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Rod Stephens Trophy Awarded - he saved the sailor AND the sailing boat

by Cruising Club of America/Sail-World on 13 Feb 2013
Derk Wolmuth and his 31-foot Vindo sailboat, Bela Bartok - photo by LaDonna Bubak Latitude 38 .. .
The Cruising Club of America (CCA) has selected Captain Thomas B. Crawford (Lopez Island, Wash.) to receive its 2012 Rod Stephens Trophy for Outstanding Seamanship for the rescue of Derk Wolmuth and his 31-foot Vindo sailboat, Bela Bartok, during the 2012 Singlehanded Transpacific Yacht Race. The trophy is given 'for an act of seamanship which significantly contributes to the safety of a yacht or one or more individuals at sea.'

The Incident:
In the early hours of July 15, 2012, Crawford was aboard his ship, Matson Navigation’s 860-foot RoCon MV Mokihana, en route to Oakland, Calif. He received a call from the Coast Guard asking for help in the rescue of Derk Wolmuth, who was two weeks into the 18th biennial Singlehanded Transpacific Yacht Race from San Francisco, Calif. to Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii.

Wolmuth was fighting an infection onboard, but with no antibiotics he was close to death. An avid sailor himself, Crawford connected with Wolmuth over the radio. His primary goal was to save Wolmuth, but he hoped to save the boat as well, since it served as Wolmuth’s only home.

Prior to bringing the sick sailor aboard, Crawford instructed Wolmuth to adjust Bela Bartok’s Monitor wind vane and trim the jib. After Wolmuth was aboard Mokihana and on his way to the ship’s infirmary, Crawford maneuvered his large ship – using gantline hauling, engine commands and the helm and bow thruster – to get Bela Bartok on course to Hawaii, which was 450 miles away.


On July 19th Bela Bartok was rescued 15 miles north of Maui by Wolmuth’s fellow race competitors, who had been monitoring the boat’s progress with the Yellow Brick Tracker that was aboard.


According to Crawford both of his goals were accomplished. 'Derk is alive and mending, and his home (Bela Bartok) is safe in Oahu. Many people working together made for an amazing outcome…not exactly a Mars landing, but it wasn’t that far removed for a bunch of people unknown to each other and with no planning or rehearsal.'

About Tom Crawford:
Crawford graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in 1972 and went on to attend Leith Nautical College in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1976 and the California Maritime Academy for Diesel Ship Operations in 1984. His credentials are lengthy and include a Merchant Mariners Certificate and a Master of Steam and Motor Vessels of any Gross Tons Upon the Oceans Certification. From 1986 through 1996 Crawford worked as Chief Mate and Shipmaster for the global container transportation company American President Lines before being employed by Matson Navigation Company where he has worked for 16 years as Shipmaster.

About the Cruising Club of America:
The Cruising Club of America is dedicated to offshore cruising, voyaging and the 'adventurous use of the sea' through efforts to improve seamanship, the design of seaworthy yachts, safe yachting procedures and environmental awareness.

Now in its 90th year, the club has 11 stations throughout the U.S., Canada and Bermuda, with approximately 1200 members who are qualified by their experience in offshore passage making. In even-numbered years, the CCA organizes the Newport to Bermuda Race in conjunction with the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club. Through the club’s Bonnell Cove Foundation, grants are made to 501 C3 organizations for safety at sea and environment of the sea projects. For more information on the CCA, go to http://www.cruisingclub.org.

Photos in this story were the work of LaDonna Bubak of www.latitude38.com/!Latitude_38

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