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  • September 2009
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Our Boating Tragedy

First off, let me say that I am glad that both of us survived this latest adventure that we as a couple seem to be chocking up in our lives together. The omens that befell upon us as we began what was supposed to be a three day weekend of fun on our boat this Labor Day weekend, should have stopped us in our tracks, but didn’t. It actually turned onto four, as I got an unexpected day off on Friday after I begged for it. After a long, hot dry summer this year, the weather suddenly turned sour for the weekend, but we had no idea how bad it would be. As always, we checked the marine weather forecast on Thursday and saw that Saturday was going to be the worst day out of the three for boating weather and I was happy to get Friday off so we could get an early start on our long voyage to the San Juan Islands. There, we were supposed to hook up with with our good friends Larry, Lynette, Pam, and Rick. Larry and Lynette were taking their boat up and Pam and Rick were gong to be camping there at Snug Harbor Resort. Once we were all there, our other very good friends, Tori and Kevin who live on San Juan, were going to host us all at their home for a BBQ. We were looking forward to it immensely!!

Right out of home port, things went south. After fueling, we started our trek which would be about six hours to San Juan Island. Our main goal was to get there before dark and we were on track to make it. After just 45 minutes into it, we discovered we had radio problems. We could transmit and be heard, but couldn’t hear any replies. After some investigation, it was discovered we had a wire that was shorting out. It was workable and we continued, but in the process of finding that problem, we had pulled on a vaccum line that used to be connected to two gauges on our upper helm and were now connected together after one of the gauges failed. This was allowing air to get into our fuel line and our port engine started losing power occasionally before it would recover for awhile then lose power again. We decided to reluctantly turn back and go back to our dock. I made an attempt to fix the problem and thought I had achieved success. In the meantime we discovered Larry and Lynette had blown a hose on the way and started taking on water. They shut down the affected engine, called the Coast Guard for an escort, and headed back to their home port of Edmonds on one engine. Thanks to a very good mechanic, their repairs were underway. Now knowing we could not make San Juan before dark, we decided to head up to Edmonds and stay in their marina and would proceed Saturday morning provided the weather was acceptable. We headed out, things seemed good and we realized the power loss problem was not corrected. We were also experiencing it in both engines at this point. It wasn’t bad enough that we thought we might loose either one so we continued to Edmonds and arrived just as it was getting dark. I made the decision then, that if the problem could not be fixed, we would not continue. Early the following morning, Larry and I changed both fuel filters and did a very thorough wrapping with rescue tape of the vaccum line connection. We did a last minute listen of the NOAA marine forecast and it sounded a bit dicey especially at our destination where winds were expected to blow to 35 mph later that day. This is where I felt a gut feeling that I should have followed that we should not go, but we did.

Things were finally looking good. The weather wasn’t bad, seas were calm, both boats were fixed and running fantastic, it seemed all was on the upside. We headed up Saratoga Passage and were rounding the north part of Camano Island and into Skagit Bay when the weather turned and all hell broke loose. The wind had picked up and the waves had also. I radioed Larry and wondered if it was wise to continue. After some discussion, we decided to go through Deception Pass and see what the seas were like on the west side and make our decision then. It wasn’t but another fifteen minutes and the winds had increased twofold. Just as Deb and I realized this wasn’t a good idea, Larry had already turned around and we followed hoping to get over to Oak Harbor and into safe harbor. Once again we faced ever increasing winds and the wave swells were hitting at our port side at a good six feet. We had waves going over the bow and even over our upper helm which was making visibility difficult. We began to get scared and tried to compose ourselves to remain calm. It was all I could do to try and hit the waves at a 45 degree angle to the bow and keep Larry’s boat in sight. We had lost our navagational charts as our laptop was thrown off it’s perch and I had directed Debbie to shut it down and get it secured to prevent it from becoming damaged. I was going to just rely on visual navigation from here. We hadn’t realized it that Larry’s boat had hit something and they were radioing us to move to our port. Once again, the radio had stopped receiving! Soon after we heard a very loud bang that shuddered the boat and sent us sideways. I knew at that moment we were doomed! We immediately began to loose speed although the engines were still running at cruising RPM’s. I got on the radio to Larry that we had hit something but got no response. Even though it was not safe, I told Debbie to get down to the engine compartment to check if we were taking on water. She did and we were badly! I called a mayday on the radio and waited for a response and got none. I was being heard though and Larry was already communicating with the Coast Guard as they were down to one engine due to their hitting something and receiving damage. I decided to shut down the engines hoping that maybe we had blown a shaft or something and shutting down the engines would halt the water inflow. I turned the bilge pumps on and then checked the wiring on the radio and got it working. I then heard the haunting words from Debbie standing below knee deep in water in the cockpit that the boat was sinking and I had to get down and off the boat NOW! When I looked down and saw the whole stern of the boat below water I knew all was lost and jumped into the water!

A strange calm descended on both of us! Luckily both of us had life jackets on although I had never had time to secure mine so I was using mine as a float. While Debbie had been below, she had the where with all to grab my wallet and her Coach purse which she still clung to in the water. She hadn’t had tiome to zip it up and her wallet floated out and beyond reach. We swam as fast as we could away from the boat to prevent being caught in any type of swamping suction that might take us down with it. Both of us remained eerily calm and even cried as we saw our baby sinking beneath the water. Neither of us were scared for our lives at this point for reasons we will never know. The water was frigid, but neither of us were cold. Larry’s boat was getting further away from us, but we were somehow positive we were going to be rescued although the Coast Guard was nowhere in sight. Finally Larry dropped his dinghy and got over to us and hauled us into safety. We got his boat and us in the dinghy into the harbor where there was a multitude of people and fire aid waiting on the docks.

To put and end to this drawn out oratory, we came out of it safe but cold and bruised. Our boat and everything in it is gone. We lost two laptops, three cell phones, TV’s, VCR’s, tools, everything. All we had was the clothes on our backs, my wallet, our lives, very good friends Larry and Lynette who saved us and put us up on their boat, allot of very generous and caring boaters, sheriff, marina personnel, and vessel assist people who went out of their way to help us. We also want to thank Tori and Kevin Hillstrom who came down from San Juan with clothes and treats, and all of our friends in Snoqualmie and Facebook who were caring and were offering their help if needed. Posessions can be replaced, friends and good hearted people cannot. Now it’s time to begin the cleanup and salvage process. It will be an ugly and trying time. Bear with us and we love you all!

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4 Responses

  1. It appears as if you have evrything well in hand, but if there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know. I can only imagine the gravitas; I can only offer a hand.

  2. We were also out in the storm that morning and heard your radio mayday call. We were in a 1941 34′ Chris and had departed from La Conner earlier that morning. We too, had attempted to seek shelter in Oak Harbor, but since the wind and waves were pounding at us from the port side causing us to violently roll sideways, we aborted and headed directly into the wind towards Langley. Fortunately for us, It proved to be the best decision we made that day. 10 minutes after our aborted attempt to divert to Oak Harbor, we heard your mayday. It was sobering to hear how quickly the unfortunate events unfolded for you and should be a lesson to all boaters who were in range to hear the transmissions.

    Sorry for your loss, but happy to hear you are blessed with such wonderful friends. Glad to know that you are both safe and back on dry land.

  3. Thanks. She is on the hard and is a total wreck. We will miss our adventures on her.

  4. Skip, thanks much for the offer of help. We really appreciate it. Things seem to be under control, and there;s no boat left to do anything with. Not much else to do but handle the paperwork and remember the good times we had on our baby!

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