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A Solo Sailor’s Mexican Nightmare

Shaken yet still smiling, Sarah vows to continue her cruising life.

© 2009 Sarah Andrews

As reported Friday, Australian sailor Sarah Andrews, 26, became shipwrecked along the Baja coast last week after her Ericson 39 Gabrielle struck a near-shore reef. In the aftermath, Mexican residents Shari and Juan Bondy have given Sarah shelter while she recovers. The Bondys supplied us with the following details of the tragic event.

Having bought her sloop in California six months earlier, Sarah was slowly working her way down the Baja coast, singlehanded, with the idea of polishing up her seamanship skills this year before heading west to her native Australia next spring. At the time of the mishap, however, she had temporarily taken on a crewman named Peter, as she hoped to keep pace with several other southbound boats on a passage from Bahia Asuncion to Bahia Santa Maria. She figured that having another crew on board would allow her to sail continuously without having to heave-to for naps, which is her usual custom.

Losing Gabrielle was a hard way to learn that sailing offshore is often safer than sailing near shore.

© 2009 Sarah Andrews

As with most maritime calamities, the loss of Gabrielle resulted from a series of challenges: first, the crew encountered big seas offshore and 25-knot winds, then the impeller went out on Gabrielle‘s engine. When Peter tried to repair it, he became seasick. After many hours of hand-steering, Sarah decided she needed a nap, so hove-to. At around midnight, however, she and Peter were awoken by the horrible sound of fiberglass crunching into a hard object, and Gabrielle began taking on water. When her mayday calls went unanswered, Sarah decided her best choice was to turn toward the lights ashore and ground Gabrielle on the beach.

Unfortunately, the sloop ground to a halt on a shallow fringing reef. After finally making contact with a local via VHF, Sarah and Peter clung to the decks of the submerged boat for over an hour waiting to be rescued, as big seas slowly broke the hull apart. Eventually, they were able to swim to a panga, as locals ashore illuminated the scene with the headlights of their vehicles.

Warmed by borrowed clothing, Peter and Sarah looked amazingly cheerful after surviving their life-threatening ordeal.

© 2009 Shari Bondy

The next day, Juan Bondy and others helped Sarah and Peter strip what they could from the wreck. Shari reports: "Sarah and Peter didn’t panic and did the best they could under the circumstances. She is a remarkable woman, and is determined to keep going. We would like to help her fullfill her dream, so if anyone has any suggestions for her as to where to sell her gear or buy a cheap cruising boat, please email her here." Apparently Sarah would also be interested in crewing opportunities. We’re hopeful that this sad story eventually has a happy ending, and we promise to run Sarah’s photo again someday when she sails into Sydney Harbour.

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Though we at Latitude 38 do our very best to be perfect, we are, after all, as human as anyone.
San Francisco sailor Sean Haggerty, 39, was reported missing last week after he failed to arrive in San Diego on time.