by Ann Hoffner Contributing Editor Ocean Navigator Magazine May/June 2023
On March 13, on a South Pacific crossing midway between Galapagos and the Marquesas, s/v Raindancer with four people on board sank after an encounter with a whale. It was lunchtime and they had been in the cockpit eating pizza. In 15 minutes the boat, a Peterson 44, had slipped beneath the surface and the crew were surveying a sunny sea from the slim shelter of a liferaft and inflatable dinghy tied together.
Before abandoning ship the crew gathered supplies and the captain, Rick Rodriguez, acti- vated an EPIRB and sent out a mayday on VHF.
Once in the liferaft they activated a GlobalStar SPOT tracker, started regular mayday signals via handheld VHF, and turned on an IridiumGO! and cell phone (creating a satellite service wifi hot-spot) to mes- sage Rick’s brother on land, and a friend on s/v Southern Cross sailing 160 nm behind.
After sending brief messages they turned the devices off. The liferaft carried several weeks’ worth of vital provisions but their emergency signaling devices had precious little bat- tery power. Two hours later on start-up there were messages. One, from Tommy Joyce on Southern Cross, said, “We got you bud.”
What the Raindancer crew couldn’t know was that from the time the EPIRB went off, and Rick’s text messages were received, two streams of rescue communications were started and they flowed and inter- twined throughout the nine hours it took for a rescue boat to find them.
Initial reports of the rescue were confused and shifting. In the new age of commu- nications this shouldn’t be a surprise; much was said on social media, especially on the Facebook page of Boatwatch, an organization that main- tains a worldwide network of resources to aid the search for missing or overdue mariners and relay urgent messages. According to Eddie Tuttle, Boatwatch was alerted by Don Preuss, a cruiser in Panama, that mayday messages were showing up on social media and their own Facebook page became a central message platform. The use of social media allows information to be widely disseminated but also leads to a cacophony of voices, not all directly involved but all eager to participate. Initially it was reported that Raindancer’s EPIRB did not function, but that proved to be false, and the signal set off an official SAR chain of command that began in Peru and was rerouted through Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) Alameda in California, where the US Coast Guard fielded phone calls and coordinated via Automated Mutual-assistance Vessel Res- cue (AMVER) to divert a commercial ship to the liferaft.
Rick’s text messages set off another effort, one that ulti- mately led to the Raindancer crew’s successful rescue.
An unusual aspect of this situation was the presence of a couple dozen boats in the 2023 World ARC, an international circumnavigation rally, coming up behind Raindancer. On receiving reports “by multiple means” of the sinking, Rally Control put out a Fleet Mes- sage to rally crews. The World ARC SSB Radio duty control- ler, Chris Parker on Mistral of Portsmouth, also relayed the distress message, and ten ARC boats close to Raindancer’s lat- est coordinates changed course along with two non-ARC boats, including s/v Rolling Stones, which turned out to be closest, only 35 nm away.
Tommy Joyce did not receive the original message from Rick because he doesn’t check Iridium much, but he did get the message from Rick’s brother which came through WhatsApp via Tommy’s Star- link. (FB) “At that moment, I set up multiple chats, posts and other comms.” Ninety per- cent of the tools Tommy used required fast internet access, which Starlink provided. He was able to communicate with both Rolling Stones and with the SAR assets. Ultimately Rolling Stones and a Panamani- an-flagged tanker both arrived at the scene, but it was easier to board the sailboat and Rain- dancer’s crew was able to turn on a personal locator beacon (PLB) and shoot off a para- chute flare to guide them in.
Both efforts depended on satellite communications, and were run more or less in parallel. A question raised on Boatwatch’s Facebook page was whether/how in future
the land-based SAR scenario could be altered to include recreational boats, which are not now included. AMVER
is a world-wide voluntary ship reporting system operated by the United States Coast Guard that gives the SAR authorities information on and commu- nications access to vessels near a reported disaster. Only mer- chant vessels more than 1,000 gross tons on a voyage of 24 hours or longer are eligible to enroll in AMVER, but SAR coordinator at RCC in Ala- meda Kris Robertson posted on Boatwatch FB that it was helpful to have had phone numbers for all sailing vessels that were involved in the rescue or relaying information. “Most of the time communications is the hardest part of any res- cue coordination…Question for the group, is there a place where you all keep underway phone numbers for sailing vessels?”
