent our time trying to make sense of what happened, shopping for new summer clothes, and making lists for the insurance company of all our personal property that went down with the boat. Our hearts are broken, but we are thankful to be safe, and life goes on. I cannot imagine a future that does not include sail-ing. Phil is already talking about getting an RV and continuing our adventures on land. Maybe we will compromise and do both.
I have enjoyed writing about our travels and have appreciated your kind comments. When we get ready to continue our adventures, you will be the first to know.

"
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Old 30-03-2015, 21:14   #2
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Re: The Sinking of Sunshine

Chalk up the loss of yet another sailing yacht precipitated by engine failure...

So, what else is new?

Actually, "an opposing current" while heading from Isla Mujeres to Florida might be :-)
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Old 30-03-2015, 21:26   #3
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Re: The Sinking of Sunshine

What follows is written in an even tone of curiosity. I have no bone to pick, there is no sarcasm, no intent to be snarky, and no criticism.

I do find stories like this instructive or helpful in understanding how sailors think and act. Like a good drama, it allows one to imagine what one would do if placed in the same situation. What would you do differently?
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Looking at it objectively, I see several interesting points mentioned:

1. Both engines failed.

2. The crew could sail (the sails and rigging apparently were functioning), but gave up sailing after "not making headway." I was surprised by this.

3. The USCG dispatched a cutter that came 300 miles to their rescue. I was impressed by this.

4. The USCG had 3 diesel mechanics try for 2 hours to fix the disabled vessel's engines. I was impressed by this.

5. The USCG Cutter was attempting a tow of some distance (even overnight) to Key West. I was impressed by this.
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My view:

1. It is unfortunate the boat was lost. I can imagine how bad I would feel if I lost my boat like that. My sympathy goes to them or any sailors who lose their boats.

2. It was a sailboat. It seems from the story that the dependence on having working diesel engines, and discovery of their failure, led to the crew calling the PAN PAN. They wanted help after determining they could not fix their engines. No other damage (no "sinking" and no "taking on water") is mentioned.

Reading the story, I simply wondered: "Why don't they just forget the diesel engines and sail on as a sailboat?" ???

Or, if winds were adverse (to their original destination), then why not simply change the course and head to another port for repairs?

Perhaps if the owners of the boat are members of this forum or if they read this, they could tell us something more about their thinking at the time, or their ultimate decision to not sail on. That decision point is what I find most interesting in the story.

From the story, the crew was exhausted.

3. I am surprised that the USCG did as much as they did, but also impressed by their devotion of resources (and time) to the assistance of a sailboat whose crew called for help. Apparently the boat was not near a USCG station (and close to Cuba), so I am impressed the cutter came as far as it did to help. I am curious as to where the incident occurred (How far from USA territory were they picked up and the tow began?)
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Old 30-03-2015, 21:51   #4
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Re: The Sinking of Sunshine

As an engine free sailor I can say the first mistake is having engines.

Second mistake is trying to sail against the current.

Third mistake is accepting a tow from coastguard. They want to tow at 10 knots or more which can break and sink many boats.

Final mistake is leaving the boat while accepting the tow. If you are being towed, you should always remain on board.
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Old 30-03-2015, 22:46   #5
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Re: The Sinking of Sunshine

What a sad story! I agree with most of the above. Like SH, I was impressed and surprised by the great efforts of the CG. They usually don't tow anyone.

But I also agree about the way in which the tow was accepted. The OP should have stayed on board, and for sure should have secured his own hatches.

I would like to think that I would have kept sailing in such a situation, and not called pan pan at all. But The OP s crew was exhausted and demoralized - you can't really second -guess decisions like that.

Sounds like OP - unlike others of our comrades who have lost their boats - was insured. Here's hoping the insurance company pays - in which case OP will be able to chalk it up to experience and buy another boat.

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Old 31-03-2015, 07:13   #6
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Re: The Sinking of Sunshine

En.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%27acadien_II

Not sure if this link is going to work. The CCGS Sir William Alexander was towing a 40 ish foot fishing vessel in 2008. The Acadien II. The towed vessel struck an ice flow and was girded at about 10 knots. 4 men lost their lives.

Now this was a Canadian, not American Coast Guard Ship, but I would be very surprised if this accident didn't influence US towing procedures regarding having persons aboard small vessels while being towed by a ship.

Paul Watson effectively wore out his welcome in Canada after making celebratory comments about the deaths of these 4 men.

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Old 31-03-2015, 07:34   #7
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Re: The Sinking of Sunshine

Quote:
Originally Posted by FamilyVan View Post
Now this was a Canadian, not American Coast Guard Ship, but I would be very surprised if this accident didn't influence US towing procedures regarding having persons aboard small vessels while being towed by a ship.
Perhaps, but it's certainly not a set policy of the CG when it comes to towing smaller vessels offshore...

