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I found the following story about a PDQ 32 (similar to our boat) capsizing reposted on the PDQ forum…

Alameda-bound sailors rescued after boat capsizes
Story posted 2010.07.04 at 03:14 PM PDT

Three sailors destined for Alameda were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard Saturday after their sailboat overturned 20 miles off the Mendocino County coast near Fort Bragg, according to the Coast Guard.

Their 32-foot catamaran, the Calypso, was roughly half way to Alameda from Crescent City in Del Norte County, near the Oregon border, when it suddenly capsized in steep waves, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

At about 12:45 p.m., the Coast Guard received an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, or EPIRB, signal from the Calypso. The signal was the only distress signal received by the Coast Guard from the catamaran.

“If you ever wanted to hear a story about how important it is to have a registered EPIRB on your vessel and a float plan ashore, look no further than this case,” Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Todd Vorenkamp said.

The Calypso’s crew reported high winds in the early morning hours, with speeds pushing 45 knots, or about 50 mph. Believing their lives were in peril, the crew manually switched on the radio beacon.

Almost immediately after activating the signal, the catamaran capsized, pinning the crew beneath its overturned hull.

Although the crew managed to resurface and cling to the vessel’s hull, the three sailors spent more than an hour in the frigid Pacific Ocean waters, according to the Coast Guard.

What saved the Calypso crew was sound emergency planning — the crew had left a float plan, which is a description of the boat, the passengers and safety equipment aboard, destination and estimated time of arrival.

Using registration information from the beacon to contact the family of the vessel’s crew, the Coast Guard learned of the float plan and dispatched a 47-foot motor lifeboat from Fort Bragg and a helicopter from McKinleyville in Humboldt County, which is about 150 miles north of Fort Bragg.

“The float plan allowed us to confirm information about the vessel, create a better plan and expedite our search,” said Lt. George Suchanek, a helicopter pilot who responded to the call.

Following the catamaran’s radio signal, the helicopter, which arrived eight minutes before the lifeboat, was able to locate the overturned boat, whose hull blended in with the white-capped waves caused by high winds.

As the helicopter hovered over the vessel, rescuers spotted the sailors, lowered a rescue swimmer and hoisted them to safety in the aircraft.

The sailors were transported to a hospital and rescuers noted they were showing signs of hypothermia, according to the Coast Guard.

Mariners are recommended to file float plans with family, friends or a trusted person onshore to keep the Coast Guard informed during emergencies. A good float plan would include a description of the vessel, names of people on board and the intended destination and estimated time of arrival.

The beacon, mounted on the sailboat, can be turned on in an emergency to transmit the GPS position, identity of the vessel and other information to a satellite network.

“Without that piece of electronic gear aboard the Calypso, this would be the story of a maritime disaster, not a story with a happy ending,” Vorenkamp said.

Story posted 2010.07.04 at 03:14 PM PDT
ABC News

Note: Yes Mom and Dad, we do have an EPIRB!


  1. I would love to know whether they were taking the waves on the beam, or if they were able to run-off. I’m guessing that the winds were on-shore, that they were too close to run for long, and that it was too late to run for shelter (not much there). I’m guessing they were trying to motor into waves, or perhaps even sail a little, but the wind became to great and they were taking waves on the beam. It was not so sudden that they did not have time to trigger the EPIRB before rollong; they knew they were in a bad spot.

    I’m guessing, but I doubt they capsized running off. A sea anchor might have been nice, but they were rather close to shore.

    I learned sailing on fast tender boats. I avoided those tough conditions, because I knew they were beyond my boat’s abilities. Sometimes that meant my schedule changed. That is part of sailing; recognizing your limits and recognizing the power of weather.

    They didn’t need to be there.

    • It would be nice to read more details from the people who were involved. Fortunately they all lived so that may yet occur.

  2. An interesting story, Mike, and worth analyzing further.
    A few thoughts:

    Being picked up a little more than an hour after a capsize is remarkable, and reflects very well on the rescue agencies involved.

