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South Bay Sailor Alerts USCG to Sailboat Possibly Adrift

On Monday afternoon, South Bay sailor and Latitude reader Jon Clifford was looking out the window of his eighth-floor workspace around 2 p.m. when he saw a sailboat that appeared to be adrift. “[T]he jib had unfurled, the boat was getting blown in circles and [it] appeared that there was no one on board,” Jon wrote to us. What’s more, after using his phone camera to get a closer look, Jon saw what appeared to be a yellow jacket on the aft port side. Fearing for a sailor’s safety, he duly alerted the USCG and supplied them with photos and location details. By this time the boat appeared to be closing in on the San Mateo Bridge.

Around 40 minutes later, Jon received a call from the USCG saying they had seen a boat adrift and asking him to help guide their MH-65 Dolphin helicopter to the sailboat’s location. “The helicopter circled on scene for approximately 30 minutes and also in my guesstimation searched the water nearby before departing back north,” Jon wrote. Also during this time a fire truck appeared on the road next to the shore. The boat looked as if it was still drifting toward the bridge when Jon left work. “My main concern was that it would get into the channel and get struck by a tug or cargo ship,” he added.

Any time we see a boat that looks adrift, it’s cause for alarm.
© 2024 Jon Clifford

A USCG spokesperson told us on Tuesday that the San Mateo Fire Department and Coast Guard San Francisco had responded to Jon’s call. They were unable to get close to the boat with their 45-ft Response Boat — Medium as the sailboat was not in safely navigable waters. (According to the USCG’s website the 45-ft boat draws three feet four inches.)

The spokesperson advised that neither the response boat nor the  helicopter had seen any persons onboard the boat, and that they’d scoured the nearby waters for any persons in possible distress and saw no one.

The USCG report says the vessel was dragging anchor, and there was no one onboard and no sign of recent use. The vessel was not in the shipping channel or causing navigation problems. They closed the case.

At the same time, staff at the nearby Oyster Point Marina heard the San Mateo Fire Department on the radio saying they were going to look at the boat. The staff headed out in the marina’s craft to offer assistance and joined the search for possible persons in distress. We spoke with San Mateo County Harbor District Director of Operations John Moren, who said the marina staff reported that the boat was anchored and there was no one aboard, no one in distress, and no emergency.

Jon captured the following video as the Coast Guard helicopter flew over the sailboat.

This turned out to be a non-emergency. But we are grateful for everyone who takes the initiative to call in a situation that potentially is someone’s emergency. Yes, the Bay is not the open ocean, but as we all know, it can get wild out there, and Monday’s winds were at times ferocious. Besides, accidents or misfortunes can happen under any circumstances, so it behooves us all to be alert and look out for one another. We extend our thanks to Jon Clifford for taking the time to call the USCG. If nothing else, it was good practice for first responders, and a good reminder to us all to set a solid anchor!

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