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Cruisers Rescued from Sinking Boat en Route to Seattle

At around 10 p.m on Saturday, July 18, USCG rescued four sailors who had abandoned their sinking Sabre 402, Stella Blue. The crew had issued a ‘Pan-Pan-Pan’ alert after realizing they could not stem the flow of water entering the boat.

Wally Fort, his wife Lori Warner, and two of their friends were headed for Seattle when the water was discovered. “We were motoring up the coast with about 2 kt of wind from the south and 2-3-foot swells from the NW, about 8 miles south of Pt. Arena and 5 miles offshore” Wally said.

“After discovering rising water in the bilge, we were frantically trying to pump the water out so we could find the leak. We discovered it was coming from the stern and when we looked in that locker we saw that the rudder-post bearing and seal had come loose from the hull. It was too cramped for anyone to get inside, and none of us could reach the problem.

“When we learned the Coast Guard’s rescue vessel would arrive in approximately an hour and 45 minutes, we hailed a nearby sailboat, Sanssouci, a Beneteau 43, and asked for assistance.

“Earlier, Sanssouci had heard our Pan alert and asked if we were okay. We were then, but as the water rose our situation changed and we were now in a Mayday need of help.”

The good Samaritans aboard Sanssouci are known only as Bren and Clay.

“They came close and threw us a line for their dinghy. We boarded the dinghy and paddled away from our boat. They then motored over to us to catch the dinghy line and pull us to their boat and we climbed on board.”

Here, Stella Blue‘s crew waited for the Coast Guard while their vessel drifted nearby.

“When the Coast Guard arrived they boarded our boat and turned off the EPIRB and the strobe, and they rolled up the jib that we had raised to steady our boat.”

At around 10 p.m. Wally and his companions were taken aboard the rescue vessel in preparation for the two-hour ride to Fort Bragg. The rescue concluded on the 19th, by which time the drenched sailors were quite cold and a little seasick, but uninjured.

Stella Blue sailing on the Delta
Stella Blue as seen sailing on the Delta.
© 2020 Wally Fort

“I don’t know what’s happened to my boat,” Wally said. “We’re guessing it’s at the bottom of the ocean.” So far there have been no reports of the vessel’s being spotted adrift or onshore.

Wally and Lori, members of the Stockton Sailing Club, have owned Stella Blue for over nine years. “We enjoy cruising. We’ve often sailed the Bay and have taken Stella Blue down the coast with the Baja Ha-Ha and into the Sea of Cortez. On another trip south we went to Panama and on to Ecuador. We were heading to Seattle to live aboard Stella and visit family for the summer.”

“I don’t know what we’ll do now,” Wally added. “We’ll wait to decide what to do next.”

8 Comments

  1. Avatar
    badornato 6 months ago

    What a beautiful boat and what a lucky thing to have such benign weather and a rescue boat nearby. One wonders now in retrospect if there could have been some kind of stuffing applied from outside the boat to the rudder shaft to stem the tide…like small diameter line or rubber hose or foul weather gear and one also wonders if the USCG couldnt leave some kind of AIS/ beacon on the boat for salvage/shipping alert??

    • Avatar
      Joseph DiMatteo 6 months ago

      Funny but both of those were my thoughts too. I am not second guessing the boat owners as I can only imagine how horrible it is to abandon your beloved boat. But I do question the USCG leaving a potential hazard to navigation so close to shore? Possibly it was obvious to them she was going down in short order?

  2. Avatar
    Ken Brinkley 6 months ago

    Glad to hear you folks kept your heads ,were well prepared and had a decent outcome .Kudos to Sanssoucci for the well thought out rescue and the coasties as well .Too bad Stella Blue could not be saved !

  3. Avatar
    Bruce Munro 6 months ago

    I too own a Sabre 402, hull 23, named “Princess”. We have sailed her from San Francisco to Alaska and Mexico. We have over 3500 hours on the engine and many more sailing. We have had no problems with our rudder post, but who knows what lies ahead. Have any other Sabre owners experienced this problem? This is the first I have heard of it.

    • Avatar
      Brian Testa 6 months ago

      I have a 362, no issues but I know there was an issue and a friend sent me this, I reached out to Sabre today and they said this is a very common question and issue.

      The only known structural problem to have developed with the Sabre 362 involves the stainless steel rudderpost and support. The rudder has since been redesigned using carbon fiber rather than stainless steel, and Sabre has retrofitted all suspect rudders at no cost to the owners.

  4. Avatar
    ROBERT MARTHALER 6 months ago

    I am curious why the USCG did not put a pump on board Stella Blue.

  5. Avatar
    Steve Grogan 6 months ago

    Interesting to me that the rescued crew was cold and wet after being on a Coast Guard boat for 2 hrs.
    I had a similar cold and wet experienced after I capsized my sailing dinghy on the rocky lee shore of Coast Guard Island on the Alameda estuary on a very windy day in late June. I was told I was not permitted to put my boat on their island or come ashore myself. I was in the water for an hour fending my boat off the rocks. I managed to move it 150 yds to a small gravely beach area and again was told to stay in the water. The Coast Guard called the Alameda Fire Dept for their nearby fireboat to tow me across the estuary to my home marina. Evidently the 8 outboard Zodiacs on the opposite side of their island aren’t to be used for assistance or rescue. A fireman told me later that week that they will rescue someone in the water but they have no agreement with the CG to tow boats. I was in the water or standing just offshore for most of 3-1/2 hrs. I asked the Coast Guard to call Towboat USA for me. Some how they turned the call over to the Yerba Buena CG base. That boat arrived 45 minutes later only to inform us on shore that they are not authorized to tow a boat off a shore. I asked for the phone and called Towboat USA myself.
    I was told it would cost $800 with my Boat USA discount. I was cold enough and didn’t want to lose my dinghy so I immediately said yes. Then I was told they would call back with an ETA.
    After 30 minutes without a callback and feeling very hypothermic I decided the important thing was to get off the island, get some assistance and survive this misadventure. I played the “Old Card” ( I am 75) and asked the CG to call the Alameda Fire Dept for an ambulance ride to Alameda hospital. I saw no other way to end the situation. The CG men I dealt tried to help but their regulations and the restricted useage of their equipment made roadblocks in the way of their efforts.
    Lesson learned: I won’t sail that dinghy again without a cellphone aboard and written phone numbers of friends with boats, some cash and a credit card in a waterproof container.
    Even if I am only going 200 yds down the estuary.

  6. Avatar
    Peggy Weber 6 months ago

    Sorry about your misadventures, grateful for you that the the other boat stopped to help and that you are alive and well, though I am sure you are sad and stressed about your lovely boat. It may turn up, you never know! In defense of the Coast Guard, I’m sure they are very busy this summer and also have rules and regulations that apply to each situation, keeping you safe and their crews as well. Their kind professionalism does not go unnoticed even when they have to make tough decisions. Take care and stay safe Wally and crew.

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