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STRANDED IN THE PACIFIC: A true survival epic: Written by Gary Bain
The following story is a true and accurate accounting of a routine boat delivery that turned into a 32 day survival saga. The videos were filmed during the voyage. See condensed story below the list of videos.
Video 1: Preparing for survival - First night after stranding, preparing to make a sea anchor
Video 2: The relentless sea - At the mercy of the seas-Days and days of rolling, tossing and pounding
Video 3: Air Force to the rescue: - A cargo drop containing welding equipment and other essential items
Video 4: Retrieving air drop cargo - A perilous retrieval of the container the Air Force dropped
Video 5: White tip sharks - A school of Pacific white tip sharks always around the boat-waiting for???
Video 6: Rendezvous with tugboat - What a glorious sight, rescue near at hand
The fateful journey began in June of 1990. I was the Captain with a crew of 6 that included my wife Barbara Bachle( fiancée at the time ), a second captain and his girl friend, Brian Daly our engineer, and a Canadian boat hand. We were commissioned to deliver a twin engine, 120', steel-hulled, liveaboard dive vessel from Morgan City, Louisiana to the Truk Islands in the Pacific. The first leg of the journey took us to the Cayman Islands then on to the Panama Canal. Going through the canal is a story in itself and was quite an experience. We departed Panama on July 12th with fair winds and a gently rolling sea. With thousands of porpoises in pursuit we made our way westward south of the Galapagos Islands and south of the equator.
The smooth sailing deteriorated more each day until on the eighth day out we were experiencing 12 to 14 waves. Then it happened, 1500 miles from the nearest land, 1,000 miles from the closest ship, both rudders broke off the boat and left us at the mercy of the seas. We were unable to make way due to the vessel having been converted from single screw to twin screw and the props were too close to center line to use differential steering. Attempts to make way northwestward towards the Hawaiian Islands only resulted in the vessel weather-vaning and heading southeastward into the winds and seas, the opposite direction we wanted to go. The vastness and emptiness of the great Pacific became readily apparent. The sheer isolation and helplessness of our situation sunk in as darkness overtook us.
PREPARING FOR SURVIVAL
Contact with the Coast Guard was made and we started preparing plans for an extended stay in an uncertain sea and uncertain future. A tugboat was arranged to tow us to Hawaii but it would take 10-14 days for it to rendezvous with us. With the inability to steer the vessel, it simply laid in the trough between the waves and was getting pounded on each crest. As the waves rolled under the boat the aft hull would be picked up and then slammed into the sea. The thrillseeker would probably enjoy the ride but I'm here to tell you, after even a few hours of that roller coaster effect, to say nothing of days of it, that it will prey on your mind and body and rob you of any sanity.
Our first attempt at self help was to construct a sea anchor which would keep the bow into the wind and keep us from getting pounded. That failed so we made a sail out of the tarpaulin from the top deck. That helped stabilize the boat . It also was assisting us on our westward route as we were trying to make it to the Marquasis Islands, the closest landfall, should the tug not make it. With the sail and prevailing currents we were making two knots due west.
AIR FORCE PARACHUTE DROP AND "STERNWAY
A few days later the Air Force came to the rescue with a parachute drop that included welding equipment, assorted tools, and to our surprise, a variety of chocolates and magazines. We quickly made a sea anchor with the parachute which worked wonderfully. That is until just a couple of hours later sharks fouled it so back into the trough we went. With the welding equipment we were attempting to construct and mount a provisional rudder. Because the seas always kept the aft deck wet we couldn't weld back there so we made a huge sea anchor instead. With two 4'x 8', 3/4" plywood sheets, chains, floats and a lot of rope we threw the device over the bow and started backing down on it to set the anchor. Lo and behold, the craft was holding steady in a northwest direction, just the way we wanted to go!! So for 5 days, we made what is now fondly referred to as "sternway", we drove the boat backwards with the sea anchor in tow and were making 5 knots at that. With that effort and the sail we had made previously, we closed the distance on the tug some 800 miles.
RENDEZVOUS WITH TUGBOAT
As we slowly made our way in a northwesterly direction the tugboat "Naina" was steaming southeasterly from Honolulu to meet us. We had ran out of most of our food and were eating fish that were plentiful around the boat and easily caught. What would normally be a sport fisherman's dream was our means of survival. By using the flying fish that landed on the decks at night for bait, the school of dolphins ( not porpoises ) that were always around the boat were easy prey. At the first sight of the tug there was much rejoicing and celebration. We were almost three weeks into our ordeal at this time. After replenishing our food and hooking up to the tug we started a 2400 mile journey to Honolulu that would take almost two weeks. We skirted a hurricane on the way in and got pulled through some horrendous weather. Oh what a glorious sight that land was after 32 days at sea. Needless to say, we toured the local establishments of the night life of Honolulu 'til the wee hours of the night!! We are very thankful to the all the folks that participated in our rescue, especially the Air Force, the Coast Guard that coordinated everything, the tugboat crew, the owners of the vessel and all the people at home.
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