Six people are lucky to be alive after their sailboat sank, dumping them into the frigid water between Blubber Bay and Rebecca Rocks for almost 20 minutes while crews rushed to their rescue Saturday, April 5.
The seas were particularly choppy that morning with about 25-knot winds and five-foot waves. The group was sailing in the Powell River Yacht Club’s (PRYC) regular Saturday race on Jay Pampu’s boat, a 28-foot Cal sailboat.
The race began off Willingdon Beach at about 10 am with a course over to Grief Point, Texada Island, a mark by Catalyst Paper Corporation mill and then back to Willingdon, said Terry Noreault, PRYC commodore.
The sailboat crew had enough time for only one mayday call after it started taking on water at 11:23 am. Moments later the four adults and two children abandoned ship and jumped into the choppy water, said Canadian Coast Guard Captain Denis Taylor who operates one of the two rescue crews out of the Powell River station.
Radio operators at the Coast Guard station in Comox heard the distress call and relayed it out, said Taylor. The captain, however, was unable to give his precise location.
Powell River station dispatched the coast guard’s rubber boat, Westview One, and two rescue specialists, Joachim Philipzip and Kristen Pancich, who arrived on the scene about 10 minutes later. The 47-foot Cape Cooper, which is standing in for the Cape Caution while it is being refitted, arrived with Taylor and engineer Kevin VanDenhoogen to transport the mildly hypothermic survivors back to Powell River where they were picked up by BC Ambulance Service paramedics.
Five of the six people were wearing life jackets and had they not, 20 minutes in the cold water would have had a much more tragic outcome, said Taylor.
BC Ferries’ Tachek heard the distress call and provided line of sight confirmation of where the people were, said Taylor, who added that the sea was quite choppy that day and it would have been much more difficult to see where the people were if they had not been assisted. The Tachek dropped its man overboard boat and was almost at the people bobbing in the sea when the coast guard arrived. A fishing boat also assisted in the rescue.
Brooks Secondary School student Emily White was on the sailboat. She said they noticed the water in the cabin of the boat as they tacked around a marker near Texada Island. Emily said that about 30 seconds after the distress call they sank.
Pampu’s daughter was pulled underwater as the boat went down, said Emily, but she was able to free herself and she popped up after about a minute and a half.
“She came up and was in shock,” said Emily. “Everyone was just frantic and it was hard to stay afloat.”
Emily said the boat went down so fast that none of the other sailboats in the race saw them go down or noticed them in the water, despite the fact they were blowing their whistles.
“We didn’t even know if the coast guard heard us,” she said. “We didn’t have any time to hear anything back.”
Emily said that had she been in the water any longer she’s not sure she would have made it. After 20 minutes she found it increasingly difficult to move her arms and legs.
Reflecting on the experience, Emily said that she will invest in a dry suit and a personal locator beacon for her life jacket.
Noreault said the yacht club racers monitor radio set to channel 68, the yacht club’s working channel, and the sailboat captain broadcast his distress on channel 16, the channel the coast guard monitors.
“It’s a sad result that Jay has lost his boat, but the most important thing is that everyone is out of the water and there weren’t any injuries,” he said.
Noreault said that the incident has prompted the yacht club to review its safety procedures.
“We’ll review what happened and see if there are things we could do better,” he said.
The coast guard reminds people to always wear life jackets. Boaters should also be aware it is the law to respond to a distress call when on the water.