Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Tug Rescue After Tanker Veers Off After Tossing Sailboaters

CARQUINEZ STRAIT Tanker veers in nick of time after 8 boaters tossed into its path Flashlight alerts tug crew, which rescues castaways Patrick Hoge, Chronicle Staff Writer Tuesday, June 14, 2005 Eight people on a night cruise had been tossed from their sailboat into the frigid waters of Carquinez Strait early Sunday when things went from bad to much worse. A huge oil tanker headed to sea was bearing down on them, its crew unaware that the castaways were bobbing in the water near the upended hull of their sailboat directly in front of the tanker. Only luck, a flashlight and the quick actions of a tugboat crew saved them from disaster by getting the tanker to swerve away. "This boat was in the direct path of the ship," said Charles Jennings, the 32-year old engineer on the tugboat Z-Four who saw the beam of the flashlight held by one of the castaways. "If we had not rescued them, best case scenario the ship would have passed them and thrown them a huge wake, and there would have been a fatality." It was almost 1:30 a.m., and the Z-Four was heading home to Alameda from Martinez after helping pull the Greek-flagged tanker Bow Prima out of dock, when a call went out about a sailboat in distress. Minutes later, engineer Jennings spotted a light waving in the dark about 400 feet away, and through binoculars he saw arms flailing in the water. Jennings yelled to his captain, Mark Farran, who turned on the tugboat's spotlight, and it instantly became clear the sailboat party was in the tanker's way. Farran radioed to the Prima Bow captain, urgently asking him if he saw the hapless sailboaters. "I heard him (the tanker captain) screaming, 'I see 'em now!' " said Farran, 48, and the tanker veered hard to port. "He was getting ready to take 'em out." Jennings said it was so dark that if someone on the capsized boat, which was just 18 feet long, had not been waving a flashlight, he never would have seen them. Apparently, someone also had a mobile telephone and called 911 to get the California Highway Patrol, which notified other emergency response agencies. The water was cold, in the 60s, and some of the swimmers were already well on their way to hypothermia, officials said. The boat was between Dillon Point and Port Costa, and the shore was about a quarter-mile away. The strait, about 15 miles north of Oakland, connects Suisun Bay with San Pablo Bay. One man was almost delirious and allowed his head to fall under the water, and his companion had to prop him up so he could breathe, Jennings said. "His friend saved his life," Jennings said. The names of those aboard the sailboat were not available, and efforts to reach them were unsuccessful. Only one of them wore a life vest -- other life vests were floating nearby, Farran said -- and everyone was wearing shorts and T-shirts and the like. Farran approached the sailboat as gently as possible before he and Jennings pulled the eight people from the water, gave them blankets and blasted the heater for them. Minutes later, a U.S. Coast Guard boat arrived and took the rescued eight to the Benicia Marina. "A couple had mild hypothermia," said Ronald McLaren, the pilot of the Coast Guard craft. The capsized sailboat was hauled out of the shipping channel to a spot near the C&H Sugar refinery in Crockett, McLaren said. McLaren said the sailors told him they had been tacking upwind when a gust caught them by surprise and tipped the sailboat over. Jennings said one of the rescued boaters had thanked him and asked how he could get in touch with him. Feeling somewhat distracted, he pulled out a business card from his other occupation -- dressing up as Santa Claus for parties. "The card says 'Santa Claus,' " Jennings said. "He just looked at me and said, 'You've got to be kidding.' " E-mail Patrick Hoge at

No comments: