<%@ Language=JavaScript %> The Rescue
Public Speaking


Cruising Central America

The story on how I sailed on a small vessel around Central America.
Go to the start.


Capable sailors with maps, GPS, and not too difficult wind conditions run aground.
What went wrong?

Thank You

Our big "Thank You" goes to the US Coast Guards SAR who found us in the middle of the night and coordinated our rescue. People, we never met but will never forget!
US Coast Guards SAR


Another four hours that didn't seem to go by any quicker. At least, there was light at the end of the tunnel. 'Solitaire' was still screaming with every wave braking over us. Would her body hold? At times it sounded like our keel was braking off. If that happened we would capsize immediately. We kept waiting in silence...

At around 6 in the morning, the sky started lightning up. We had seen a ship earlier on, but it had disappeared at the horizon again. How would they rescue us with a plane? While we were still tossing this question, a big rescue plane suddenly appeared in the sky. We got on the radio and described our situation: Currently stable on the reef, but with the option of having to abandon ship if 'Solitaire' would give up.

"Do you have a handheld radio to stay in touch while in the life-raft?" We had to admit that our handheld was not working. "We will attempt to drop you a radio." Wow! How would they do that? We found out: After four dry runs, the plane approached us against the wind at a very low angle, and shortly after passing over us, a bin on a parachute was tossed out of the open loading hatch in the back. Bin and parachute landed about 50 meters away from us. We were supposed to get a hold of the long yellow line that was attached. Yet, the bin started drifting by and the line was too far away for us to grab.

I quickly checked the water around us: not too deep and only a moderate current. I jumped. Good thing, my passport was in a double-Ziplock. This time it was real swimming and diving. It took me two strokes to reach the line and another two to get back to the reef. Steve was watching in amazement while I was getting on my feet. I was standing in the middle of the ocean, 30 miles off the coast!

We pulled the bin on board and opened our present: Food, water, radio, sun screen, blankets, ... they had thought of everything. "Good catch down there", was the comment from above. "We will now scout the area for possible ships for pick up. We will not abandon you until you're save."  
We did not take any pictures that day. The photos on this page are just to give you an idea of how it was like out there...

In the next hour we were able to hear the coast guard talking to a variety of ships asking them for assistance in a rescue mission. Two Honduran shrimping boats, 13 miles away, agreed to come to pick us up. The coast guards coordinated everything via their radio. They even persuaded the shrimpers to speak English. We were impressed.

An hour later we saw the two ships approaching us. Due to the reefs, they were not able to come alongside. We therefore had to mount our waiting life-raft and drift down to them, leaving 'Solitaire' behind. A sad feeling for both of us, as we saw her getting smaller and smaller. Meanwhile, the coast guards were coordinating our return to shore. Since we had their handheld we were able to monitor the conversation and looked at us in disbelieve when we heard the shrimpers future plans: "We will be out to sea for another three weeks before we return to Roatan!" Three weeks on a shrimping boat? Well, better than on a stranded sailing boat.

Apparently, the coast guards idea of our return to shore was a different one as well: "Do you really intend to keep them aboard for three weeks?" Finally, it was agreed to set us ashore within the next 5 days, close enough to an airport from which we could fly home.

We continued paddling our life-raft towards the anchored shrimpers. Finally on board of 'Caribbean' we received a warm welcome from the two captains and their crews. The coast guard plane made one last low over pass. We waved and said "Good Bye" over the radio. The plane rose and disappeared from the sky - on to another rescue mission.

While we were taking showers and eating a healthy portion of a fresh shrimp salad (offered for breakfast), the two captains took the majority of their crews and paddled over to 'Solitaire' to see what could be used and -maybe- even try to get her off the reef. We were in the middle of our shrimp salad, when we suddenly saw 'Solitaire' moving. They had done it! She was swimming upright and motored around the reefs towards us. We stared in disbelieve as the shrimpers tied her up alongside.

A quick inspection showed that she was not taking too much water. Yes, the port side was heavily damaged. So was the rudder and the propeller shaft. But, after patching one hole it seemed like she would be able to sail. Steve looked at me, the question unspoken. I nodded: Yes, we would try to get her to the next harbor, 200 miles from here.

The adventure was not over yet. We cleaned her and got her ready again to sail. After Steve had reclaimed some of his belongings we said "Good Bye" to our friends, lifted the anchor, and slowly motored west-ward. We had agreed to stay in radio contact. No one could say for sure whether 'Solitaire' would be able to handle another 200 miles. We would find out.

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2014 by Joh. Hennekeuser - Last update: 09-Nov-2014