Greenport boat rescues racing sailors left rudderless

06/21/2012 10:00 AM |

COURTESY PHOTO | Sailors Mike Tolsma (left) and Jeff MacFarlane in Greenport after being rescued from Gardiners Bay. The two were stranded at sea for about 24 hours.

The skippers of a 38-foot sailboat who lost their rudder during a 635-mile ocean race and spent 24 hours at sea were rescued off Montauk early Sunday morning by the crew of Greenport sport-fishing boat Red Baron.

New Jersey residents Jeff MacFarlane and Michael Tolsma, representing Oyster Bay’s Oakcliff Sailing Center in this year’s Cruise Club of America race from Newport, R.I., to Bermuda, were leading their class about 15 hours into the race when their sailboat lost its rudder about 100 miles south of Montauk Point.

“When the rudder snapped off, we knew something had broken off, but I thought some of the rudder was still there,” said Mr. MacFarlane. “We dropped the main sail, which was a bit of a challenge because we couldn’t turn into the wind. We notified the Coast Guard and told them our position.”

When the rudder snapped off, Mr. MacFarlane said, the sailboat was drifting out to sea toward the Azores archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic.

“We gathered our thoughts and tried to get some steerage toward land. After an hour or two, we used our sail trim by adjusting our storm sails — small, heavy sails — toward North America,” he said. “We used a sea anchor off the transom with a line on it to adjust it from side to side so the anchor would turn the boat the right way.”

The two sailors spent about a day pointing their sailboat toward Greenport with eight- to 12-foot seas, which Mr. MacFarlane said made towing the boat impossible. “The boat would have broken apart if towed because of the sea state,” he said.

Sailor and Greenporter Pat Mundus said Wooden Boatworks owners Bruce Wahl and Donn Costanzo received an email from Dawn Riley at Oakcliff Sailing Center about the two men’s plight.

“She said, ‘One of our boats had an accident and they need your help,’ ” said Ms. Mundus. “They were sailing downwind toward Montauk and it was 8 p.m. before we first saw them on a computer program tracking their position, which they were broadcasting toward shore.”

Ms. Mundus said once Red Baron, captained by Bruce Wahl, got under way for the rescue, it took a lot of effort to locate the vessel in the choppy seas. The sailboat was finally located in Gardiners Bay, about two miles northwest of Montauk’s outer Shagwong buoy. Since the boat had reached much calmer waters by then, the Red Baron was able to tow it in.

The Red Baron and the Oakcliff racers arrived in Greenport at 4:30 a.m. The boat is now at Hanff’s Boatyard in Greenport.

“It wasn’t my favorite way to spend a Saturday night,” Ms. Mundus said. “But, as mariners, we did the same thing we hope someone would do for us if we ever called for help.”

The Cruising Club of America and Royal Bermuda Yacht Club have run the Newport-Bermuda Race since 1926. Forty members of the two clubs serve on the race organizing committee, with another 100 volunteers helping out.

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