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Marc Hughston
Username: hughston

Post Number: 682
Registered: 03-2003
Posted on Sunday, October 19, 2008 - 11:14 am:   Edit Post Print Post

Tom Madden, crew on Betty just forwarded this article about the rescue from Santa Barbara Island. No mention of us on Betty who initially contacted the USCG, or the Brandywine that stood by relaying radio message.

Sassy Article.pdf (55.0 k)

Mark Howe
Username: unclemark

Post Number: 425
Registered: 08-2003
Posted on Friday, October 17, 2008 - 09:41 am:   Edit Post Print Post

In your photo "back to Narwhal" you show a level denuded area directly above the orange clad crew. As best I can recall, that's where the farmhouse stood, from the days when the island was being farmed. There was a large cistern dug out from underneath the house. There may still be pictures of the house and the farmers in the Museum/ranger station.

Marc Hughston
Username: hughston

Post Number: 678
Registered: 03-2003
Posted on Monday, October 13, 2008 - 12:09 am:   Edit Post Print Post

Well, they reported they had no insurance. When the USCG helicopter was trying to arrange all that for them, they basically declined given what Vessel Assist said would be a $20k - $30k operation. The captain asked what to do, and the helicopter replied that perhaps he could call friends to help him get the boat off the rocks. The captain said his cell phone was dead and he'd need to recharge it, and besides he didn't think he had coverage. Vessel Brandywine offered that if he could relay phone numbers, they would be happy to call and see if they could reach someone who could assist Sassy. That was the last I heard, and Brandywine moved on before the guys got retrieved by USCG.

My best guess is that by now Sassy is a total loss, and who knows if her fuel tank will stay intact. Vessel Assist, prior to the rescue, warned of the potential liability of a fuel spill in the National Park.

It has been a week now since the incident. Perhaps the USCG or National Park Service can advise of the status of Sassy.

David Sheriff
Board Administrator
Username: admin

Post Number: 278
Registered: 01-2004
Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2008 - 11:09 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

I appreciate this incident very well as I could have experienced something very similar in almost the same place in 2002.

Marc, Toni and others were instrumental in rescuing us, for which I will always be grateful. My shipmate was able row our dinghy out of the kelp and keep it out. I worked on the motor all the while and so ended up the more hypothermic of us. We understood that washing up on the shore was a one-way trip given the kelp and surf.

You leave us hanging. What about the 60 gallons of diesel? The Coast Guard must have dispatched a salvor to recover the vessel. These guys may be alive, but their liability insurance is going to pay, assuming they had some.

Marc Hughston
Username: hughston

Post Number: 677
Registered: 03-2003
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2008 - 11:48 pm:   Edit Post Print Post

Coast Guard Rescue at Santa Barbara Island

Last week I led a 5 day Northern Channel Islands trip for the School of Sailing and Seamanship at Orange Coast College, with John Fellner as First Mate and 5 other souls on the Catalina 42, Betty. On the homeward bound leg of a trip that began on Wednesday October 1, we departed Coches Prietos on Santa Cruz Island on Saturday October 4 at about 0500, bound for Santa Barbara Island.

I intended to sail the freshening breeze through the pass between Sutil Island off the southwest corner of Santa Barbara Island and SBI itself. When just past Webster Point on the northwest corner of SBI, Eugene saw a red parachute flare. I saw it too and could see the smoke trail in the air marking its rise and fall, but I could not see the boat it came from. The flare was descending slowly close to the island and near the large cliffs several hundred yards south of Webster Point. We got out the binoculars. Someone said they saw a boat in very close to the island. Another flare shot up and floated down, with a smoke trail clearly visible. The boat was spotted looking like it was either very close to the rocky or beach or on it. This took place at about 1345.

I went below and hailed Coast Guard LA on VHF 16 and told them I had just seen two parachute flares off the NW corner of SBI, approximately one half mile distant. They switched me to channel 22 and began asking me questions. On deck, we took all sail down and started to motor, looking for the best way to get close. USCG asked me for my position and whether we could get close to the boat in distress, and I answered that we were working on getting sail down and would proceed to their position. Two other boats were in the pass and up to this point were making no movement, but then I noticed one of them, a sportfisher at full speed heading in close to the vessel that we could now see was ashore, nose-in to the rocky cliff. USCG hailed me and asked for progress, and I told them about the sportfisher heading in – we were still a quarter mile away. It was then that the sportfisher named Brandywine began transmitting on VHF 22. Brandywine reported they were anchored in about 23 feet and the vessel Sassy (we learned she was a lobster boat) was on the rocks. USCG asked Brandywine about the condition of the vessel, how many people on board, and related questions.