Eddie and Glenn Tuttle and Boatwatch along with Tommy Joyce were instrumental again a few days later when a crew member on board a World ARC boat s/v Cepa had a serious stroke. Cepa was 6-7 days’ sail out of the Marquesas without enough fuel to motor flat out. The captain was able to email rescue coordinators in Germany, World Arc Rally Control, and a medical support for German-flagged vessels. JRCC Papeete was contacted, RCC Alameda released SafetyNet and SafetyCast group emergency messages to ships over Iridium and Inmarsat, and the captain also sent a distress call to the chat group of the ARC fleet. Tommy Joyce again acted as a mobile command center. The ARC boats were able to scan the area around Cepa’s position using AIS and assist in locating nearby boats that could help. S/v Pec divert- ed from the rally to provide medicine and ultimately their captain went into the rescue effort as doctor. Even with this help, there was still the issue of time. A motor yacht, Paladin, located through AIS, did not respond to initial attempts to communicate. In a stroke of fortune for all involved, the email list used to forward the distress call to the rally fleet included a weather routing company that recognized the yacht as a previous customer and was able to contact the yacht’s owner, who then con- tacted the captain, initiating a successful evacuation of the crew member complete with delivery of enough fuel to increase Paladin’s speed and allow them to divert to Nuku Hiva.
“Two back-to-back amazing rescues,” said Eddie.
It’s hard to imagine that all the activity in Raindancer’s rescue only lasted about 10 hours, yet photos of the four people sitting on s/v Rolling Stones showed up on Facebook the day after the sinking.
For all the hoopla, especially given the unusual circumstance of the rally being in the vicinity, it’s important to remember that rescue options are usually scant, potential rescuers scattered far and wide, and those of us out on the ocean need to be take responsibility for our adventurous tendencies.
Peter Nielsen posted on the Boat Watch Facebook page that when he crewed on a cat in the Pacific in 2020 that was hit by a whale, the Coast Guard picked up the EPIRB signal, emailed the boat via IridiumGO! and initiated voice contact, leading to rescue nine hours later by a Chinese fishing boat.
Eddie says besides online they also posted an emergency message for the Maritime Mobile Service Network (MMSN.org) which is read by HAM radio operators on Ham Radio frequency 14.300, a world wide network of Ham Radio Operators communicating with vessels at sea. I spent 10 years in the Pacific on a Peterson 44, and often this radio net was the only live link my husband and I had to land.
It takes an ocean.
Contributing editor Ann Hoffner and husband Tom Bailey cruised on their Peterson 44, Oddly Enough. She’s now based in Sorrento, Maine.
Noonsite.com – re Ocean Navigator article”Key Communications in an offshore rescue” by Ann Hoffer
The Role of Technology in Rescues
This article for Ocean Navigator by Ann Hoffer, Key Communications in an offshore rescue(page 18), demonstrates how technology is changing the way rescues at sea work. It’s a detailed account of two yacht rescues in the South Pacific in March 2023.
Eddie Tuttle of BoatWatch, who was involved in the rescue, told Noonsite; “I think this is one of the most amazing stories ever of communication, captain and crew safety skill and the maritime community coming together. When Tommy Joyce commented on Boat Watch Facebook that he had set up a mobile command post in the vast Pacific Ocean, I drew a sigh of relief and amazement at this cruiser stepping up in such a profound and diligent way.
He also did a great job along with Raindancer’s shore side contact Vinny Matiola, of coordinating the numerous people trying to help. And then there is the boat, SV Rolling Stones, that diverted and took 4 more crew on in the middle of nowhere. I still wonder how the provisions went.To top off the Raindancer episode, soon thereafter Tommy Joyce helped handle the medical emergency and dramatic rescue on SV Cepa in the middle of nowhere!
Chris Parker, Marine Weather Center, who has helped BoatWatch and various Coast Guards and relayed distressed messages for countless boats, also assisted as the WorldARC SSB Radio Controller.
