Four Rescued After Whale Sinks Sailboat in Mid-Pacific

Captain Rick Rodriguez and his crew of three spent nine hours adrift in a life raft and dingy after a collision with a Bryde’s whale sank their 13-meter sailboat in minutes. The encounter sent the Raindancer to the bottom in only a quarter of an hour. It left her crew with three weeks of food, a week of water, a fishing pole, a rain-collecting device, and a phone-pairing satellite messenger with a quickly draining battery.

Luckily, the crew (Bianca Brateanu, Alana Litz, and Simon Fischer) were well-trained and handled the emergency with steady nerves, according to The Washington Post.

“There was no emotion,” Rodriguez explained. “While we were getting things done, we all had that feeling, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ But it didn’t keep us from doing what we needed to do and prepare ourselves to abandon ship.”

The initial collision “lifted [the Raindancer] violently upward and to starboard,” Rodriguez recalled. Within five seconds, water began filling the boat.

Rodriguez radioed a mayday and set off an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB). The crew launched the life raft and dinghy and gathered supplies while Rodriguez eyeballed the damage from underwater using a snorkel and mask, the Post reported.

After determining that nothing could be done, Rodriguez joined his crew in the raft and watched the Raindancer slip underwater.

The boat was Rodriguez’s only home. He served as captain, engineer, and mate on the craft, which he’d spent a decade saving up for before buying in 2021.

A swift rescue

The Raindancer‘s crew quickly activated a Globalstar SPOT tracker and continued broadcasting a mayday every hour via the VHF radio. Rodriguez also had an Iridium Go satellite Wi-Fi hotspot, a device that pairs with a phone and can be used for two-way messaging.

Assessing those devices once in the life raft, Rodriguez discovered the Iridium Go was at 18 percent battery, while his phone was at 40 percent, the Post said. An external battery pack capable of charging both devices was at 25 percent.

Fortunately for Rodriguez and his crew, authorities noticed the captain’s various maydays and location beacons, and a veritable fleet of ships happened to be in the normally remote area.

a map of the globe with a yellow pin in center screen

The tiny yellow pin in the center of the map is the remote region of the Pacific where the Raindancer went down. Map: Google Earth


“We have a bunch of boats coming. We got you, brother,” Rodriguez’s friend and fellow sailor, Tommy Joyce, texted the crew via satellite messenger.

Nine hours later, the Raindancer‘s crew were safe aboard the Rolling Stones, a 14-meter catamaran, enjoying fresh sushi and showers.

“I feel very lucky, and grateful, that we were rescued so quickly,” Rodriguez said. “We were in the right place at the right time to go down.”

Grim shadows and Moby Dick parallels

As it happens, the Riverdancer went down in roughly the same part of the Pacific where the whaler Essex sank in 1820. After an enraged sperm whale rammed the Essex multiple times, Captain George Pollard Jr. and 19 crew tumbled into three lifeboats. They headed south, hoping to avoid the (relatively) nearby Marquesas and Society Islands, which they (wrongly) thought were populated by cannibals.

After weeks of starvation rations and dehydration, the men resorted to cannibalism themselves. At first, they ate only their fellow sailors who died of exposure, starvation, or thirst. But in the subsequent weeks, they drew lots, killing and eating the captain’s first cousin, the teenage Owen Coffin.

After three months, only two boats and five men remained, including Pollard and first mate Owen Chase. After becoming separated, Chase’s boat was rescued by one shipwhile Pollard’s boat was rescued a week later by another

a black and white photo of Owen Chase

Owen Chase, first mate of the whaler Essex, later in his life. Photo: Nantucket Historical Association


While what remained of his crew was largely forgiven for their cannibalism, Pollard was shunned because he partook of his cousin’s corpse. (For what it’s worth, Pollard offered to take Coffin’s place, but the young man refused and offered himself up after drawing the short straw.)

Pollard later slipped into obscurity as Nantucket’s nightwatchman, fasting once a year on the anniversary of the sinking. Years later, his story inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew’s essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals.
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