My sailing friends left Galveston on Saturday, December 1st, headed to the west coast of Florida, and arrived five days later on Thursday, December 6th. I am thankful for this, but it was not an uneventful passage.
The tiny, purple vessel in the middle of this image, south of Lake Charles, Louisiana, was S/V Trident on Sunday evening, as they were making their way along the safety fairway amongst cruise ships, tankers, commerical fishing boats, and other ships.
Before they left, I told Lori I’d be her land-buddy / emergency contact. So I carefully recorded all the info for her float plan, and put the various Gulf of Mexico Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Centers on speed dial. Monte was sending them localized National Weather Service weather updates every day, and we had the luxury of being able to see them on AIS as long as they were within reach of a receiver. MarineTraffic.com is a website you can use to follow boats that have AIS transmitters. Although, after about 48 hours they were out of range of land-based receivers and their location was no longer being updated. After that, the only thing we had to rely on was Lori’s satellite device, a Garmin InReach Explorer+ 2-way communicator, which transmitted their position every 10 minutes, and allowed for terse 2-way texting.
This is the their track from their Garmin InReach device, through which friends and family followed their progress.
On Monday evening, their satellite device stopped sending updates (note the gap in their blue track south of Alabama). Before Lori left, we discussed what to do in this situation – i.e., if their position was unknown and they were not reachable. We agreed that if I didn’t see updates for a while, and after sending a text and not hearing back after waiting 3 hours, I’d officially start to get worried.
That happenend Monday night. I waited 4 hours and then called the Coast Guard to ask if they could simply hail them through a VHF relay. VHF only transmits a distance of 10-20 miles and S/V trident was about 200 nm off shore. But ships commonly relay VHF messages from one boat to another and/or to the Coast Guard. After a couple hours, the Coast Guard called back and said they were not able to hail them via a VHF relay. Later that night, Coast Guard sector New Orleans called me back to say they had dispatched an aircraft to fly along their track to see if they could make contact. God bless the Coasties. Semper Paratas. After 10 hours of not getting position updates, at 4 am, two things happened at the same time: I got a call back from the USCG saying they had made contact with S/V Trident by radio, and S/V Trident’s Garmin tracker started updating again. Lori sent a message after that saying that the tracker was buried under some cushions. Whoopsie. All good. 🙂
The next day, a cold front reached the eastern Gulf of Mexico and Trident was in its midst. Late Wednesday afternoon, Lori sent me a message saying that they had lost steering and had not been able to hail the Coast Guard. They were taking emergency steps and were able to regain control of the boat. They were not in fear of losing the boat, but they were in distress. I called USCG again, and the St Petersburg District monitored the situation for a bit, and then decided to send out their patrol boat given the bad weather and sea state at the time. It took another 4 hours for the Coast Guard boat to close the remaining 40 miles or so to reach S/V Trident, who was still making way eastward. It took another hour or two for them to establish tow and head back east.
All seemed to be good at that point. But, then at 4AM, Lori texted that one of her crew had been injured, her sister, Janet, was thrown down the companionway in the violent seas. The towing Coast Guard boat arranged for another boat to intercept with paramedics aboard. Janet had fractured both her hips and endured 6 or so hours flat on her back in pain, on a boat thrown about in high seas. Once inside Tampa Bay in the morning, she was transferred to another USCG vessel and to hospital where she is recuperating. Thank goodness.
Sailing is hard. You have to be ready for anything. Sometimes all at once.
God bless the Coast Guard.