Maybe the sailing vessel Raw Faith should have made sure it had more than ‘raw faith’ when it set to sea the other day. One mast coming down is terrifying enough, when all three fall to the deck in stormy conditions and injure crew, it’s probably time to consider whether the vessel should be allowed to sea at all.
Raw Faith under sail
On Thanksgiving Day in 2004, the Coast Guard towed the home-built three-masted sailing vessel to Rockland after it became disabled about 80 miles northeast of Portland. The ship, a replica of a 16th century English race-built galleon, had been bound for Atlantic City, N.J., where the crew planned to stay for a couple of weeks before continuing to Florida.
After the ship's return to Rockland that fall, the Coast Guard ordered the Raw Faith to remain in Rockland until repairs to the ship's navigation lights, rudder and mast were completed.
Raw Faith anchored in Rockland
The builder and owner of the vessel George McKay, whose daughter Elizabeth suffers from Marfan's syndrome, built the ship with a mission to provide free sailing to people with disabilities. McKay and his family sold all their possessions, formed the non-profit entity Accessible Sailing Adventures in 2000 and have since been trying to raise money to provide sailing trips.
Raw Faith became disabled in a gale late Tuesday night near Mt. Desert Rock. The captain and crew called for assistance after losing one of three masts around 9 p.m. It had set sail from Jonesport on a trip to Cape May, N.J.
Coast Guard Group Southwest Harbour initially set up 30-minute radio communications with the Raw Faith and dispatched the Cutter Seneca to find and assist the ship. By 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Raw Faith reported to the Coast Guard that it had lost two more masts in the rough sea and strong winds.
All three masts reportedly landed on the deck of the ship. One person was reportedly hit in the head with part of the falling mast but was not seriously injured.
According to Petty Officer Joshua Ryan, the Seneca arrived on scene as planned around 8 a.m. Wednesday, locating the Raw Faith about 50 miles off Mt. Desert Rock.
'Nobody was injured, they're just a little seasick,' Ryan said. 'There was a gale last night and it was a pretty rough ride without any sails to keep them into the wind.'
Capt. Paul Dilger, commanding officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Abbie Burgess, said that his ship and crew sailed from Rockland to meet the Cutter Seneca south of Vinalhaven and tow the Raw Faith the final leg into Rockland.
After the first failed trip, Raw Faith remained at anchor off Rockland for nine months while undergoing improvements ordered by the Coast Guard.
In August, the ship was given permission to sail to Jonesport for mast work. It was given permission April 23 to set sail in reasonable weather conditions, said Lt. Daniel McLean of the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Detachment in Belfast.
Associated Press reported that Jeff Totman, a recreational sailor from Camden, blamed McKay for lacking proper respect for the sea or the proper skills to safely navigate safely.
'He just built himself a boat and headed out to sea. And every time he does, he has to be rescued,' said Totman, who posted a disapproving message on the RawFaith Web site.
The Raw Faith's masts were known to be too small, and it was reported that Mc- Kay had made 'unconventional' repairs to strengthen them. The Coast Guard now plans to keep the ship anchored at Rockland again, and be ‘firmer’ than they have in the past.
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