Yesterday was an extraordinary day for a research cruise. We broke off work to help a vessel in distress! The Captain of the R/V Sally Ride was alerted several days ago by the US Coast Guard that a distress message had been sent out by a sailboat with a broken mast and very little fuel remaining. Their only means of communication was their Garmin GPS system which allowed them to send short messages. We were the closest vessel to the distressed ship, 140 miles NW of us – slowly heading south towards us – and would likely need our assistance.
It became clear two days ago that we would have to assist this boat, particularly because it was running low on fuel. Helping other mariners in distress is a long and deep tradition at sea reaching back to ancient boats that sailed from island to island. According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, mariners have a duty to assist persons in danger at sea. Because we were apparently the closest ship in a position to assist the vessel in distress, the Captain decided that we must suspend our work – and so we steamed 12 hours to reach them.
At approximately 1 pm local time, on the 30th of April, we spotted the vessel on the horizon – it turned out to be a catamaran with a broken mast lying across its deck with its sails crumpled round it, and with a very small amount of fuel remaining. Only one engine was running and the boat was slowly turning in circles. The two men aboard were on their way from Tahiti to deliver the boat to Cancun. For two weeks, they had been eating nothing but rice and flying fish that landed on board.
The Captain and crew developed a plan to help them. First, using our rescue boat from the R/V Sally Ride, one of our crew members was ferried to the catamaran and jumped on board. Communicating with our Captain and crew, we positioned the Sally Ride so that the catamaran was aft of our ship. Finally, the two vessels were linked so that a fuel hose could be sent across and fuel delivered to the catamaran.
After about three hours, the catamaran was fully fueled, the sailors were given some boxes of food and were on their way. Although our science is important, helping the distressed sailors was immensely gratifying to the entire science party and crew. Our Captain and crew did an amazing job and it was truly incredible to watch! Photos below. Of the effort, Captain David Murline said, “I am very grateful to have such an experienced and exceptional crew who can work together safely and effeciently during an emergency situation.”