The First Voyage of Isbjörn: A Rescue on the Chesapeake

It was a mixed blessing that the wind was non-existent on that Sunday motoring up the Chesapeake. We still had myriad things to attend to onboard – lashing the dinghy down on the foredeck, putting the finishing touches on some preventer lines and spinnaker sheets, and other things, so the calm weather allowed for all that to get done.

A few miles north of the Bay Bridge, just south of Fairlee Creek, we heard a Mayday call on the VHF. I didn’t get all of it on the first listen, but when they announced their position, it was apparent with a quick glance on the GPS that we were only a mile north. I was at the nav table and popped my head outside to the guys at the helm. They’d heard it too, and wondered what to do.

The boat in question was a 42’ motorboat, a large cabin-cruiser/trawler like thing, and we could see it just behind us, so turned around. During the 10 minutes it took us to get back to their position, we’d communicated with them on the VHF, as well as the USCG in Baltimore, who’d responded to their call and asked any vessels in the area to look out for them and lend a hand if possible. Another small day sailor was also close by, and we communicated with them on the radio to ensure we wouldn’t compound the problem by colliding with them trying to help!

I brought Isbjörn alongside the motorboat. It was calm, no wind, but lots of annoying waves leftover from the busy 4th of July weekend traffic on the Bay. One fast motorboat actually zoomed right by the disabled powerboat, within 15 yards, and never even slowed down. Nice radio watch. Because of the leftover waves, we had all our fenders out and all of theirs, and still struggled to keep the boats from banging into one another.

As it happened, we had onboard a very large capacity Edson manual bilge pump, mounted on a board and portable, and with a long 4-inch hose attached to reach down into the deepest bilge. This motorboat – called Someday – had flooded their engine room, and hadn’t yet identified the leak. The reason I had this pump is because my friend Richard had only just given it to me a few days earlier. He had a Hanse 400 that my dad and I delivered north from the Bahamas a few years ago, and he’d since sold. He kept a bunch of the gear, and let me take my pick in his garage only two days before we left. What luck!

We took turns at the pump as Someday’s owner Dennis searched in the bilge to find the leak. There was a good 3-4 feet of water sloshing around, but we kept ahead of it with the huge pump. Me, Sean and Mia took turns, while the rest of my crew kept the boats apart, and Sheila, Dennis’ wife, communicated with the USCG and Tow Boat/US. At one stage, I left Mia and Sean on Someday and motored Isbjörn away when a tug and barge came down the channel. We were afraid their wake would increase the risk of the two boats crashing together. This was Mia’s idea, and it was a very smart one.

Eventually the cavalry arrived – no less than 4 different authorities showed up about 20 minutes after we’d gotten there. A local fire department, with a very high capacity engine-driven pump, the USCG, Tow Boat/US and another local police boat. They must have been pretty disappointed because by then we’d stemmed the flow, found the leak (it was the engine cooling system) and all was well. Isbjörn left Someday with Tow Boat/US getting ready to take them somewhere nearby to enact repaired. Ironically this couple had only bought the boat ten days prior, and in Canada of all places, and were on their way to Texas!

I got an email just yesterday here in Lunenburg from Sheila, who’d looked us up on the website and wanted to extend her thanks. Below is part of it.

Andy, Mia, and the current crew on your current voyage to Lunenburg - this is Dennis and Shelia Koustoumbardis, owners of “Someday” - the 42’ Navigator that was taking on serious water when you arrived to assist in our rescue July 5, 2015 at G30 in the shipping channel close to Chestertown, MD.

I am so glad that I was able to find your website online, and I’m not at all surprised to read about your past experience, crew expectations, and achievements. Quite impressive indeed!

After taking a moment to reflect on the events that took place in that brief encounter we had with you and your crew, we can only say again “thank you” from the bottom of our hearts. We believe that all things happen for a reason. You were in the exact position you should have been at the exact time that we needed you to be there. More importantly, you didn’t ignore our call. You heard the call and responded. I remember that you told me a friend had given the pump to you only a few days before you left on this voyage. Again, another situation that happened for a reason. That pump, your intervention, Mia and your crewmembers responding to your instruction, was exactly what was called for to save the day.  

Just so you will know, the culprit of the water leak was an improperly placed clamp on the water pump hose on our port engine. The hose clamp blew off the water pump hose to the engine, and flooded the engine room.

I wrote back to Sheila, emphasizing that I too, believe all things happen for a reason, and that there was never any doubt that we’d turn around and help. It was quite an experience for my crew as well, right off the bat! When we got offshore at Cape May, we enjoyed three days of near-perfect beam-reaching conditions in 10-15 knots of breeze, which we put down to ‘karma’ after helping out Someday. Makes you feel good helping others.