What followed was quite interesting. While Brandywine continued relaying information to USCG, we anchored in about 31 feet, several hundred yards off shore. A helicopter and a CG cutter were dispatched. All of a sudden, Sassy was on the radio, channel 22. Sassy could not talk directly to the USCG because she was in right next to the cliff, and so Brandywine relayed their transmissions to USCG. They responded to questions reporting their hull was intact, they were not leaking fuel, and the crew was two men and two dogs. USCG confirmed with Brandywine that the tide was ebbing, though we could see occasional breakers rolling in, forcibly pushing Sassy around on the rocks.

Let me boil it down here. The helicopter arrived and circled and said they could not hoist the crew and dogs given the 200+ foot height of the cliff, and asked the crew if they would like to stay with the boat and receive assistance from a commercial salvage operation, or make their way north along the foot of the cliff and get to a point to where they helicopter could hoist them out. Crew elected to stay with the ship and the helicopter Contacted Vessel Assist Ventura. Relaying through the helicopter, Vessel Assist Ventura told the guys it would be a $20k or $30k operation to drag the boat off the rocks and asked if they had insurance. You could just hear the guy’s chest tightening as he answered, “No.” Vessel Assist relayed that a fuel spill in the National Park would carry a heavy liability, though no one put a number on it. Tides were discussed and the next high was to be at noon the following day. You could just envision the boat being bashed to bits with the incoming swell, and that did not bode well for the fuel tank, with a reported 60 gallons of diesel.

This part came to a relatively quick close with the helicopter saying they weren’t sure what else they could do, and they took off saying that a cutter would be there in 40 minutes. Well, 40 minutes became about an hour and ten, but the USCG Cutter Narwhal out of Newport Beach arrived having rounded the SW corner of SBI outside of Sutil, and steamed in.

Narwhal made a plan to send in their small boat, a jet drive, and pick the guys and their dogs up off the short, rocky beach. There was a sizable kelp line, and the USCG described the steps they were going to take to get beyond it without clogging the jet drive: motor in close, paddle beyond the kelp, pick up the guys and their dogs who would be in the water, and reverse the process. Narwhal would be standing by in close to toss a line or render assistance if needed. USCG repeated the plan with the crew of Sassy which included specific instructions on departing the vessel on the port side, the safe side given their list as they lay on the rocks, and donning their immersion suits and putting on PFDs on the outside of those suits. Sassy replied they would want to walk down the beach and put their immersion suits on while on the beach, and then put PFDs on the dogs. Time to go.

It was really pretty simple after that. The kelp line where the USCG small boat entered was thin, and that was good because she did not respond to the paddling very well. The guys and dogs got onto the boat quickly and it was the same drill heading out. While the USCG small boat maneuvered to reconnect with Narwhal, we weighed anchor at about 1715 and hoisted sail to get around to the anchorage at SBI. It was a good day, and I am glad that Eugene saw the flares, and that we stopped what we were doing to assist.

I have concluded from this experience that I would much prefer to have the gun and parachute flare kit rather than just the handheld flares. We could have easily sailed right past the vessel in distress with our heads in the boat, rather than spotting someone waiving a handheld flare from a half mile away. Also, I noted that once driven ashore on the island, the USCG in LA could not hear the radio transmissions of Sassy, though Brandywine, several hundred yards off the island could do so and was able to relay messages. I don’t know why Sassy never made a distress call on VHF radio but it was clear that once aground next to the cliff, she could only talk to boats and the helicopter in her line of sight. We theorize that she was in close working the traps we saw in the kelp line, and was driven ashore with a large swell. It could have happened quite suddenly.

See if Sassy is still there in pieces next time you round SBI. Pictures are below.

Marc Hughston

narwhal approaches

ready to deploy

beach approach

pull them aboard

back to Narwhal

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