Sunshine was sunk by the US Coast Guard

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philiprmcgovern
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Sunshine was sunk by the US Coast Guard

Postby philiprmcgovern » Wed Apr 01, 2015 3:03 pm

I have some sad news to share with the group. A couple of weeks ago, our boat sank in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Cuba as we were sailing back to Florida from Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Margaret, who had been writing a weekly column about our sailing adventures for the local newspaper here in Indiana, summarized what happened in her final column which follows:

The Adventure Ends

This column was very difficult for me to write. On March 19, Phil and I watched in horror as the Coast

Guard shot a thousand rounds of 50 caliber machine gun shells into our sinking boat so she would not be

remain a hazard to navigation. She had been listing severely to starboard for several hours and had finally

flipped over as she was being towed behind the Coast Guard Cutter Northland.

Three days earlier, we had left Isla Mujeres, Mexico, bound for Florida. We were motoring rather than

sailing due to unfavorable winds and a opposing current. Suddenly, one of the engines began to lose

power and then failed. About 30 minutes later, the other engine followed suit. This indicated a fuel

problem of some kind, so Phil began trying to determine the cause. The seas were five to eight feet,

causing enough hobby-horsing that it was difficult for him to stay down in the engine room more than a

few minutes at a time. He persevered long enough to change the fuel filters on each engine several times,

bleed the fuel lines, even take fuel directly from a clean Jerry can of fuel to rule out dirty fuel. Nothing

worked, and the strong diesel smell and high seas soon took their toll on both of us. We raised the sails,

but could not make any headway.

We were only about 40 miles from Cuba and we used the VHF radio to hail any nearby boats that might

give us a tow. Two boats responded to our “Pan Pan” on the radio, but both were deep draft boats that

couldn’t get us anywhere near the Cuban coast. Finally, we sent a text to our sons on a satellite texting

device that our younger son had gotten for us. After calls to many agencies, they reached the Coast

Guard, who said they had a cutter about 300 miles south of us that would head our way to see if they

could assist us.

Exhausted from so many hours without rest and disheartened by our lack of choices, we decided we had

to get some sleep. We lit up the boat with running lights plus a strobe light at the top of the mast to make

sure other boats could see us, and fell into bed.

Late the next morning, the Coast Guard cutter arrived on the horizon. They first sent a small boat with a

crew of three diesel mechanics to determine if they could fix our engines. They worked on the diesels for

nearly two hours but, like Phil, could not get them started.

Those three returned to the cutter and three very experienced sailors were sent to see if they could help us

sail toward Florida. The cutter would shadow us on the way. The sailing crew didn’t have much more

luck than we had. They got us moving north about three knots, then the wind died. They also discovered

a steering problem that was going to make sailing more difficult.

Finally, it was determined that we should board the cutter and the Coast Guard would tow the boat to Key

West. We set about securing the boat. I managed to close the hatches on the port (left) side of the boat,

but the crew members told us not to worry about the rest because a special “towing crew” would get the

boat ready. We had earlier noticed the sailing team trying to close the hatches from the outside and

warned them that they must close them securely from the inside to make them tight. The Coast Guard

crew instructed us to get two days of clothes, toiletries and any medication we needed and get aboard the

small boat to be transported to the cutter.

Once on board the cutter, we were treated like honored guests. The Coast Guard personnel could not

have been nicer. They took us to the flight deck to see how they were towing our boat and pointed out

that a crew member would be stationed there around the clock to make sure the boat was okay. They

even set up a special light so they could see watch it at night. The tow line was long, about 100 yards. We

noticed that water was flowing over the bow of our boat as she bobbed in the waves.

We were given a small stateroom on the boat, had dinner with the officers, then went to bed. The next

morning, when we returned to the flight deck, we noticed that Sunshine appeared to be listing to starboard

a little. Phil pointed it out to the guard on boat watch who assured us that she was fine. Later that

afternoon the captain sent word that Sunshine wasn’t doing so well and we should come back to the flight

deck. We were astonished to see that she was listing severely to starboard, the same side we were told

they would secure. At the same time, we noticed that one of the starboard hatches on the foredeck was

open. Waves were flowing over the foredeck and into the open hatch. The reality of the situation became

clear and we knew we were going to lose her. Several hours later, she had flipped completely over.

