Fast-moving storms blew through parts of the Eastern Seaboard last week, whipping maritime communities with heavy rain and high winds. True to form for Coast Guard men and women, the foul weather was no match for the perseverance of Coast Guard crews.
The Coast Guard responded to a sailboat sinking near the mouth of the Great Wicomico River and another sailboat northeast of Cape Charles that was also sinking.
Crewmembers aboard the 34-foot sailboat Basta contacted Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads’ command center reporting the boat was experiencing engine trouble, and they were unable to raise their sails or lower an anchor.
Hampton Roads watchstanders issued an urgent marine information broadcast and dispatched a rescue crew from Coast Guard Station Cape Charles and an aircrew aboard an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C.
After being underway for approximately an hour, the boat crew was directed to return to base due to the high seas. The helicopter crew met a similar fate as they arrived on scene.
“It was very difficult to see; there was no illumination. Even with our night vision goggles it was very hard to see any reference visually,” recalled Lt. Jamie Carabin, pilot of the helicopter crew.
Due to 40-knot winds and 12-foot seas, the helicopter was unable to hoist the crewmembers from the sailboat.
“Given the sea state, the mast would rock left and right and towards the aircraft which easily would have become a tangle hazard for the rescue swimmer as we got closer,” added Lt. Kirsten Jaekel, co-pilot on the mission.
The crew headed back to land to refuel, all the while formulating a new plan to keep these sailors safe.
Back on scene once again, the aircrew deployed the swimmer to the Coast Guard rescue boat from Coast Guard Station Little Creek, Va., where the swimmer could safely climb aboard the sailboat.
“In this period, the sailboat was actually drifting through the shipping channel and was getting pretty close to container ships,” said Carabin.
The routine training that occurs between boat and aircrews paid off as the swimmer transitioned smoothly to the sailboat and secured a towline.
“They had a one-shot opportunity that once the swimmer was on board to throw one heaving line to the bow of the boat and rig the tow bridle as quickly as possible, otherwise they would be looking for second contingencies to get that vessel and the people off of it before it ran into the cargo ship,” said Jaekel.
The crew from Little Creek towed the boat safely back to land, where the two Basta sailors were evaluated by an ambulance crew.
In a separate case, sailors aboard the Silver Mists contacted the command center reporting their boat hit a submerged object, causing it to begin sinking in Chesapeake Bay.
Sector Hampton Roads watchstanders dispatched a crew from Coast Guard Station Milford Haven. The rescue crew arrived on scene, transferred the four people from the sailboat onto the Coast Guard boat and took the sailors shore side.