Sailing crew rescued after giant whale sank 44ft boat in Pacific Ocean

March 21, 2023

Whale collided with sailboat 13 days into group’s three-week sailing trip from Galápagos Islands to French Polynesia


A giant whale sank a sailing crew’s boat in the Pacific Ocean before the group was rescued at the end of an ordeal that could have come out of a novel.

Rick Rodriguez of Tavernier, Florida, and three friends spent 10 hours on a lifeboat and dinghy after a whale sank the crew’s 44ft sailboat Raindancer, the Washington Post reported on Monday.

The group had planned a three-week sailing trip from the Galápagos Islands to French Polynesia, about 3,500 miles away in the south Pacific. But on 13 March, only 13 days into the crossing, disaster struck. At about 1.30pm, Rodriguez was enjoying a vegetarian pizza for lunch with the others when he heard a loud noise.

“The second pizza had just come out of the oven, and I was dipping a slice into some ranch dressing,” Rodriguez said to the Post during an interview over a satellite phone. “The back half of the boat lifted violently upward and to starboard.”

Other members of the crew were thrown by the large impact, but each saw from different angles that a whale had smashed into the boat.

“I saw a massive whale off the port aft side with its side fin up in the air,” Alana Litz said.

Five seconds after the whale’s collision, an alarm sounded, warning that the boat was filling with water. Rodriguez said the crew members, who each have experience boating, quickly sprang into action.

Rodriguez placed a mayday call on a VHF radio and dispatched the emergency position indicating radio beacon, a distress signal that is connected to a worldwide rescue network.

The Peruvian coast guard later picked up Rodriguez’s distress beacon and notified a US Coast Guard station in California that oversees American ships in the Pacific Ocean.

While saltwater spilled into the vessel, others in the boat gathered food, emergency equipment and other gear, as well as fresh water.

The crew launched their lifeboat and a dinghy. They had grabbed their safety supplies but didn’t have enough time to get their passports.

On the lifeboat, the group had sufficient water for about a week. The crew also had a device that catches rainwater as well as food for three weeks.

Now stranded, Rodriguez and the crew had a phone, satellite wifi hotspot and an external battery that were all minimally charged.

Rodriguez first messaged his friend and fellow sailor Tommy Joyce about the situation. Joyce was sailing the same route as Rodriguez about 180 miles behind.

“Tommy this is no joke,” Rodriguez typed. “We hit a whale and the ship went down.”

Rodriguez sent a similar message to his brother, Roger, adding: “Tell mom it’s going to be OK.”

Rodriguez then asked his brother to send a message to Joyce on WhatsApp because he checked the social messaging app more frequently. After turning off the wifi hotspot for two hours to save battery power, Rodriguez received a reassuring message from Joyce: “We got you bud.”

Hours later, Rodriguez and his crew joined the Rolling Stones, a 45ft boat captained by Geoff Stone.

Stone had received one of Rodriguez’s mayday calls from a friend and coordinated a rescue of Rodriguez’s group with Joyce and the Peruvian officials.

The crew should land in French Polynesia on Wednesday. Rodriguez told the Post he is grateful to be safely onboard the Rolling Stones but misses the Raindancer, a boat he was living on and had retrofitted for the trip.

“I feel very lucky, and grateful, that we were rescued so quickly,” said Rodriguez. “We were in the right place at the right time to go down.”

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