At that point, the captain told us that they could not leave her floating in the middle of the ocean. We

were still many hours from Key West and he said they had no choice but to sink her completely. The

machine gun barrage lasted nearly an hour. She still didn’t totally sink until they sent a crew out with fire

axes to finish her off.

We arrived in Key West the next morning. We had lost everything on the boat except what we took with

us: two changes of clothes, our passports and our telephones. Phil also had the foresight to grab his

wallet. We had assumed we would be getting back on board when we arrived in Key West.

Now back home in Indiana, we have spent our time trying to make sense of what happened, shopping for

new summer clothes, and making lists for the insurance company of all our personal property that went

down with the boat. Our hearts are broken, but we are thankful to be safe, and life goes on. I cannot

imagine a future that does not include sailing. Phil is already talking about getting an RV and continuing

our adventures on land. Maybe we will compromise and do both.

I have enjoyed writing about our travels and have appreciated your kind comments. When we get ready

to continue our adventures, you will be the first to know.




I would just add that we are safe and (somewhat) sound back in Indiana where we are licking our wounds and deciding what to do next.

Also, I think all PDQ owners should be pleased to know how difficult it is to sink a PDQ. It really does take a lot of effort and firepower. A 50 caliber machine gun is not a pellet gun. It was painful to listen and watch.

I should also emphasize how well we were treated by the Commander and crew of the cutter Northland while we were aboard. We had the run of the ship during the three days we were aboard and it was a fun and interesting experience. It was a joy to meet some of the 100 crew members and to interact with them. They are an amazing bunch. Our ONLY complaint is that they sank our boat and it was so avoidable.

I'll end with a couple of pieces of free advice:

1) Before you leave on any sort of passage, dump all of the fuel in your tanks and replace it. One of the CG engineers told me that diesel fuel that is more than three months old should not be trusted no matter how clean it appears to be.
2.) If anyone offers to tow your boat behind a large ship (e.g. a 270' long Coast Guard cutter), just say "No, thanks" and take your chances with drifting to your destination.
3.) Latch those Bomar hatches from the inside -- every time.

Thank you all for your friendship and kindnesses. Best wishes and fair winds to all of you.

Phil McGovern
ex. s/v Sunshine
PDQ 36 LRC
36036
philiprmcgovern@gmail.com

PS: Please note that the 32' PDQ named "Sunshine" is doing just fine.

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chicagocat
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Re: Sunshine was sunk by the US Coast Guard

Postby chicagocat » Wed Apr 01, 2015 6:55 pm

Wow Phil,
That's really terrible. I'm glad you guys are ok. What a story...
PDQ 36052 - 1996 LRC - "Anne Z" - Chicago
and 2001 PDQ 36 Classic (Tall Rig)- "Cat Tales" - Punta Gorda, FL

philiprmcgovern
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Re: Sunshine was sunk by the US Coast Guard

Postby philiprmcgovern » Wed Apr 01, 2015 8:54 pm

Thanks, Chicagocat. Yes, we're fine. Our hearts are broken, but our spirit
is just bent a little. She was a great boat that brought us a lot of joy over the past seven years. It was a real shame.

Phil

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mikeandrebecca
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Re: Sunshine was sunk by the US Coast Guard

Postby mikeandrebecca » Fri Apr 03, 2015 7:19 am

Wow! So sorry to read this story.

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SecondWind
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Re: Sunshine was sunk by the US Coast Guard

Postby SecondWind » Fri Apr 03, 2015 9:57 am

I smell extreme negligence by the Coast Guard. If there was an open hatch they should have stopped, closed the hatch and pumped the boat out. To continue with an obvious problem is shear negligence. If they were able to send a crew over to finish sinking the boat, the seas were not too rough to check why she was taking on water.
Terry Green
s/v Second Wind
36040

philiprmcgovern
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Re: Sunshine was sunk by the US Coast Guard

Postby philiprmcgovern » Fri Apr 03, 2015 10:29 am

Thanks for the kind words.

philiprmcgovern
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Re: Sunshine was sunk by the US Coast Guard

Postby philiprmcgovern » Fri Apr 03, 2015 11:31 am

I couldn't agree more, Terry. The captain of the cutter had posted 24 hour watches just to watch our boat during the tow along with super bright floodlights so they could see it at night. We mentioned our concerns to the watchstander (who looked to be about 12 years old, by the way) and he said, "Well, there's nothing we can do about now and, besides, the captain isn't going to stop anyway." Instead, they ended up stopping and spending over an hour using our boat for target practice and, then, another hour chopping holes in her with fire axes. We also felt their speed was excessive during the tow. Very frustrating.

