HONOLULU — A container ship crew on Monday rescued three men who were stranded in a sailboat off the Hawaiian islands for about 24 hours as Hurricane Julio battered their vessel with giant waves and high winds that ripped off one of its hatches.
The sailors made it onto the container ship at about 8 a.m., Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Gene Maestas said. They were in good condition, he said.
The men got into trouble while sailing the 42-foot Walkabout from California to Hawaii, Maestas said. The Coast Guard said it received their message for help Sunday morning after the boat became disabled and started taking on water about 400 miles northeast of Oahu.
The sailboat was stranded in 30-foot seas and winds of 92 to 115 mph, according to the agency. The rough conditions broke the vessel’s mast, tossed its life raft overboard and blew off one of its hatches, worsening the flooding, Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle said.
“Those are pretty much some of the worst conditions you could be in,” Molle said. “The fact that they were rescued and there were no injuries reported — that’s amazing.”
The Coast Guard coordinated the rescue with the Matson Inc. container ship, which started out in Long Beach, California, and was on its way to Honolulu to deliver goods.
The sailboat was “so far away we could not send a helicopter that could make the journey,” Petty Officer Melissa McKenzie said. The container ship was the closest vessel that could help. It reached the Walkabout around 10 p.m. Sunday.
But the 661-foot container ship needed better conditions before it could save the stranded sailors.
Operations Specialist Andrew Lincoln said crews had to wait until dawn to start the evacuation because performing the rescue before first light, in the midst of rough weather, was too dangerous.
“The seas were really bad, and it’s kind of windy so they didn’t want to do it in the dark,” he said.
Conditions eventually improved to 20 mph winds with 13-foot seas, allowing crew members to position the massive container ship so it wouldn’t knock over the sailboat. They then tied a rope around a life raft and sent it to the sailboat, McKenzie said.
The sailors got in the raft, and the container ship “reeled them in, essentially,” McKenzie said. The sailors then climbed a 30-foot ladder up to the ship. No other information was immediately available about the sailors, their voyage or what caused their vessel to take on water.
Julio had passed through the area but left behind gusting winds and sea swells.
The Manukai embarked on its journey to Honolulu before Tropical Storm Iselle and Hurricane Julio became threats, Matson spokesman Jeff Hull said. It was diverted a bit because of Julio.
The ship and the sailors will continue on to Honolulu, Hull said. They are expected to arrive early Tuesday. The ship is equipped with medical equipment if the sailors need it.
Monday afternoon, the Coast Guard issued a warning notifying mariners that the Walkabout remained adrift.