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Sea Boa Struck by Whale, Sinks

After a whale holed his boat, singlehander Allan Tweten was rescued quickly by Mexican Navy SAR resources. In recent years, the addition of fast response vessels such as this one has greatly improved theoretical response times in many parts of Mexico.

© 2016 Mexican Navy

At roughly 5 a.m. last Friday, Canadian singlehander Allan Tweten, 56, was in the cockpit of his Chinook 37 Sea Boa observing the first hints of a new day dawning over the Sea of Cortez when he was thrown forward by a violent blow to Sea Boa‘s underbody. He was motorsailing north at the time, roughly 27 miles southwest of Guaymas. A quick look over the side confirmed that his Stan Huntingford-designed sloop had been struck by a whale. 

Although Sea Boa was equipped with four electric pumps — one with a 2-inch exit — they were incapable of keeping up with the inflow of water from what his brother described in an online post as a "very large tear in the hull." The solo sailor was reportedly very well prepared for offshore emergencies, and the boat was fully insured. As Sea Boa slowly sank lower, Tweten launched his inflatable dinghy, and put his liferaft into it along with his ditch bag, his EPIRB, satphone and other essentials. He stepped aboard the dinghy, shortly before the boat slipped below the surface.

Another cruising boat was nearby, but despite his firing off seven flares and making continuous calls on his VHF, Tweten could not raise its crew. Only then did he set off his EPIRB, followed by satphone calls to his sons in Canada, who confirmed to the Canadian Coast Guard that the EPIRB’s signal was announcing a bona fide emergency. As an illustration of the singlehander’s instinctive tendency toward self-sufficiency, Tweten actually started rowing for shore, just in case his mayday signal went unanswered. An hour and a half later, though, a Mexican Navy SAR unit arrived — having traveled at 50mph to reach the scene — and whisked Tweten off to Guaymas. He is now traveling to his home on Vancouver Island, BC.

The incident has stimulated lively discussions on cruiser forums regarding the abundance of whales in the Sea of Cortez during the winter months, and strategies for avoiding collisions with them, especially at night. Friends of Tweten note that he kept Sea Boa in immaculate condition, and speculate that his boat was probably better prepared for emergencies than most boats cruising Mexican waters. For Tweten, two ‘lessons learned’ that he hopes other sailors will take to heart are to be sure your EPIRB contact info is kept up to date, and be sure your flares have not expired. Not all of his ‘good’ flares fired, and none of his expired ones worked at all. The rescued sailor also wants to publicly thank the Mexican Navy (ENSAR) for their rapid response and impressive professionalism.

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This Friday, March 25, Sequoia Yacht Club in Redwood City will host Bay Area sailor Mike Reed for his presentation on the 2015 Rolex Fastnet.