MAYDAY: Liveaboard Sailor Swept Offshore and Rescued 12 Days After Making Call

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Ron rescued

Ron Ingraham, a 67-year-old fisherman who had been living aboard his Bayfield 25 Malia on Molokai in Hawaii, was rescued Tuesday by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, 12 days after first trying to call for help on a jury-rigged VHF radio and a week after a search for him had been called off. News reports have it that Ron’s ordeal started when he was unable to enter Kaumalapau Harbor on the west coast of the island of Lanai, south of Molokai, due to a strong northwest swell. If you watch the TV interview with him here, however, it seems clear to me what actually happened was he was anchored at Kaumalapau and had to bail out because of the swell (note he refers to having to “cut his ropes” to avoid going up on the rocks just before dark).

Take a peek at this chart of the harbor, which is fairly small and open (though evidently it is the main commercial harbor on the island), and you can see it would be quite untenable with a lot of westerly swell piling into it:

Harbor chart

Once clear of the harbor Ron was forced to run off to the south in the strong wind, until he was 200 miles off the south end of the big island of Hawaii.

Hawaii map

At some point his boat was knocked down, with its mast in the water, and his masthead VHF antenna was lost, and he was swept overboard. Fortunately, Ron had a line on him and was able to pull himself back aboard. He jammed a coat hangar in his radio as a makeshift antenna and put out two Mayday calls on Thanksgiving Day, in which he stated he was taking on water and in danger of sinking. According to at least one report, he gave out an incorrect position during these calls that put him 46 miles west of Kailua-Kona, which is in the middle of the Big Island’s west coast, due to a problem with his GPS.

For whatever reason, the Coast Guard spent five days conducting a large search in the wrong area, southwest of Maui, after receiving the calls and finally gave up looking for Ron on December 1. Meanwhile, Ron was evidently having some luck sailing back north, as when his next call was received Tuesday morning he was just 64 miles south of Honolulu. The U.S. Navy destroyer Paul Hamilton picked up Ron and handed him and his boat off the Coast Guard, who returned them both to Molokai yesterday.

Ron with Navy

Ron meets the Navy after getting picked up

And here’s a video of the pick-up:

Ron ran out of food and water during his impromptu adventure and survived by catching fish. He was reported as being “weak, hungry, and dehydrated” when he was finally rescued.

The feel-good holiday ending is that authorities contacted Ron’s son Zakary, age 43, in the middle of all this. Zakary and his dad hadn’t seen or spoken to each other in many years, as Zakary was taken away by his mom after his parents divorced when he was just 7. Ron was living a simple life on Molokai, with no phone or e-mail access, and evidently was difficult to contact. When told the search for his dad was being called off, Zakary, who lives in Missouri, told authorities he believed his father was still alive.

“You know who Rambo is?” Zakary told reporters. “Rambo has a picture of my dad on his wall.”

Now he’s saving up his money so he can fly to Hawaii to visit his dad.

Malia with sails up

PS: Some reports have it that Ron’s little boat Malia lost both its masts during this mishap, but that is obviously wrong. It only has one mast, which was obviously still upright when Ron was rescued.

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4 Responses
  1. Bob

    The bayfield 25 only has the one mast and looks to be intact. I thought you were forced to abandon your vessel if you place a mayday call.

  2. Randall

    I soloed the Hawaiian islands extensively in 2012, anchoring in several bays off most islands over the course of the spring. Kaumalapau Harbor is typical of many anchorages in Hawaii, good protection from prevailing local winds/swells (usually E and NE), but open to whatever the larger Pacific has to offer. Kaumalapau has the added *advantage* of being small with a quantity of submerged rocks at the margin. To me it’s perfectly plausible Ron would have to abandon his anchorage as the weather changed. Also, trades in the north Pacific over 20 knots are not uncommon, and these winds accelerate between the islands, so it’s also plausible that this small boat could be swept south and out to sea in such conditions. What’s odd to me is that Ron seems not to have expected either of these possibilities.

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