Day 667 [July 31/10 JST] -- Overnight tow succeeds; Saito back in Honolulu

A tremendous effort by "Team Hawaii" to provide an emergency tow succeeded today as Dave Cooper and Ed Abbot motored 108 nm round-trip for what turned out to be a dramatic overnight mission to come to the aid of Nicole BMW Shuten-dohji III.

It had not been clear until this morning's call the actual nature of the rigging failure in the early morning hours Thursday. Dave reported from his visual inspection that the genoa forestay cable -- a support crucial to the integrity of the mast --  had broken at the mast peak, and will apparently require "complete replacement."

The genoa forestay is one of two support cables in the yacht's foredeck area that serve to hold the mast up. The other cable, the staysail stay, had a coupling broken 10 days ago and had been fixed by rope. Saito-san used halyards as temporary replacements for the damaged cables. Their failure also caused the loosened double backstays that prompted a lowering of all sails two days ago, leaving NBSDIII drifting with barely 40 nm to go to Honolulu.

After consulting with the Coast Guard, a tow was decided and quickly arranged by Team Hawaii, our group of Hawaii volunteers comprised of Dave Cooper, Ed Abbot, and Scott Gilbert.

Since the engine shutdown and a seawater cooling circuit leak that forced the "U-turn" back to port 14 days ago, it's now clear that these additional rigging failures would likely have forced a mid-ocean abandonment. A similar situation in June caused the disastrous dismasting and loss of the yacht Wild Eyes skippered by the young American sailor Abby Sunderland as she crossed the Indian Ocean.

Faced by opposing winds, currents, and seas, in the past two weeks Saito-san tacked a total of 1,100 miles to make the 500 nm return -- resulting in a zig-zagging round-trip of some 1,600 miles.

We found out as well this morning that the rescue "crew" assembled by Dave was just that -- a crew of just a single person: Ed Abbot. (Scott was working at his hospital job and couldn't get away.) This was despite the two men knowing that the winds were expected to rise into the 20s and that the tow effort would necessitate a late afternoon rendezvous and an overnight tow with no relief breaks. While the weather was not extreme, the trade winds can be a challenge even in "normal" circumstances, and towing a 25-ton boat in the dark hours is anything but normal.

Saito-san called Tokyo at 1600 HI time to report his arrival dockside at Kawalo Basin, and explained how "the Coast Guard" had sent a vessel out, and that it took 30 hours from the time it left port to the time the two vessels had arrived back. He said he had had no sleep in the past 24 hours and was "very tired."

A bit of confusion was cleared up and produced a laugh from the obviously weary sailor.

Saito-san had stayed on NBSDIII during the tow. Ironically, the entire time he never saw Dave, just Ed's face. When we explained whose boat had come to his assistance, Saito-san laughed loud and long when he learned the skipper was actually Dave, and the tow vessel was not one sent by Coast Guard, but Dave's 58-foot trawler Swan Song. "Really?! I saw the boat name, but I never saw the captain," Saito-san said.

Earlier this morning we called Dave on his cell phone, who at the time was standing by to await the tow to be picked up by Parker Marine Service at Kawalo Basin in Honolulu. Dave said that other than the tow line parting in the wee hours of the morning, and the strong headwinds that slowed progress to "3 but sometimes 2 or 2 1/2 knots" the tow went well. 

Asked whether his 58-foot ocean trawler had had any trouble with its heavy towload, he said, "Naw, she's a tank."

Our Saito 8 cap is off as well to Tokyo volunteer Mike Seymour and main sponsor Nico Roehreke, going back a good two weeks ago.   

Saito-san had agreed, albeit reluctantly, when Nico made a persuasive case to him during a Saito 8 Support Committee meeting. Mike, the Saito 8 Safety Officer, had urged the committee to recommend Saito-san's return to Honolulu when it seemed there was no other recourse for fixing the engine and, especially, stopping a nagging leak. 

"Better to be safe than sorry," Nico -- a former race car driver and no stranger to risk himself -- had told the skipper in fluent Japanese over the Iridium connection. The committee applauded in relief when Nico got off the phone.

And this now week, Mike was up most of the night Thursday Tokyo time working with Dave on the tow arrangements and coordinating with the U.S. Coast Guard. "No problem" he said when we thanked him. Yeah, right!

The Coast Guard was hugely cooperative and handled the event with extraordinary professionalism. The duty officers fielded our own queries as they maintained regular radio contact with Swan Song and we in turn relayed information to Saito-san via his ClearPoint-supplied Iridium phone. It was hugely reassuring to know they were in the loop and standing by.

Distance in last 24 hours: 54 nm over ground
Reported boat speed: 2.0 - 3.0 kts
Average boat speed: 
Engine: 0 hrs
Generator: 9.25 hrs
Weather: Clear, sunny skies, windy
Temperature: 25.5° C
Barometer: 1016 hPa
Wind (from): 12-20 kts ENE & E
Waves: 1.5 -2.0 m
Current (from): 0.3 kt E
Sails: All down

Position Map
Blue line indicates 54 nm tow route