What's more, we had not issued a "Mayday" call since we weren't in any real danger and were just drifting with the current toward the Keys at about 2 knots. We had enough food and water to last for weeks and I think we would have eventually been able to sail and/or get one or both engines running.

We knew from talking to the crew that they were at the end of a two month "patrol" and we're all very eager to get back to their homeport at Portsmouth, Virginia and I'm convinced that was a factor.

Stay tuned.

Phil

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Re: Sunshine was sunk by the US Coast Guard

Postby Phenix » Fri Apr 03, 2015 3:39 pm

I am very sorry to hear about your boat.

philiprmcgovern wrote:Finally, it was determined that we should board the cutter and the Coast Guard would tow the boat to Key West.


How was this determination made? A request on their part or your part? An order on their part ?
--

philiprmcgovern
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Re: Sunshine was sunk by the US Coast Guard

Postby philiprmcgovern » Fri Apr 03, 2015 5:06 pm

I wouldn't call it an order. They offered to tow us and we accepted, not expecting for our boat to be sunk. If we could have a do-over, our answer would be very different.

Phil

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Re: Sunshine was sunk by the US Coast Guard

Postby Smj » Fri Apr 03, 2015 10:11 pm

Sorry to hear about the loss of your PDQ. Seems the CG got out of giving tows to boats years ago unless they were in danger. Sad to hear it wasn't handled correctly but kudos to the CG for doing what they thought was the right thing and trying to lend a hand. Could you pass on more information about the loss of steering.

philiprmcgovern
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Re: Sunshine was sunk by the US Coast Guard

Postby philiprmcgovern » Sat Apr 04, 2015 6:37 am

Absolutely, the USCG was amazing. It was a joy to meet and watch an extremely dedicated and competent group of men and women on that cutter. Their living conditions were spartan at best and they all had multiple jobs to do and -- except for the towing part -- did them very well with no bitching or whining at all. They bore no resemblance at all to my Army buddies back in the "era."

No, they don't do much towing nowadays, especially when there are private towing companies available. Maybe that's part of the problem and they should get out of that business entirely and just stick with what they excel at - SAR.

I was pretty busy when the steering issue came up, so I don't know much about it. The coasties who discovered it were the sailing team, not the mechanic team, and they didn't know what was causing it. It seems the helm would get "stuck" at a certain point during a turn and, to free it, someone had to kick a cable or something down in the steering locker to free it. Hope that helps a little.

Phil

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Re: Sunshine was sunk by the US Coast Guard

Postby MIDORI » Sun Apr 05, 2015 9:08 am

Phil and Margret, thank you for sharing your story.
We remember meeting you and looking at SUNSHINE when you were purchasing her.
We have enjoyed reading your adventures over the years.

Be well and we hope to see you again when your adventures continue.

Brian and Lynn
32032 MIDORI
Brian

philiprmcgovern
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Re: Sunshine was sunk by the US Coast Guard

Postby philiprmcgovern » Sun Apr 05, 2015 9:44 am

Thank you, Midori!

For us, the saddest thing about losing our boat is that we will also, most likely, lose our connections with so many wonderful people -- like the two of you.

All the best!

Phil

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Re: Sunshine was sunk by the US Coast Guard

Postby SecondWind » Sun Apr 05, 2015 1:44 pm

This is a pretty close knit family. I hope many of your connections remain. We certainly will.
Terry Green

s/v Second Wind

36040

philiprmcgovern
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Re: Sunshine was sunk by the US Coast Guard

Postby philiprmcgovern » Sun Apr 05, 2015 9:43 pm

Thanks, Terry. We hope so as well. We may end up back on the water at some point, but the RV plan is looking like a better prospect right now. Let's do stay in touch.

Phil

PS: How big is your driveway? lol


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