Sailor rescued by helicopter after boat hits rocks at Piedras Blancas

betling@thetribunenews.comJanuary 9, 2014 

Cold, wet, but alive, a stranded sailor was plucked from his wrecked sailboat before dawn Thursday at Piedras Blancas by a Coast Guard helicopter that carried him to safety.

The 32-foot fiberglass craft ran onto the rocks just north of the lighthouse and just south of the landmark large, white rock that gives the point its name around 3 a.m.

The sailor, whose identity could not be confirmed, was able to contact rescuers by cell phone around 3:30 a.m. County teams were on site at the point about 14 miles north of Cambria by 4 a.m. and stood by until the helicopter arrived about 5 a.m.

A rescuer was lowered from the hovering aircraft to the sailboat, known as the Blue Mist. The sole occupant of the boat, a middle-aged man, was lifted to the helicopter and carried to the nearby bluff, where waiting emergency medical personnel examined him and determined he did not need medical treatment.

According to reports from Richard Stacy of the North Coast Ocean Rescue Team, who spoke with the sailor, and Cal Fire and Coast Guard sources, what happened was this:

The sailor recently purchased the sailboat and departed from the Bay Area, headed for Morro Bay, using diesel engines for propulsion.

Guided only by his cell phone’s GPS through the dark, moonless night, the first-time sailor mistook Piedras Blancas Lighthouse for San Simeon Point and steered his craft eastward.

The sailboat narrowly missed the landmark large white rock at Piedras Blancas and ran aground on the rocky shore just north of the lighthouse. The jarring impact snapped the craft’s mast and disabled its radio at about 3 a.m. The mast struck a glancing blow on the sailor and jarred his cell phone out of his grasp. With the mast down, the marine radio was no longer functional.

The man was able to find his cell phone, called 911 and was connected to the Coast Guard in Los Angeles. A helicopter was sent out of Alameda in the Bay Area, along with the Morro Bay Harbor Patrol, a Cal Fire engine from Cambria, the county Urban Search and Rescue Team (formerly known as the Technical Rescue Team), and an ambulance from the Cambria Community Healthcare District.

Rescue swimmers with the North Coast Ocean Rescue and Urban Search and Rescue teams donned swim garb and stood by to plunge into the water if needed. The sailboat rocked on the high tide, working a hole in one side of the craft.

By 5 a.m., the helicopter had covered the 200 or so miles from its home station and arrived on scene. Within 10 minutes, the sailor had been safely lifted from his boat and into the arms of rescuers on shore.

Once daylight flooded the scene, the owner of the craft started attempting to recover the 60 or so gallons of diesel fuel left in the craft. Salvagers were busy patching the hole, described as “soccer-ball sized” by Stacy, in hopes of refloating it at high tide. The sailor “was fine,” Stacy said, albeit “wet and cold.”

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