Want to learn to sail? Not this way!

On January 16th, 2010, three sailors, Australian Mitchell Westlake, along with Josée (Jade) Chabot and Lisa Hanlon of Canada, boarded Boguslaw (Bob) Norwid and his wife’s 46 foot steel yacht Columbia in Salinas, Ecuador, on a “training cruise.” The “trainees” paid $3,500 for what was supposed to be a 40 day ocean sailing course.

The sailboat and its crew were due to dock in Coquimbo around February 27, the same day a massive 8.8 earthquake struck Chile, triggering a tsunami. Family members became concerned that the boat had not arrived because of damage from the tsunami, and started a massive search campaign which included everything from the rescue resources of at least five nations and hundreds of South Pacific cruisers, to Jade’s new age friends trying to find the crew by “remote viewing” (the practice of gathering information about an unseen target using paranormal means).

The nature of sailing is such that timelines often get thrown out the window, and while this often concerns those waiting on shore, it is completely the norm for those accustomed to travel by sail. Although satellite and long range communications are available, not all yachts carry either sat-phone or HAM/SSB equipment, usually due to the cost. In this case, YachtPals learned that the overdue sailboat Columbia listed only a VHF (short range) radio on the boat, so we knew right away that, should they have been delayed far from shore, there would be no way for them to communicate with those on land.

Of course, this used to be a very common occurrence in sailing, but this is sometimes hard for landlubbers to wrap their heads around in this age of instant global communication. Also, the tsunami caused by the quake in Chile didn’t seem to present dangerous conditions to the yacht.  In fact, the advice most experts give is to head far out to sea before a Tsunami, because at sea, the force of the wave is almost unnoticeable. So, as the Columbia was already at sea, the likelihood of damage from a tsunami seemed unlikely.

35 days after their anticipated arrival, the sailboat Columbia arrived in Chile, ending a search that involved hundreds of boats over thousands of miles of open sea.

Continue reading at YachtPals.


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Filed under Boating News, Boating Safety

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