Coast Guard rescues 4 Great Pacific Race rowers off county coastline

Four rowers participating in the 2,400-mile Great Pacific Race were rescued by the Coast Guard about 75 miles west of the San Luis Obispo County coastline early Saturday after their boat began to take on water.

Three of the men were airlifted to the San Luis Obispo airport and one was flown to the Monterey airport, Coast Guard Petty Officer Rachel Polish said.

The men were participating in the race from Monterey to Honolulu in a 24-foot rowboat.

The BBC identified the rowers as Colin Parker, 35, of New Zealand, and three Englishmen: Sam Collins, 24, of Cornwall; Fraser Hart, 33, of Tunbridge Wells; and James White, 35, from London.

All four were in good condition following the rescue, Polish said.

The rescue unfolded with a phone call at 9 p.m. Friday to the Coast Guard command center in Alameda from the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre at Falmouth, England that the rowers were in trouble.

The MRCC got the first distress notification because the boat’s emergency positioning radio beacon was registered in England.

A Great Pacific Race “safeboat” sailboat was first on scene but couldn’t rescue the rowers because of high winds and rough seas, the Coast Guard said. The Coast Guard sent a helicopter from its San Francisco air station and a plane from Sacramento, locating the rowers at about 1 a.m. Saturday.

A Coast Guard rescue swimmer was lowered to the boat to hoist three rowers into the helicopter, who were then flown to San Luis Obispo where they were checked out by emergency medical staff and found to be in good condition, Polish said.

The helicopter refueled and returned for the fourth rower and the rescue swimmer, who were taken to Monterey Regional Airport. The fourth rower, Parker, “was fine after he was warmed up,” Polish said.

Although the San Luis Obispo airport was closed for the night, the San Luis Jet Center on-call fuel service aided the rescuers, airport general manager Kevin Bumer said.

A National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration buoy near the rescue area reported nine-foot sea swells at eight-second intervals and near gale-force winds of 31 mph with gusts to 35 mph at the time of the rescue, said PG&E meteorologist John Lindsey.

Those were dangerous conditions, said Coast Guard rescue swimmer Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Leon.

“This was the most challenging rescue I’ve ever had,” Leon said. “It was unique because there was no light, seas were incredibly rough and waves were crashing over the top of the boat, which was already filled with water. I’m glad we were able to get on scene and rescue the rowers because surviving the night in those conditions would have been difficult.”

The team members posted a lengthy statement on the race website Saturday afternoon, including a thank-you to the Jet Center.

“We would also love to thank Jim, Brittany and their team at San Luis Jet Center in San Luis Obispo, who provided us with clean T-shirts, warm showers, hot coffee, blankets, clothes drying and meals,” the statement read.

A Jet Center employee said he was told the team left San Luis Obispo with plans to fly home from Los Angeles Saturday night.