Ann Hoffner sums up her article by saying, “It takes an ocean”. So true. I encourage cruisers to read the article (page 18)“.
The Rescue Coordination Centers worldwide and other resources can be found at https://boatwatch.org/resources/
This is the Captain, Rick Rodriquez, of Raindancer’s first account posted on Facebook.
Update from Raindancer captain after striking whale in Pacific Ocean.
Hey everyone, first off thanks for all the support. We are still feeling very drained by everything, but I wanted to put out a small piece of the story to answer everyone’s questions all at once. So here goes.
We were sitting in the cockpit of Raindancer, enjoying some homemade Pizza that Bianca was making from a recipe one of her friends had given her. It reminded us of a day we had in the Galapagos before our departure. It was a beautiful sunset, and our crew, and the crew of Southern Cross shared a memorable evening together, eating pizza, talking about how lucky we were to be sailing across the Pacific Ocean with friends and the journey that lay ahead of Us.
Fast forward a month and there we were, the 4 of us. Myself, Alana, Bianca, and Simon. On a 3100 nautical mile passage to the Marquesas from the Galapagos, with about 1400nm left to go. Cooking up that tasty pizza. We had good winds, sunny skies, and were sailing at around 6kts. The second pizza had just come out of the oven, and I was dipping a slice into some ranch dressing when it felt like we ran into a concrete wall. I heard a loud crashing noise simultaneous with a metal clanking. I heard Alana yell, “we hit a whale” then I looked to port and saw a huge whale, and blood gushing out of the side of it as it began swimming down.
I told everyone to check the bilges, and went down myself to check for water and collision damage. Within 5 seconds the high water bilge alarm went off, I could see water rushing in from the stern of the boat. At that point I knew the damage was very significant, and that most likely we were going to lose the boat.
At that point the crew began gathering safety equipment, supplies, emergency gear, electronics, etc. and they did an extremely good job of it. I went to the back of the boat to search for the source of the water.
At this point maybe 30 seconds have gone by since impact, and while I was searching the aft bilges, rudder, stuffing box areas, the water had already filled up above the floor. It was difficult to locate the source from the inside with the water level so high already.
At this point I was nearly certain the boat was going down, and at a rapid level. I made a last attempt to plug up water intrusion from the outside. On my way out I helped bring out the Liferaft and grabbed and set off one of our epirbs, and made a vhf radio mayday call. I deployed the life raft and it inflated as advertised.
I then realized that the sails were still up and the boat was still moving forward and it put a lot of tension on the painter line of the Winslow Liferaft, which had automatically deployed a sea anchor. Afraid that the painter would break, Bianca and I quickly put the sails away.
While this was happening, Simon asked me, “should we launch the dinghy?” I said absolutely. Simon and Alana were launching our 10.5ft. Apex dinghy that was sitting upright and inflated on the foredeck. After helping simon and Alana launch the dinghy, I put on my mask and fins on and jumped overboard with a tarp. I saw the damage instantly. There were multiple holes or “cracks”. The biggest one being around the prop shaft. It seems part of the whale must have hit the shaft with a strong force and busted open the fiberglass around the shaft. It was a very awkward hole to try and plug with rags and a tarp. It had a stainless steel shaft in the middle, and the holes around it were more like caves with broken pieces of fiberglass all around and inside it. In addition to this, I also noticed 2-3 full length cracks maybe an inch in diameter along the base of the skeg where it meets the hull, and about halfway down the skeg. I made attempts to shove a tarp in the hole (s) but it kept coming out. I tried to wrap the tarp around the damaged ared concicting of the rudder cked and and prop shaft and tie it around itself, but the open ocean waves and swell made that difficult, and with a boat that was already 2/3 full of water at that point, I decided to forego my efforts and focus on the safety and survival of the crew.
We started to load the dinghy up with as much supplies and emergency gear as possible. At this point we could no longer fill up water jugs as the water level was above the sink. The toe rail was inches from the water. The girls were both in the dinghy waiting for Simon and I to join them. I paused for a moment, tried to think of anything else I could be forgetting, or anything else I should do.
