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Long Overdue Yacht Columbia Arrives

Much to the relief of her crew’s family members, the 45-ft cutter Columbia arrived safely at Coquimbo, Chile, on Sunday — 35 days after her anticipated arrival — thus ending a search that involved hundreds of vessels over thousands of miles of open ocean.

Michell Westlake and the other trainees arrived safely. We’re curious about what lessons they’d say they learned.

© Westlake family

According to several sources, the sloop’s Polish-born skipper Boguslaw (Bob) Norwid, who is a French citizen, is now under scrutiny by authorities because he allegedly refused to let his three ‘trainee’ crew members use the ship’s radio to assure their families and friends that they were safe. They drifted for weeks in search of favorable winds, more than 1,000 miles offshore. As reported earlier, crewmembers’ families first became concerned on February 27, when a massive 8.8 earthquake struck Chile, triggering a tsunami. The boat was originally scheduled to arrive at Coquimbo at about that time.

According to the U.K.’s Times Online, an Australian member of the crew, Mitchell Westlake, 23, called his family yesterday to assure them that he and the other trainees, both Canadian women, were safe and sound. Westlake explained that because of the vessel’s communications blackout, no one on board knew anything of the earthquake, the tsunami or the hunt for Columbia, which involved the search and rescue resouces of at least five nations, as well as hundreds of South Pacific cruisers.

Martin Neufeld, husband of crewmember Josee Chabot, was quoted in the Montreal Gazette as saying, “We’re considering legal action. . . The crew and boat came in safely, but that’s not good enough. He may be a great captain and have great experience, but he’s a renegade."

According to the Gazette, investigation by the Canadian Coast Guard found that the boat’s call number appeared to be fake and did not appear in any database.

If the names Boguslaw Norwid and Columbia sound familiar, it may be because they appeared in ‘Lectronic Latitude postings in 2002, when the same skipper and vessel became long overdue on a trip from Vancouver, B.C. to Mexico, and made no communications to parties ashore. Then, as now, she ultimately arrived safely. But as with this incident, an unnecessary search for her (in that case by U.S., Canadian and Mexican authorities) could easily have been avoided by making a simple radio call.

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