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Rescue after rudder loss, yacht abandoned, but was it necessary?

by Des Ryan on 17 Jan 2014
Rescue of crew from Be Good Too, showing one of the rescued sailors and rescue swimmer being lifted into the helicopter from the abandoned catamaran SW
One critical question many long-range cruising sailors spend time thinking about is what to do in the case of a lost rudder. There are many jury rig suggestions, most of which don't work, but sailors have been known to sail thousands of miles steering with their sails(eg., see Sail-World story). This throws into contrast the following story, not to mention their abandonment, rather than scuttling, of their disabled yacht.

The story was retold by sailing journalist Charles Doane, the first to be lifted into the helicopter during the rescue.
The incident, widely reported in the mainstream news, occurred earlier this month about 300 miles east of Cape Henry, Va., USA.

Doane, who has told the media he is an experienced sailor, was apparently a guest aboard the 42ft sailing catamaran 'Be Good Too' on a voyage that was meant to be from New York to the US Virgin Islands.

The rest of the crew consisted of the owners, Gunther and Doris Rodatz, who obviously didn't consider themselves experiences, as they had hired the other crew member, Hank Schmidt, as skipper to take the boat to the Caribbean.

Several days into the voyage the catamaran was struck by two 'massive waves' in quick succession.

'It was one big hit right across the front of the boat,' Doane told the media later. 'It was a huge hit.'

Following this incident damage was discovered to the boat's steering capabilities as well as its propulsion system. The decision was made to lie ahull, while they attempted to repair some of the damage.

Several days were spent like this, during which they were pumping water from inside the boat as well as trying to fix the steering. However, there was no success, as they discovered that the rudder was bent and 'useless'.

'We opened a bottle of good wine and had a discussion on what we should do,' Doane described. The next day they reported in distress.

Responding, the Coast Guard began to devise a rescue plan for the crew.

Coast Guard officials were initially going to respond to the disabled boat with a Coast Guard cutter, however they determined that was not feasible due to the distance offshore.

Officials then contacted U.S. Fleet Forces personnel, requesting a Navy vessel to assist the Coast Guard in their response. The USS Ross, a 505-foot guided missile destroyer, diverted from its course to provide a refueling platform for a Coast Guard helicopter on its way to conduct the rescue mission.

Matthew Brooks, a Coast Guard fifth District Command Center command duty officer, said in a prepared statement that officials spoke with the crew aboard the boat Monday and agreed that they would depart the vessel Monday night. However, that proved challenging, according to Brooks.

'We did not want to conduct a transfer at night due to the risk of the mission and the fact that the crew was not in immediate distress,' he said.

On Tuesday, Coast Guard officials dispatched crews aboard a Jayhawk helicopter and an HC-130 Hercules aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C., at approximately 6:20 a.m. to assist.

The Jayhawk crew landed on the USS Ross to refuel at approximately 7:30 a.m. and then proceeded to the location of the 'Be Good Too.', rescuing the four crew in four separate rescues, using a rescue swimmer.

The abandoned boat was left to drift unmanned at sea.
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