I then took a moment to take in the scene of what was happening, a split second. I could feel my emotions wanting to rise to the foreground but I quickly shoved them back down and Simon and I stepped into the water just as emotions wanting to rise to the foreground but I quickly shoved them back down and Simon and I stepped into the water just as the toe rail went under. I then swam to the Liferaft. When I got in it, I looked back and could see the last 10ft of the mast sinking down at an unbelievable speed.
Our painter line, which is designed to break before being pulled under with the boat, was still attached to the boat. Alana noticed it and shouted to cut it.. luckily I had a leatherman knife in my pocket and cut the painter as it was coming under tension.
The boat, and all our belongings was gone, out of sight, sinking to the bottom of one of the most remote parts of the ocean. 10,000ft down. We took a moment to breathe, and then began organizing and taking inventory of the items that we had manaded to secure.
The sun began to set and soon it was pitch dark. And we were floating right smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a dinghy and a Liferaft. Hopeful that we would be rescued soon.
Alana and I were in the dinghy which was secured to the Liferaft by three lines, one with shock cord we had linked together from the tethers of our life vests. Flying fish kept jumping in the dinghy through the night and the wind speed increased. A crazy moment floating in the ocean looking up at the stars.
Someone was always looking out for ships, and we were making a mayday call from our handheld radio every hour.
At about 0500z on March 14th, Simon spotted the first lights. This was shortly followed by radio contact from Sailing vessel Rolling Stones. We all screamed in relief when we heard the voices of Geoff (captain of Rolling Stones) over the radio. We were damn near over the radio. We were damn near rescued, and all we had to do now was safely transfer ourselves and our little belongings onto the Leopard 45 Catamaran.
I set off a parachute flare and activated my personal ais beacon to help them with our location. Once they approached, we all got into the dinghy, as we felt it would be easier to make the transfer. We came alongside Rolling Stones and threw over two lines. They brought us in and one by one we all dove forward onto their sugar scoop transom, timing the waves with every jump. We were rescued.
A huge thank you to the crew of Raindancer who made my job easy. I’m so proud of everyone for staying calm, gathering emergency equipment, and the way everything was handled. All the credit to them.
Big thanks to my brother Roger, once I knew that he was aware of the situation, I knew we would be ok. Big thanks to my mom for dealing with the caos on the homefront and all the emergency phone calls from the coast guard.
Huge thanks to Tommy Joyce from Southern Cross, and my good friend Vinny Mattiola. They were in contact with rescue boats giving them accurate information and advice. Without them the rescue would not have gone so swiftly and smooth.
A huge thanks to the entire sailing community for coming together to aid in our rescue. The one thing I’ve always loved about sailing is the people. We are truly special group of people. I’m thankful to be a part of such a supportive community.
A big thanks to the Starlink community, without Starlink, our rescue wouldn’t have gone so swiftly and smoothly. Technology saved our lives.
Perhaps the biggest thanks to our rescuers and Captain Geoff of Sailing Vessel Rolling Stones, for going out of their way to save us. Taking 4 strangers in on their home, and sailing the rest of the way together to French Polynesia.
It’s true, I’m sad to have lost my boat. It was everything to me. It was more than iust what I was doing more than just my way to save us. Taking 4 stangers in on their home, and sailing the rest of the way together to French Polynesia. It’s true, I’m sad to have lost my boat. It was everything to me. It was more than just what I was doing, more than just my home with all my belongings, it was a part of who I am. It stings about as much as losing any inanimate object can sting. But at the end of the day the most important things, by far, were rescued. We all have a lot to think about. Thanks to everyone for all messages and support.
UPDATE: March 13 & 14, 2023
From Boat Watch Facebook Group
NOTE from Boat Watch: Great job by the other ARC boats with communications and SV Rolling Stones in this rescue.
BOLO Ended (0615z): Final Update: All four (crew + Captain) have been rescued.
Their vessel sank just 15minutes after striking a whale. Their EPIRB never functioned as intended. 10 vessels responded, all due to Starlink being active.
