ABANDONED VESSEL WAVESWEEPER Part I: More Information and Better Photos


On September 25th of this year and during a crossing from Hawaii to the mainland, Moli and I discovered an abandoned yacht named Wavesweeper at a position roughly 600 miles west of the Oregon and California border. Such a find can be soul-rattling, as I reported on this site that same afternoon.

After the there-but-for-the-grace-of-god-go-I feeling subsides, one is left with an interesting mystery whose key questions are

  • What event(s) disabled Wavesweeper?
  • What was done to save the vessel and over what period of time?
  • Why was such a well-found vessel (floating on her lines) abandoned?

What We Know

The day after my initial post on the Wavesweeper find, the story was picked up by 48 North, the sailing magazine for the Pacific Northwest, and run with a query to the community for more information on this Vancouver-based boat. The query netted two reports: a back-page article in West Coast Sailors, the newsletter for the Sailor’s Union of the Pacific, which detailed a tricky and successful water-drop for Wavesweeper by container ship APL Singapore on July 15, 2016 (link/PDF); and a press release from the Coast Guard summarizing the rescue of Wavesweeper’s owner by the container ship OOCL Utah on July 19, 2016 (link/PDF).

Other information gleaned from the community included the vessel’s build and rough itinerary.

A summary of the facts is as follows:

  1. The registered name of the vessel is Wavesweeper (one word). She’s a Reliance 37 out of Vancouver, BC.
  2. Wavesweeper is last noted in San Blas, Mexico, in late April. At that time her 70-year-old owner, who has been cruising Wavesweeper in the south for several seasons, is in the final stages of preparation for a singlehanded return home.
  3. Wavesweeper next pops into the public record on July 15th, when the container ship APL Singapore, enroute San Pedro, California, receives a distress call from her via USCG Juneau, Alaska. The report states the vessel is making for Vancouver from Hawaii, has run low on potable water and requests a drop of 30 or 40 gallons. APL Singapore’s crew gathers six water containers from the ship’s life rafts and tethers them in series with a life ring on each end. The crew lowers this rig into the water from the gangway and notes, “It drifted astern of the ship as the sailboat made way and intercepted it.” The article does not mention APL Singapore’s position nor the cause of the distressed vessel’s need for water.
  4. On July 19th, USCG 13th District (Pacific Northwest) contacts the container ship OOCL Utah enroute South Korea with a distress call from Wavesweeper (noted as Sea Sweeper in the press release), then located 990 miles west of the Columbia River. Per the USCG, Wavesweeper states that “weather had torn his sails on the vessel’s lower mast, [and that he] was having issues with [his] engine and batteries and was running low on potable water. During his transit the operator was also battling 30 mph winds and 8-foot seas.” OCCL Utah diverts course and successfully rescues the owner, transporting him to its next port. No mention is made of the water drop on July 15th nor when the adverse weather and sail damage occurred. The report does state that the now disabled vessel lacks an EPIRB and a life raft.

To sum up, Wavesweeper departs San Blas for Hawaii sometime after late April, receives a water drop from the APL Singapore on July 15th while enroute Vancouver and is abandoned when her owner is rescued by OOCL Utah on July 19th.

Note that this information answers none of the key questions listed above, save some portion of the first.

My discovery of Wavesweeper on September 25th came 68 days after her abandonment. I would never have guessed this as I drifted nearby, awaiting word from the Coast Guard. In fact, what made my heart pound was how fresh the scene appeared to be. There was no sign of weed on the hull, no dark scum marks on the top-side, no bird droppings on the deck. Most tellingly, she floated on her lines. Only her sails, jib in tatters and main down, boom end dragging in the water, suggested something terrible had occurred.

Why Wavesweeper had been abandoned was not obvious.


Reconstruction of Wavesweeper’s route noting the position of her abandonment and where she was found 68 days later.

What the Photographs Show

Once home, I took a closer look at the photos from that day and made the following discoveries.


Wavesweeper as she first appeared. I had approached from starboard, swung around her stern and was now coasting in on her lee. Note the jib in ribbons and the main half down, boom in the water.


This photo from a closer approach shows that A) the wind generator is not spinning, and the blade position suggests it has been secured, though no lanyard is obvious; B) the air vane for the servo pendulum-type wind vane, possibly a Cape Horn, is in its socket and pushed hard-over by the wind; C) drogue lines trailing from the quarter are slack (they are slack in all my photos).

A full boat shot as I pass under Wavesweeper’s lee. This is a large file. You can open and zoom in as I point to details below.


Note the water jugs and the life rings (D) referenced in the APL Singapore story and that the main sheet has parted from the traveler (E). Also note that the solar panels on the stern arch have been knocked out of alignment. Optimally they would have been tilted slightly aft as Wavesweeper made her northing.


There are several places along the jib foil that suggest the sail has wrapped; the arrow at (F) is one example. The jib trails in the water, and the sail on deck is a staysail (G). The sail appears to be hanked to removable stay (H) clipped to the rail, but is otherwise loose. The Kayak on deck seems not to be secured but is itself the secure-point for another line headed up the mast.


This photo shows the staysail’s head and clew (I). The sheet can be seen running up through a series of blocks (J), the first of which is attached to a staysail traveler (K).


Follow the staysail stay (H) up to its terminus at the upper spreaders and note that it is slack. Now follow the line that’s attached by a red strap to the aft of the kayak (L). This line appears to be the staysail halyard and it appears to be badly fouled in the mast.


This shot from the stern shows a line (M) that has wrapped around the top, starboard spreader. If this is the staysail halyard, the positioning suggests that it has jammed into the spreader-end assembly or around the radar reflector hung just above the spreader.


Perhaps the most intriguing clue is this barely visible line that has wrapped the head of the mast. If the jib halyard is internal, as it appears to be, then this line is either the main halyard or the main topping lift, but how it got this way is an utter mystery.

Any self-respecting detective would have to admit that abandoned Wavesweeper offers a goodly number of clues with which to solve the case, but which of these is the smoking gun?

In the next post I’ll attempt to reconstruct a chain of events …

7 Comments on “ABANDONED VESSEL WAVESWEEPER Part I: More Information and Better Photos

  1. Thanks very much for this follow up. A mystery that needs to be solved. Is the owner now alive and residing in Canada? Would be great to hear the story fist hand from the owner.

  2. Great sleuthing! Can you find the owner :). After reading a retrospective of the distress calls documented in “The Perfect Storm” by Cruising World I now suspect the seamanship of the distressed vessel (perhaps beginning by being too judgmental). Besides the things you point out with the rigging (which looks suspicious of neglect to me), I don’t understand how the vessel could be “low on potable water” just 4 days after receiving those rather large water cans from APL Singapore. Sounds like this captain lived out the movie “All is Lost”…a perfect example movie of what not to do while at sea :).

  3. Wow Randall! Great to hear about this! Can’t believe this happened after you left us in Hawaii! Can’t wait for the rest of the story.

  4. In 68 days the sails and rig had plenty of opportunity to turn into a trash heap. I don’t think this explains the abandonment of the vessel. I strongly suspect that there was no valid reason to leave the boat in the first place. She’s still on her lines and taking care of herself. It ought to be possible to make some good guesses as to where she’ll end up as she drifts. This story isn’t over.

  5. Thanks for the comments all. I’ll try to answer all these questions, in some form or other, in the next post…

  6. Pingback: ABANDONED VESSEL WAVESWEEPER Part II: Speculative Reconstructions – The Figure 8 Voyage

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