It was a risky rescue at sea that three California men are glad that a huge container ship took on.
It’s a story that we’ve been following since Sunday, when the men’s sailboat got caught in Hurricane Julio.
The 42-foot sailboat Walkabout was enroute from Stockton, Calif. to Honolulu, when it was dismasted by the hurricane and flooding, with three passengers aboard.
The Coast Guard footage of the rescue shows the sailboat pitching and rolling in the ocean’s huge storm-generated waves.
On-scene conditions Sunday were reported as 92 to 115 mph winds with 30-foot seas. One of the hatches of the Walkabout had blown away and on-board bilge pumps were unable to keep up with the flooding. The vessel’s life raft was also blown overboard.
The boat’s captain estimates a rogue 50-foot wave did them in.
“When (the mast) got ripped off, I was in there,” said crew member Mike Vanway. “That wave came over, and at that point I thought, this is it, we’re going down, ’cause there was a lot of water and I was just blind-sided by it.”
Ben Neely, the captain of the sailboat, had slowed their trek across the Pacific, hoping the hurricane would move south of them. But it didn’t and the crew took a direct hit.
“And we were being drawn along with the storm, I do believe,” Neely said. “As the storm was passing, it was also sucking us with it. So we weren’t getting out of it as nearly as I had hoped.”
The Matson container ship Manukai was almost back in Honolulu Harbor when it got the call from the Coast Guard for assistance. The ship turned back around and ended up coming to the rescue of the Walkabout.
The Manukai’s chief mate Matt Merrill said “we were all set. I was communicating with the captain and letting him know where the boat was, because at a certain point when the boat gets too close (to the sailboat), you know you can’t see it.”
A 700-foot plus ship, meant to ship cargo across the pacific, now became a life-saving vessel.
Capt. John Bloomingdale of the Manukai said conditions were at their worst when the container ship got to the Walkabout. “I was just fingers crossed that they make it up the (30-foot) ladder safe and that something doesn’t go horribly wrong at the last minute.”
“It was an experience. obviously. that very few people get to have,” said Neely. “They came up really close the first time and we bumped along their hull, that was fair to middlin’ scary. That was about the only time I thought we may end up in the water.”
But they didn’t and the crew is back on land, thanks to the heroic efforts of the Manukai crew.