Update 4: Rolling Stone Spotted Liferaft
Update 3: SV Rolling Stone, SV Far, MV Dong A MAIA are closest and responding now (0459z 3/13)
Update 2: Eight or more vessels are responding. New position from SV RAINDANCER @ 0223 11 31.129 S / 117 31.247 W
SV Raindancer has sunk in the Pacific. All four crew are not injured and in LIFERAFT with Dinghy in tow with ample food water. Their iridium battery is low. Iridium appears to be their only comms device and will only turn it on every 2 or 3 hours.
THEIR LAST COORDINATES ARE: 11°30.7S. 117°26.9W.
Coast Guard has been contacted. 20+ world arc boats are nearby. SY Far is closest and is responding now (2310z 3/13)
Vessel has sunk. They were hit by a whale.
Facebook Post by Vinnie Mattiola
EDIT 3/15: We’ve learned that the EPIRB did function as intended to transmit position data to SAR services in Peru & USCG! Great to hear of the device’s successful operation, however worth noting that only commercial vessels are privy to AMVER notices issued by JRCC, and not local private yachts who were better equipped to assist promptly.
Early last night my friend on SV RAINDANCER @distantseasyachts hit a whale mid-Pacific while crossing from Galapagos to the Marqueses….to put that into perspective, they were 13 days into a 20-22 day, 3000nm ocean crossing. The Capt reports the whale strike damaged the skeg & prop strut, and the boat was completely underwater in <15mins, forcing all 4 crew to abandon into the life raft. They brought provisions and water, secured the dinghy to the raft, and carried emergency equipment for communications and survival.
Their IridiumGo device was instrumental in broadcasting their position via the vessel’s PredictWind tracking page, in addition to their SPOT tracker. Unfortunately, it appears their activated EPIRB malfunctioned and did not transmit a GPS position to the Coast Guard.
In an astonishing effort by the cruising community, Boat Watch, and World ARC participants, communications were quickly established with nearby vessels using Starlink devices and assistance coordinated immediately. Within 10hrs they were rescued by SV ROLLING STONES, with assistance from SV FAR and SV SOUTHERN CROSS in the vicinity as well. All crew are safe and even sent me a voice message thanking everyone involved.
Watching this rescue-at-sea be conducted so efficiently is truly inspirational, let alone in real-time thanks to the updates from vessels equipped with Starlink devices. I was able to WhatsApp and Facebook message with the nearest yacht to pass along additional info.….something that may not be appreciated by land people for how remarkable it is.
The Pacific Ocean is a vastness which can barely be fathomed. We’ve entered a new era for safety-at-sea and tonight’s events highlight the need for widespread utilization of all available resources to promote the type of competent and outstanding seam’nship displayed by these crews.
The swiftness of action from SV RAINDANCER’s crew was incredible given the circumstances, and I’m grateful to all others involved for assisting our friends. I can only hope this becomes a case study for model emergency response in the future.
Four people aboard the Raindancer were stranded in the Pacific Ocean for 10 hours.
His circumstances sounded straight out of “Moby-Dick,” but Rick Rodriguez wasn’t kidding. In his first text messages from the life raft, he said he was in serious trouble.
“Tommy this is no joke,” he typed to his friend and fellow sailor Tommy Joyce. “We hit a whale and the ship went down.”
“Tell as many boats as you can,” Rodriguez also urged. “Battery is dangerously low.”
On March 13, Rodriguez and three friends were 13 days into what was expected to be a three-week crossing from the Galápagos to French Polynesia on his 44-foot sailboat, Raindancer. Rodriguez was on watch, and he and the others were eating a vegetarian pizza for lunch around 1:30 p.m. In an interview with The Washington Post later conducted via satellite phone, Rodriguez said the ship had good winds and was sailing at about 6 knots when he heard a terrific BANG!
“The second pizza had just come out of the oven, and I was dipping a slice into some ranch dressing,” he said. “The back half of the boat lifted violently upward and to starboard.”
The sinking itself took just 15 minutes, Rodriguez said. He and his friends managed to escape onto a lifeboat and a dinghy. The crew spent just 10 hours adrift, floating about nine miles before a civilian ship plucked them from the Pacific Ocean in a seamless predawn maneuver. A combination of experience, technology and luck contributed to a speedy rescue that separates the Raindancer from similar catastrophes.
