Discovery of Abandoned Sailing Vessel WAVE SWEEPER


Sept 25
Hanalei Bay to San Francisco
Day 15

Noon HST position: 41.50.33N by 137.12.05W
Miles since last noon: 171
Total miles of passage: 2098
Avg. Miles per Day: 140
Course: ENE
Sail: Running under large genoa
Speed: 7+
Wind: SW to SSW 20 – 25
Sky: Mostly clear
Bar: 1017
Air Temperature: 76 degrees
Sea Temperature: 65 degrees


I’m in the cockpit. I don’t know why. I look up and off MOLI’s port quarter and to the west, mast and sails. Maybe four miles distant. Hull down. A sailboat.

My first thought: SOLACE! Steve and crew have, in fact, repaired their pedestal steering and are underway these past 24 hours. She’s faster than MO, but that’s too fast. Last report put her over 200 miles to our stern.

Second thought: something’s wrong. Even without binoculars I can see that the sail set isn’t working. With binoculars and from the top of the larger waves, it’s clear the genoa is luffing terribly.

What are the odds I’d encounter a sailboat here that was making due east for the coast and that I’d see it just the moment its crew lost control of the headsail?

Seeing another sailboat has sufficiently small odds. But there’s nothing due east except Crescent City, California, a fishing town, and due east is the wrong heading given coming weather.

I wait five minutes. No need to bother them if they’re on the foredeck, I think.

Five minutes later the sail is still beating. I call on channel 16. I call repeatedly. No answer.

A sinking feeling in my gut. I have to go.

MO is running fast. Winds have been 20 – 25 SW and SSW for several days. The wave train is large and long period; seas 10 and 12 feet and breaking happily. Really beautiful stuff. But it makes for slow action on deck. The starboard genoa pole is still out from yesterday, a vain hope, and to port and out free, the large genoa. It takes fifteen minutes to pull the pole, rig for the number #2 jib and tack about.

It takes another twenty minutes to work up to the vessel’s position.

Here’s what I wrote to Joanna and my friend, Kelton, immediately after the sighting…


Date: September 25, 2016 at 4:18:49 AM PDT

JO, KELTON, which ever of you can get to this first. URGENT.

I have discovered a *possibly* abandoned vessel, a sailboat, adrift, sails out and torn.

Urgent because vessel does not appear to have been adrift/abandoned for very long.


Abandoned Vessel Position: 41.49.463N. 137.20.131W.
Sighting Time: 1100 Hawaii Standard Time.
Sighting Date: Sept 25, 2016.

Vessel Approximate Course ESE.
Vessel Approximate Drift Rate: 2-3 knots.

Vessel Name: Wave Sweeper.
Vessel Port: Vancouver, BC.

Description: Sloop. 30 – 35 feet on deck. Yellow hull. Fiberglass. Home-built dodger of wood. Jib out and torn to ribbons. Main out and boom down and in water, sail also torn. Main hatch open. Boat appears to be dragging a drogue from quarter lines; drogue not seen. No dinghy seen, though a kayak on coach roof. No life raft seen, nor place for canister observed on boat deck or rail.

Action: Multiple hails on VHF, channel 16, upon approach and departure and via air horn upon passing by. No response.

Scan of area found no other debris or sign of raft.

I made two close passes and have departed the scene assuming boat is abandoned.


I was still panting when I wrote this. Reading every sentence aloud. Typing as fast as could. Hurry, hit send. Good.

Because you just don’t know. It all looked so fresh. No weed on the hull. No bird shit on deck. The kayak at the ready. The BBQ on the rail. Hatches open. I half expected someone to come popping from below. He’d offer me a beer. “Hamburgers up in a jiffy, mate. Sorry about the mess.”

Except for those awful sails. The banners of ghosts. They could only mean disaster. Loss of control. Loss of self. The kind of panic that unhinges a person in a second.

Something terrible had gone down here, and it looked like it had gone down yesterday.

Joanna immediately contacted our local Coast Guard station, and they routed my email and photos to the Offshore Rescue Unit.

Here was the response…

From: RCCAlameda1
Sent: Sunday, September 25, 2016 2:44 PM

Ms. Bloor,

The Sailing Vessel WAVE SWEEPER was the subject of a Search and Rescue case from July 19th of this year. The master of the vessel was rescued and brought safely to shore.

Thank you very much for your report.

