Family plucked from Pacific after boat capsizes

February 10, 2012 - 1:15 AM
Ocean Rescue

Nine-year-old West James left, and his father Bradley James are seen in the offices of Horizon Shipping after they were rescued from their sinking sail boat by a cargo ship, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012 in Honolulu. The Canadian family was attempting their first voyage across the Pacific in a sailboat when rough seas damaged their boat hundreds of miles from land. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

HONOLULU (AP) — Three family members attempting their first voyage across the Pacific in a sailboat were left adrift in rough seas hundreds of miles from land when their mast broke in high winds.

Just when they thought they were being rescued, seven hours later, the swell from the arriving cargo ship capsized the smaller vessel, tossing the trio into the cold water.

As the sailboat was destroyed, 9-year-old West James prepared for the worst, "'We're gonna sink. We're gonna die,'" the boy said.

Brad James, 32, said Thursday he tried to keep his son calm as they were in the Pacific for about two hours. They were wearing lifejackets and were able to stay afloat as they awaited help.

The father and son, along with Brad's younger brother Mitch James, hit a series of storms while sailing from Mexico to Hawaii, and on Tuesday afternoon high winds snapped their mast and choppy water overheated their engine about 300 miles from their destination. The trio tried to work up a makeshift sail — but it blew away.

They contacted the Coast Guard and officials directed a massive cargo ship to the stranded 38-foot vessel.

"They were adrift with no hope of survival," said James Kelleher, the ship's captain. "Conditions were bad and worsening. We changed course and immediately began running at full speed over to them."

Things might have seemed to be improving, but instead the nearly 900-foot containership flipped the trio into the ocean in the dead of night.

"If one bad thing goes wrong, it just seems like it gets worse and worse and worse and that's what happened," 29-year-old Mitch James told Hawaii News Now.

The crews were quickly able to get Mitch James out of the water using ropes. But the father and son were drifting away into the darkness. They had to use flashlights as beacons so that the ship's crew could maintain contact.

After several failed attempts, the crew threw a rope into the water that Brad James was able to catch. He held on and grabbed his son and both we hauled up to the deck.

All three arrived in Honolulu aboard the containership early Thursday.

"They're doing great," Kelleher said. "They loved getting a hot meal and a hot breakfast."

A spokesman for Horizon, which owns the cargo ship, said the company would be putting up the trio in a Honolulu hotel.

The Jameses set sail from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on Jan. 11 and headed for Hawaii. The boy's mother and teacher gave him permission to take the trip if he documented the journey.

Mitch James owned the boat and wanted to head to Hawaii, where the family often vacations, said brother Ryan James. They had sailed along the coast of Mexico before, but had never crossed the Pacific, he said from Alberta, Canada, where they all live.

"They seem happy and grateful," said Ryan James, in the aftermath of the ordeal. "They were scared the whole time."