“There was never really much fear that we were in danger,” Rodriguez said. “Everything was in control as much as it could be for a boat sinking.”
It wasn’t lost on Rodriguez that the story that inspired Herman Melville happened in the same region. The ship Essex was also heading west from the Galápagos when it was rammed by a sperm whale in 1820; leaving the captain and some crew to endure roughly three months and resort to cannibalism before being rescued.
There have been about 1,200 reports of whales and boats colliding since a worldwide database launched in 2007, said Kate Wilson, a spokeswoman for the International Whaling Commission. Collisions that cause significant damage are rare, the U.S. Coast Guard said, noting the last rescue attributed to damage from a whale was the sinking of a 40-foot J-Boat in 2009 off Baja California, with that crew rescued by Coast Guard helicopter.
Alana Litz was the first to see what she now thinks was a Bryde’s whale as long as the boat. “I saw a massive whale off the port aft side with its side fin up in the air,” Litz said.
Rodriguez looked to see it bleeding from the upper third of its body as it slipped below the water.
Bianca Brateanu was below cooking and got thrown in the collision. She rushed up to the deck while looking to the starboard and saw a whale with a small dorsal fin 30 to 40 feet off that side, leading the group to wonder if at least two whales were present.
Within five seconds of impact, an alarm went off indicating the bottom of the boat was filling with water, and Rodriguez could see it rushing in from the stern.
Water was already above the floor within minutes. Rodriguez made a mayday call on the VHF radio and set off the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB). The distress signal was picked up by officials in Peru, who alerted the U.S. Coast Guard District 11 in Alameda, Calif., which is in charge of U.S. vessels in the Pacific.
The crew launched the inflatable life raft, as well as the dinghy, then realized they needed to drop the sails so that line attaching the life raft didn’t snap as it got dragged behind still-moving Raindancer.
Rodriguez grabbed his snorkel gear and a tarp and jumped into the water to see if he could plug the holes, but it was futile. The area near the propeller shaft was badly punched in, he said.
Meanwhile, the others had gathered safety equipment, emergency gear and food. In addition to bottled water, they filled “water bottles, tea kettles and pots,” before the salt water rose above the sink, Rodriguez said.
“There was no emotion,” Rodriguez recalled. “While we were getting things done, we all had that feeling, ‘I can’t believe this is happening,’ but it didn’t keep us from doing what we needed to do and prepare ourselves to abandon ship.”
Rodriguez and Simon Fischer handed the items down to the women in the dinghy, but in the turmoil, they left a bag with their passports behind. They stepped into the water themselves just as the deck went under.
Rodriguez swam to the life raft, climbed in and looked back to see the last 10 feet of the mast sinking “at an unbelievable speed,” he said. As the Raindancer slipped away, he pulled a Leatherman from his pocket and cut the line that tethered the life raft to the boat after Litz noticed it was being pulled taut.
They escaped with enough water for about a week and with a device for catching rain, Rodriguez said. They had roughly three weeks worth of food, and a fishing pole.
The Raindancer “was well-equipped with safety equipment and multiple communication devices and had a trained crew to handle this open-ocean emergency until a rescue vessel arrived,” said Douglas Samp, U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area Search and Rescue Program Manager. He cautioned that new technology should not replace the use of an EPIRB, which has its own batteries.
Indeed, the one issue the crew faced was battery power. Their Iridium Go, a satellite Wi-Fi hotspot, was charged to only 32 percent (dropping to 18 percent before the rescue.) The phone that pairs with it was at 40 percent, and the external power bank was at 25 percent.
Rodriguez sent his first message to Joyce, who was sailing a boat on the same route about 180 miles behind. His second was to his brother, Roger, in Miami. He repeated most of what he had messaged to Joyce, adding, “Tell mom it’s going to be okay.”
Rodriguez’s confidence was earned. A 31-year-old from Tavernier, Fla., he had spent about 10 years working as a professional yacht captain, mate and engineer. He bought the Raindancer in 2021 and lived on her, putting sweat equity into getting the boat, built in 1976, ready for his dream trip.
