Caribbean-bound yachts head south - five rescues in 24 hours

They dream of being here - but are they prepared well enough for the voyage?
.. .
Are they going with boat and/or crew unprepared for the conditions? As rally boats and others make their way south down the American east coast to the Caribbean to escape the winter, the US Coast Guard is stretching to assist those who get into trouble and call an emergency. On Friday morning this week, the Coast Guard was working to rescue a fifth boat after four boats off the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina were reported in distress Thursday.

The Coast Guard said two of the sailboats were 230 and 275 miles east of Virginia Beach; those were part of the Salty Dawg Rally, a large group of sailboats making their way down the East Coast to the Bitter End Yacht Club in the British Virgin Islands.

Another distress alert came from a boat 230 miles east of Elizabeth City. A fourth distressed boat was located about 50 miles southeast of Okracoke Inlet, where a 67-year-old man aboard was reported to have an arm injury. The extent of the injury reported is not known at this time.

Crews were launched aboard an HC-130 Hercules airplane and an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City. The Coast Guard contacted the Navy, who diverted USS Vella Gulf toward the two northern sailboats. An alert was also issued for any vessels in the area to assist.

Thursday night, crews located the sailboat off the coast of Okracoke Inlet, the Brave Heart. A Coast Guard said that the boat finally reached safety on its own. Petty Officer David Weydert said the weather conditions did not allow the Coast Guard to approach the boat.

Coast Guard resources that had been dispatched to help the Brave Heart were diverted sometime during the night to help a fifth sailboat, the Zulu, with a steering problem 100 miles off the coast of Oregon Inlet, N.C. The Coast Guard has been with that boat since and planned to tow it to land Friday at sunrise. However, rough seas are creating difficulty, and crews are now waiting for the water to calm before they begin the rescue.

One boat off the coast of Virginia Beach, the Ahimsa, was reported to be battling 12-foot waves and taking on water. The four people on board the 41-foot boat were very seasick and in what he said was 'bad shape.'

Friday at about 1:30 a.m., a Coast Guard helicopter hoisted those aboard to safety and took them to Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City. The Coast Guard said the medical status of those people is 'okay.' Upon arriving in Elizabeth City around 3 a.m., the four rescued declined medical attention.

The Coast Guard was able to make contact with the other sailboat near Virginia Beach, the 38-foot Nyapa, and was told the distress call was due to a lost mast and the boat taking on water. However, when watchstanders were not able to respond immediately, the crew were able to use a backup motor and continued safely on their route to the Bahamas.

Coast Guard crews have been unable to contact the sailboat Aurora off the coast of Elizabeth City. However, nearby sailboat Dreamreach was able to contact the boat and found the radio distress call it sent was a false alarm. The boat is headed to Bermuda and the Coast Guard has asked its counterpart there to inform them when the boat arrives safely.

The reports from the Coast Guard show much chaos on the water from a few boats - but raise more questions than they answer.
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