During the tows of a couple of yachts that lost rudders during the Salty Dawg Rally in 2013, crews remained aboard their boats... Here's the account of the Alden 54 ZULU, as published in CRUISING WORLD...

Trouble aboard Zulu in the Gulf Stream | Cruising World

And to the OP Ralph, would you happen to have a link to the Facebook page?

And speaking of recent sinkings, anyone know any more about the 55-footer that went down last Friday off the Big Sur coast of CA? Very little information on that one, and I'm surprised LATITUDE 38 hasn't picked up on it yet...

Coast Guard Rescues 2 People From Sinking Sailboat Near Monterey | kron4.com


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Old 31-03-2015, 07:43   #8
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Re: The Sinking of Sunshine

Its so easy to "Arm Chair Sailor" this post. I'm really trying not to, as I wasn't there to understand the situation.

It leaves me with some questions though.

1. I'm guessing they were in the south flowing portion of the Florida current. The winds were out of the east. So they couldn't sail north (against current) and they couldn't sail east (into the wind), but why didn't they sail south to Cuba? or back to Isla?

2. When they came on deck and seen her listing severely, why didn't they stop the tow and ask for pumps. I don't think all was lost at that point.

Again.. I wasn't there so I have no idea! Its just questions that come to mind.
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Old 31-03-2015, 09:12   #9
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Re: The Sinking of Sunshine

My condolences for your loss and best wishes for emotional, financial and nautical recovery.
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Old 31-03-2015, 10:01   #10
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Re: The Sinking of Sunshine

Very sad to read of your loss. Hope the sun will come out and shine for you soon.


S/V B'Shert
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Old 31-03-2015, 10:25   #11
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Re: The Sinking of Sunshine

Sorry tto hear of the loss of your boat, while under tow by the USCG, but they did more than they are suppose to do. The CG gave up towing many years ago, thanks to several fishermen out of New Bedford, MA. I am surprised that the cutter did not pumps on board your boat when it was observed to be taking on water. They could have obtained them from several locations in a couple of hours. As for having qualified sailboat sailors on the cutter that came to help you, they are very few and far between, on cutters (none are trained on sailboats) so you probably miss understood what your told or did not ask the right questions. My next question, is why didn't you head for Cuba, or some other port, when you determined you could not get the engine(s) running again. Under sail, you could have taken a favorable direction, for the wind, though you might not have ended up where you wanted to go? All sailors that read this should REMEMBER that when they call for assistance and accept help from any CG unit their primary interest is to get the people off the distressed boat, to avoid any loss of life, and will do what they can to save the boat, without the loss of life of their crew. LIVES are more IMPORTANT THAN ANY BOAT.
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Old 31-03-2015, 10:43   #12
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Re: The Sinking of Sunshine

"And speaking of recent sinkings, anyone know any more about the 55-footer that went down last Friday off the Big Sur coast of CA? Very little information on that one, and I'm surprised LATITUDE 38 hasn't picked up on it yet..."

It's on Sailing Anarchy, scroll down a bit :

Sailing Anarchy

Actually, I'm not surprised, as Latitude 38 has gone right down the spout recently. They seem to have almost given up on reporting serious news, instead the online version is filled with fluff and human interest stories (recent stories (this is true!) : 1) what shoes should his wife wear on board? 2) can we help get a bikini-clad young lady into Playboy?), and endless stories about cruising to Mexico. Here's the thing : some of us don't sail to Mexico.
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Old 31-03-2015, 10:50   #13
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Re: The Sinking of Sunshine

Your Hunter 36 had two engines?

Why wouldn't they stop the tow close here up and pump her out?
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Old 31-03-2015, 11:06   #14
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Re: The Sinking of Sunshine

Quote:
Originally Posted by MarkSF View Post
"And speaking of recent sinkings, anyone know any more about the 55-footer that went down last Friday off the Big Sur coast of CA? Very little information on that one, and I'm surprised LATITUDE 38 hasn't picked up on it yet..."

It's on Sailing Anarchy, scroll down a bit :

Sailing Anarchy
Thanks, I'd looked at SA a couple of days ago, before that was posted...

Rather odd, the lack of information on this one... If what the OP of the thread on SA is correct, and that it was a new Beneteau 55 being delivered to Strictly Sail in Oakland, that would be a bit embarrassing, to say the least...

:-)
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Old 31-03-2015, 11:20   #15
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Re: The Sinking of Sunshine

I love the statements of condolence from all the people. How much loss did he have posting a story he read on Facebook?
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