United States Coast Guard
Rescue Coordination Center Alameda

I had been trending slowly NE under deeply reefed jib. Waiting for word. Waiting for orders or release. Release from responsibility and that horrible dread.

When the note came, relief. I had misread the signs. That’s OK. The story had ended well, at least for the man.

I opened the big genoa and we flew free again. Hull down, that dead boat astern. Sails still beating their warning. Then she was gone. I breathed in. Shake it off, man, shake it off…

Because a sailboat is a rocket ship traversing vast, open space. This is its chief attraction and its chief danger. Because after a time one becomes as comfortable with the space as with the rocket ship. One feels a familiarity, a kinship…with both. Or worse, one feels a certain invincibility. One forgets that the thin fuselage of the ship is the only thing keeping doom at bay. That the space is alien and uninhabitable. That it does not wish harm; it does not wish, but that it is prone to random violence. That it eats your mistakes for breakfast.

That in a moment it can be over.

Such sightings tear at the web of security we weave about ourselves. Like seeing a messy crash on the side of the freeway. Suddenly you realize that going 80 in traffic isn’t, in fact, as safe as being home in front of the tele. It’s a jarring moment because it’s so obvious and because you’d forgotten.


6 Comments on “Discovery of Abandoned Sailing Vessel WAVE SWEEPER

  1. Reinforces my belief that it is better to stay with your vessel rather than abandon. Not sure of their circumstances, but there it is, upright and sea worthy (minus the shredded sails, which I am sure could have been saved has they not abandoned).

    • Yes. I too wonder at the sequence of events.

      This comment from the skipper in the CG review may shed some light:

      “…stating that that weather had torn his sails on the vessel’s lower mast, was having issues with its 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.”

      From this one can imagine a sequence of events like…
      1. No idea what “lower mast” might refer to. The boat is a sloop. But let’s say that in strong weather, skipper loses control of what looks to have been a large genoa. The furling line breaks, running the sail all the way out, or the drum jams hopelessly (all very easy accomplished). Let’s assume the sail is out, can’t be furled and can’t be dropped. Within a day it start to shred.
      2. Skipper also loses control of the main. I can’t figure how from the sighting. The boom and sail were in the water, but the condition was unclear. So, let’s just assume it’s gone.
      3. Without sails, the boat can’t move very far. It’s (as stated) 900+ miles offshore. Skipper hasn’t the fuel to motor back to the mainland and (apparently) no available jury rig. Let’s also assume the “30 mph” winds were NW…which is very likely for June/July. So, skipper and vessel are being driven further and further offshore.
      4. Skipper hangs out for some time. The genoa is gone, but he tries to save the main. With the main he could make way. He fails.
      5. After a time he begins to run out of fuel. Without fuel, no batts; without batts, no water maker (I presume he had one). Without water… (Granted, the boat had a wind generator.)
      6. OR maybe he carries all his water and is simply starting to run dry.
      7. And so there’s a sense now of checkmate. Nothing left to do. Boat can’t make way. Boat can’t make or hasn’t enough water. Boat is 1000 from anywhere and getting further away. On top of which is the crazymaking noise of the sails still beating themselves to death.
      8. Boat has no EPIRB. Being in such a remote location, the chances of contacting help via VHF are slim. He tries and tries. He gets lucky! A ship shows up. So, it’s take the ship ride or bob indefinitely.

      No idea if any of that is correct. But it makes abandoning ship fractionally more understandable…

      Still all very odd. Would like to know the facts.

      • And why wasn’t the boat scuttled. If you’re abandoning your boat then don’t leave it drifting for the rest of us out here to hit it in the middle of the night.

  2. I agree with Bruce however really would like to know more of the circumstances regarding the skipper of the vessel.
    I appreciate the story… Odd how this happy/safe ending leaves little traces of the jitters!… I’ve always had too much imagination and the great description of events and feelings really sent my head into “tales of the sea” territory!

    Thanks for the story!

    • “Trace of the jitters” indeed. From my perspective, utterly spooky. Like finding a dead body. Partly it’s the “there but for the grace of god go I” realization. But there’s something more. For example, the boat, and one’s discovery of it, is witness to another man’s terror. Somebody fought the good fight and felt he’d lost. His world, quite literally, came undone. And I’m seeing the result, the chaos that he could not control. It’s an oddly intimate discovery for such a random and remote location.

  3. Pingback: ABANDONED VESSEL WAVESWEEPER Part I: More Information and Better Photos | Figure 8 Voyage

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