June 9, 2023

When Rick Rodriguez’s sailboat collided with a whale in the middle of the Pacific Ocean earlier this month, it sank in about 15 minutes. But not before he and his three sailors escape with essentials and cutting-edge communications equipment.

One is a pocket-sized satellite device that Mr Rodriguez can use to call his brother thousands of miles away on land from his life raft. The call will kick-start successful rescue operations for sailors on board other ships in the region who have satellite internet access.

“Technology has saved our lives,” Mr. Rodriguez later wrote in an account, typing on his iPhone from the sailboat that rescued him and his crew.

Those involved in the roughly nine-hour rescue said it illustrated how new satellite technology, particularly the Starlink internet system, operated by rocket company SpaceX since 2019, has dramatically improved emergency conditions for sailors stranded at sea and those trying to find them. Communication options.

“All sailors want to help,” said Mr Rodriguez’s friend Tommy Joyce, who helped organize the rescue from his own sailboat. “But it just makes it easier to coordinate and help crew members in distress.”

According to the company, Starlink’s service enables ships to access satellite signals that reach oceans around the world. The fee-based connection allows sailors to reach other ships themselves, rather than relying solely on sending distress signals to government rescue agencies using older satellite communications technology.

But the quick rescue would not have been possible without the battery-operated satellite equipment Mr Rodriguez used to call his brother. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, such devices were only used by recreational sailors for about a decade. The device’s manufacturer, Iridium, said in a statement that the device is “very popular in the nautical community.”

“The recent introduction of more powerful satellite systems now means sailors can broadcast distress messages to closed or public chat groups, sometimes even online, and get an immediate response,” said Paul Tetlow, managing director of sailing organization World Cruise Club explain.member Participate in the rescue.

Whales don’t usually ram boats.In a notable exception, a Ramping the whaler Essex Its accident while crossing the Pacific Ocean in 1820 was one of the inspirations for Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby-Dick.

In Mr Rodriguez’s case, a whale interrupted a three-week voyage on his 44-foot sailboat, rain dancer, from the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador to French Polynesia. The ship was cruising at about 7 mph when the collision occurred on March 13, and the crew was busy eating homemade pizza.

Mr. Rodriguez later wrote that the encounter with the whale – like when he dipped a piece of it in ranch dressing – felt like hitting a concrete wall.

As the ship sank, “I thought it was just a scene from a movie,” said Alana Litz, a friend of Mr. Rodriguez’s and a sailor on the Rain Dancer. Tell NBC’s “Today” show last week.rescue stories have been The Washington Post reported earlier.

The Rain Dancer’s hull is reinforced to withstand the impact of objects as large and heavy as a shipping container.But the collision caused multiple cracks near the stern, and Mr Rodriguez later wrotethe water rises to the floor in about 30 seconds.

Minutes later, he and his friends escaped from the boat with food, water and other essentials. When he looked back, he saw the last 10 feet of the mast sinking rapidly. When a rope tied to the raft began to strain, he cut it with a knife.

This kept the Raindancer crew afloat in the open ocean about 2,400 miles west of Lima, Peru, and 1,800 miles southeast of Tahiti.

“The sun started to set and soon it was getting dark,” Mr Rodriguez, who was not available for an interview, said in a statement travel notes He shares it with other sailors. “We are floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with our dinghy and life raft. Hopefully we will be rescued soon.”

Before the Raindancer sank, Mr. Rodriguez activated a satellite radio beacon that immediately sent a distress alert to Peruvian Coast Guard authorities, which has search and rescue authority over that part of the Pacific Ocean and whose ship is registered in the United States.

In 2009, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter Rescue a sailboat crew His boat collided with a whale and sank about 70 miles off the coast of Mexico. But Raindancer’s remote location made such a rescue impossible. So within an hour of it sinking, U.S. Coast Guard officials used decades-old satellite communications technology to contact commercial ships near the accident site.

One ship responded that it was about 10 hours away and offered to divert. But in the end, it wasn’t necessary, as Mr Rodriguez’s satellite phone to his brother Roger had already set in motion another successful rescue effort.

Mr. Rodriguez’s brother contacted Mr. Joyce, whose own ship, the Southern Cross, left the Galapagos around the same time and sank about 200 miles behind the Raindancer. Because Southern Cross has a Starlink internet connection, it has become the center of the rescue effort, with Mr Joyce, 40, coordinating with other vessels using WhatsApp, Facebook and several smartphone apps that track wind speed, tide and vessel position.

“Not a drill,” Mr Joyce, who works in the biotech industry and is often on his boat, wrote to other sailors in the area on WhatsApp. “We’re heading in that direction in the Pacific, but there are ships that are closer.”

After a quick communication, several ships began heading towards the Rain Dancer’s last known coordinates at top speed.

SpaceX did not respond to inquiries about the system’s Pacific coverage. But Douglas Thump, who oversees the Coast Guard’s Pacific Search and Rescue operations, said in a telephone interview that ships only started using Starlink internet service on the high seas this year.

Mr Joyce said satellite internet was key to finding ships close to the stranded crew.

“They’re all using Starlink,” he said in a video interview from a boat bound for Tahiti. “Can you imagine if we didn’t have access?”

Of course, there was also a sailboat captain who did not have a Starlink signal during the rescue: Mr. Rodriguez. After night fell in the Pacific, he and his crew resorted to the age-old method of sitting on a life raft and hoping that all was well.

In the darkness, the wind picked up and the flying fish jumped into their dinghy, according to Mr Rodriguez. Every hour or so, they send out a distress call with handheld radios, hoping a ship happens to pass within range.

No. But after hours of anxious waiting, they saw the lights of a catamaran and heard Captain America crackling on the radio. That was their scream of relief.

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