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Day Dreamer has Sunk – Those Darn Whales

Many readers know I’ve been fortunate enough to do some blue water sailing with my good friends Peter and Lisa on their lovely catamaran, Day Dreamer, in the past. And I’ve posted about some of those adventures on this very blog. Peter and Lisa recently sold their vessel to begin new adventures. Yesterday, Peter got the phone call that all sailors dread. The emergency satellite beacon was firing and the Coast Guard was calling and waking him out of a deep sleep in the dead of night. The new owners hadn’t had time yet to change the contact information connected to that beacon and thus the Coast Guard where calling Peter. He quickly put the Coast Guard in contact with the new owner’s family. Below I’ve posted what Peter wrote up about the incident and some related audio, video, and pictures.

S/V Day Dreamer with its starboard hull awash

S/V Day Dreamer with its starboard hull awash

Peter: At 12:37am Alaska time I woke up to my cell phone vibrating next the bed. There was already one voicemail.

I was so sleepy I thought, hmmm Lisa’s in puerto rico and she know’s it’s late here so it must be serious. I took the call only to hear a guy’s voice.

Coast Guard: “Sir, we have an EPIRB registered to you going off about 90 miles north of the Dominica Republic. Are you the owner of Day Dreamer?”

Peter: It took me a few seconds to shake the cobwebs out of my head enough to realize that actually Lisa is already in Florida, and this guy sounds pretty serious and did he say “EPIRB”. I asked him, “are you saying my EPIRB went off?”

Coast Guard: “Yes, do you know where your boat is.”

Peter: “Yeah, I sold it to a guy who was going to sail the the Bahamas.”

Coast Guard: “How many persons are on board.”

Peter: “Ahhh, 4, I think, maybe 5. No, I am pretty sure it’s 4”.

Coast Guard: “Do they have any means of long range communication, a sat phone or anything.”

Peter: I had asked Phil that on the last day and he had indicated that he often did rent sat phones but had never needed them and decided this time to skip it.

Having finally collected my thoughts, the only thing I could say was, “These guys were pretty hard core having done many remote expedition type trips. If they pushed that button, they are in serious trouble.”

Coast Guard: “Ok, thanks. If you can email us any more photos or details that would be helpful”

Peter: Over the course of the next hour I emailed several aerial photos taken from bridges, the top of the mast, etc. and detailed the names of the guys, the presence of flares, two EPIRBs and the purple dingy cover.

Eventually, I didn’t have anything left to give, so crawled back into bed and tossed and turned. Visions of waves washing over the deck finally put me under.

I awoke again about 6:30 am to my phone growling again. It was my father-in-law in Eagle River, AK. “Hey, the coast guard is looking for you.” “Yeah, I know.”

Then more calls. Lisa had found the phone number for Phil’s wife. I called her. She hadn’t been called in the middle of the night and had just received word that a helicopter was on-site.

Then came news that all were aboard the chopper and headed back to PR.

From: Coast Guard
To: Peter
Time: Thu Feb 25 07:45 am
Subject: Day Dreamer


Just wanted to give you a heads up that the S/V Day Dreamer crew were evacuated by our Jayhawk and brought back to Puerto Rico safely with no injuries.  All persons were successfully rescued.  Thank you again for the information.  It really helped in the rescue efforts.

Operations Unit Controller
Sector San Juan
US Coast Guard
Command Center

I was talking again with the wife. Talking about the weather looking perfect, and unable to imagine what happened. Guessing that one of the crew had a medical emergency and needed care etc. When she interrupted me to say, “Phil’s calling me now, bye.”

New Owner: He called me, clearly wired high on adrenaline, but his first words were, “I am so sorry I lost your boat.”

Then he filled in the details. They had left Puerto Rico on schedule on Tuesday AM. Weather was ideal. 16-20 on the tail, almost dead downwind, light swell, comfortable and moving right along. “Couple of crew members sea sick, but nothing terrible. First night was OK, next day (Wed) picture perfect. Second night beautiful as well. We were about 5 miles north of the line of shallow banks that starts about 120 miles out of the Turks and Caicos. Very deep water. About 2 am then heard a loud impact that shook the boat. Steering jammed. Water coming into starboard side. They felt the speed was pushing the water in faster, so prioritized disconnecting the rudder to get steerage, then dropping sails to slow down.”

“We had the sails down in a couple of minutes, and had regained steering quickly as well by disconnecting the armature. I headed down the starboard side, it’s dark but water is already well over the floorboards. They were floating around. I proceeded to essentially dive around and try and feel for where the water was coming from. I hadn’t been doing this long when my auto-inflate vest fired. Had to get that off. Water higher and higher all the time. Now I am under water, in the dark sloshing around feeling every nook and cranny I can imagine might be there. I never did find where the water was coming in. The guys were manually pumping and the bilges were going but just couldn’t keep up. It was a losing battle. I searched and searched with no luck.”

“After awhile, the lights started to flicker as the starboard battery bank got covered. I realized the electrical system was going to go offline, so I flipped that switch you told me never to mess with. The one that cuts the two banks apart. I flipped it to port and sure enough the lights came back on. I realized we should start making mayday calls while we still had the VHF and that it was time to activated the EPIRB. That was about 4:30 am” (I got the first USCG call 7 minutes later on my cell).

“I got out your green EPIRB and pressed that button I never thought I would touch.” We kept pumping for while but we were tired. I decided it was time to get ready to leave. We dropped the dingy like you suggested and had it trailing on next to us on a line in case there was a fire or something.”

“We got the ditch bag out and set the second EPIRB on the salon table where it was easy to reach, but the lights on the first were flashing and it looked like it was working.”

“It hadn’t been all that long and a cruise ship answered our Mayday. They were fairly close and diverted to our location.”

“We talked to the cruise ship and they assured us that they were not far.”

“We could now see that we were surrounded by the biggest pod of humpback whales I have ever seen. 40-50 at least, too many to count. I can only surmise that we had struck a whale.”

“We soon saw the cruise ship on the horizon. They didn’t want to get close to the whales so they launched one of their rescue boats when they were several miles out. We could see the ship on the horizon. The rescue boat got within about a mile or two and it’s engine failed. It was just bobbing there. So the cruise ship launched another rescue boat which went to help the first one.”

“By now the starboard side was completely full of water, waves were washing over the deck and water started to fill the port side having made it over the salon floor. There was nothing we could do.”

“We watched the two rescue boats bob around for awhile. It was clear that the boat was going to float even full of water, so we weren’t concerned. And we still had the dingy. Conditions were really nice, easy and calm.”

“By the time they got the first rescue boat going again, we could hear the chopper coming. They told us the only thing we could bring were our passports, but I emptied your ditch bag and put my laptop and our phones in it and brought the entire bag along. I have some pictures, but you probably don’t want to see them.” (I have asked for them, but Phil said he had a ‘stack of paperwork’ to complete at the coast guard station and would send them when he could.)