    Statistically speaking, this sort of incident is very, very rare among cruising cats.

    Also note that the overturned boat made a much larger, drier, more visible and more stable platform than a life raft would.

    It was noted that the overturned boat was hard to see among the whitecaps. I believe there is a very strong case for painting the underside of the bridgedeck in orange non-skid.

    Preventing hypothermia is critical. I do think that any boat going offshore should carry the same protective suits that Coast Guard crews wear (and when conditions warrant it, the crew have to wear them!) They’re not cheap, but I’d put them pretty high on the priority list when outfitting a boat.

    The cause of the capsize is not entirely clear. Was the boat still under sail in 45-knot winds? Had the crew deployed a drogue of some kind? The “if the worst happens” preparations appear to have been largely correct, but the “prevent the worst from happening” plan evidently fell short somehow.

    • Good point about the suits. I always keep 2 wet suits on-board when sailing in water cooler than 70F. Even if you are only going in for a few minutes to untangle a line, a wet suit is a great aid. There is no question, if I cruised in those waters I would keep something suitable on-board. Even for those cruising warmer waters, one suit is a good idea, for jelly fish and water that is cooler than you like.

      Once I had to swim ~ 20 yards to retrieve a rudder in 32F water wearing windblocker fleese; it was cold but survivable. Another time I did an engine repair in 40F water wearing a wet suit; not too bad at all.

    • Excellent thoughts Matt. Our vessel’s previous owner told me that if he were to sail offshore, he would run a knotted line from bow to stern under the boat so that if it were to invert, the crew would have something to hold on to while on top of the boat. The suits sound like a very good idea. Wouldn’t take too long to die from hypothermia in colder waters.

  3. Wow! So glad they’re safe. An EPIRB will definitely be on our boat when we start cruising. Being new to sailing, we learned this past Saturday how powerful the wind can be. We had to pull in our head sail (only sail up) due to the high winds. Stay safe!

    • The wind sure does have a lot of power. I read about your difficulties furling the sails. Sounds a lot like our first days sailing Katana last year!

  4. Helen A. Spalding

    I would make a guess that they got going too fast and actually pitchpoled, rather than capsized. If they were going too fast and buried the bows, the boat would trip over herself. However, she DID float, and they had their supplies and equipment handy. I notice that they had also deployed the dink, in case they had to step up! I’m gladd they are safe, and were prepared to summon help. However, I suspect that, had they had and deployed a series drogue, they would not have had to summon help because they wouldn’t have gone over in the first place. This also shows that even well prepared adult sailors may have to be rescued. Abby is not alone in this.

  5. This boat is too small for the conditions they were sailing in. Latitude 38 mentioned that people at the marina from where they left were ‘puzzled as to why they left when a gale was forecast’. Unless you rely on luck, sometimes you have to recognize the limitations of a small boat and plan accordingly. A forty foot cat? Sure, it could handle those conditions. A 32-ft? I think you are taking chances.

    • You’re likely right, especially given that they could have stayed where they were. I’m not so sure an extra 8 feet in length would have improved their chances much though!

      • An extra 8 feet in length (25% more), on its own, likely wouldn’t have made much difference.

        Assuming the 40′ boat has similar proportions to the 32′, though, it would have 1.25 times the beam, 1.95 times the displacement and 2.44 times the stability. That’s enough to make quite a big difference in a storm situation. Good seamanship is still critical, but the larger boat requires quite a lot more wind and wave energy to get in similar trouble.

        The downside, of course, is that the extra 8′ ends up doubling the cost of the boat, and since it now needs a bigger slip and doesn’t fit in the same Travelift, the dock and yard bills also go up. There are ways to get the safety and speed advantages of a larger platform without unduly increasing the weight and cost, but the resulting boat would have to spend most of its time at anchor (hard to fit in a marina) and would be hard to sell (people expect a long/wide boat to be spacious, luxurious and systems-intense).

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