Both he and Brateanu, 25, from Newcastle, England, have mariner survival training. Litz, 32, from Comox, British Columbia, was formerly a firefighter in the Canadian military. Fischer, 25, of Marsberg, Germany, had the least experience, but “is a very levelheaded guy,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez gave detailed information on their location and asked his brother to send a message via WhatsApp to Joyce, who has a Starlink internet connection that he checks more frequently than his Iridium Go. Because of his low battery, he told his brother he was turning the unit off and would check it in two hours.
Rodriguez also activated a Globalstar SPOT tracker, which transmitted the position of the life raft every few minutes, and he broadcast a mayday call every hour using his VHF radio.
When he turned the Iridium Go back on at the scheduled time, there was a reply from Joyce: “We got you bud.”
As luck would have it, the Raindancer was sailing the same route as about two dozen boats participating in a round-the-world yachting rally called the World ARC. Boatwatch, a network of amateur radio operators that searches for people lost at sea, was also notified. And the urgent broadcast issued by the Coast Guard was answered by a commercial ship, Dong-A Maia, which said it was 90 miles to the south of Raindancer and was changing course.
“We have a bunch of boats coming. We got you brother,” Joyce typed.
“Can’t wait to see you guys,” Rodriguez replied.
Joyce told Rodriguez that the closest boat was “one day maximum.”
In fact, the closest boat was a 45-foot catamaran not in the rally. The Rolling Stones was only about 35 miles away. The captain, Geoff Stone, 42, of Muskego, Wis., had the mayday relayed to him by a friend sailing about 500 miles away. He communicated with Joyce via WhatsApp and with the Peruvian coast guard using a satellite phone to say they were heading to the last known coordinates.
In the nine hours it took to reach the life raft, Stone told The Post, he and the other three men on his boat were apprehensive about how the rescue was going to work.
“The seas weren’t terrible but we’ve never done a search and rescue,” he said. He wasn’t sure whether they would be able to find the life raft without traveling back and forth.
He was surprised when Fischer spotted the Rolling Stones lights from about five miles away and made contact on the VHF radio.
Once it got closer, Rodriguez set off a parachute flare, then activated a personal beacon that transmits both GPS location and AIS (Automatic Identification System) to assist in the approach. Although the 820-foot Dong-A Maia, a Panamanian-flagged tanker, was standing by, it made more sense to be rescued by the smaller ship.
To board the Rolling Stones, the crew from the Raindancer transferred to the dinghy with a few essentials, then detached the life raft so it wouldn’t get caught in the boat’s propeller.
“We were 30 or 40 feet away when we started to make out each other’s figures. There was dead silence,” Rodriguez said. “They were curious what kind of emotional state we were in. We were curious who they were.”
“I yelled out howdy,” to break the ice, he explained.
One by one they jumped onto the transom. “All of a sudden us four were sitting in this new boat with four strangers,” Rodriguez said.
The hungry sailors were given fresh bread, then offered showers. The Rolling Stones crew gave their guests toothbrushes, deodorant and clothes. None even had shoes.
Rodriguez said he had tried not to think about losing his boat while the crisis was at hand. But, the first morning he woke up on Rolling Stones, it hit him. Not only had he lost his home and belongings, he felt like he’d lost “a good friend.”
“I’ve worked so hard to be here, and have been dreaming of making landfall at the Bay of Virgins in the Marquesas on my own boat for about 10 years. And 1,000 nautical miles short my boat sinks,” Rodriguez said.
The Rolling Stones is expected to arrive in French Polynesia on Wednesday, and Rodriguez is glad that he’s onboard.
“I feel very lucky, and grateful, that we were rescued so quickly,” he said. “We were in the right place at the right time to go down.”
A previous version of this article misstated the size of the J-boat that sank in 2009. It was 40 feet.
Broadcast Version For Maritime Mobile Service Network and Other Net
Emergency Bolo for 4 sailors in a liferaft after SV Raindancer sank in South Pacific. The last coordinates are:
11 31.129 S / 117 31.247 W
Vessels in vicinity are requested to keep a sharp lookout, assist if possible and make all reports to RCC Alameda.
REPORTS TO RCC ALAMEDA,
PHONE: 510 437 3701,