RAINMAKER ABANDONED: Gunboat 55 Hull No. 1 Dismasted, Crew Evacuated by Helo

Rainmaker rescue

For me this is like déjà vu all over again. All this month I’ve been thinking about where I was a year ago, dangling from a wire beneath a Coast Guard helicopter many miles offshore with a busted catamaran beneath me. This year’s victim, unfortunately, is an award-winning Gunboat 55, hull no. 1, Rainmaker, which got dismasted yesterday after getting raked by a 70-knot whiteout squall about 200 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras. The five-member crew elected to abandon the vessel and was evacuated by a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter operating near the limit of its range.

Gunboat CEO Peter Johnstone broke the story late yesterday on his Facebook page and described the incident to me in more detail early this afternoon.

Rainmaker was 36 hours into a passage that began at Gunboat’s North Carolina yard, bound for St. Martin, when she was dismasted. Sustained winds at the time were 30-35 knots, with 40-knot squalls coming through at intervals. The crew, led by skipper Chris Bailet and owner Brian Cohen, were flying a triple-reefed mainsail and a storm jib. Also aboard were Cohen’s son and two other professional crew. The coup-de-grace was delivered by one 70-knot squall, a microburst Johnstone termed it, that looked no different from the other squalls as it approached. In Johnstone’s words: “The mast came down with the wall of wind.”

According to Johnstone, the rig was cleared with no damage to the hull, and the crew salvaged the storm jib in hopes of putting up a jury rig later. There were lines around the props, which precluded any motoring until they could be cleared. “No question, they probably could have turned downwind and tried to sort something out later,” Johnstone told me. “But the weather forecast was bad, and in the end they decided to play it safe with the lives aboard.”

According to the Coast Guard’s report, a 350-foot cargo vessel, Ocean Crescent, was 40 miles from the scene and diverted to pick up the crew, but was unable to come alongside the catamaran. According to Johnstone, Rainmaker collided violently with the ship and was almost sucked into its propeller. Ultimately, the crew was lifted off at approximately 5 pm by a Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter sent from the Coast Guard airbase at Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The Jayhawk reportedly didn’t have enough fuel to make it back to Elizabeth City and instead landed in Manteo, North Carolina, not too far from the Gunboat yard, at 8:10 pm.

Here’s a viddy of the lift that the Coasties have posted:

Conditions look quite a bit rougher than they were when I got to appear in one of these productions last year.

I am sure a lot of people out there are already in Armchair Admiral Mode, doing the would-have should-have could-have thing, second-guessing the crew’s decision to abandon ship, but I can tell you from experience this is a definitely-have-to-be-there sort of decision. I met the skipper, Chris Bailet, when I was aboard Rainmaker at the Newport show last fall and was very impressed with him. I’m guessing he very likely might have organized a way to get the boat back to shore once the weather settled out, but there are other personal factors to consider. I’m thinking in particular of the owner, and that son of his. I’ve met many owners who are bolder than their skippers when it comes to a boat’s safety. But a child’s safety is something else entirely.

Johnstone has stated an effort will be made to retrieve the boat, which is valued at about $2.5 million. I imagine right now they’re pretty busy organizing that.

Rainmaker in Manhattan

This is Rainmaker on her home turf, off Manhattan. Brian Cohen intended to use her as “a floating conference center” for a group of investors he leads during the summer season and spend winters aboard down in the Caribbean. You can read more about Cohen and the boat in this Forbes profile here, and can also catch them together in this viddy:

Rescue crew

Rainmaker‘s crew with the Coasties that retrieved them, safe and sound in Carolina

One question I’m asking myself is about the ultimate range of these Coast Guard rescue helicopters. We were 300 miles offshore when we were rescued last year, and they refueled twice at sea on a U.S. Navy vessel while retrieving us, once coming out to us and once going back. When I asked about this, my Coasties told me the Jayhawk’s range is about 300 miles. Hence on a 600-mile round trip, plus spending a lot of time hovering while lifting people aboard, it obviously made sense to stop twice for gas.

Now here we have the same helo saving Rainmaker’s crew on a 400-mile round trip with no fuel stops and apparently just barely enough fuel aboard to pull it off.

According to Wikipedia, the Jayhawk “is designed to fly a crew of four up to 300 miles offshore, hoist up to 6 additional people on board while remaining on scene for up to 45 minutes and return to base while maintaining an adequate fuel reserve.”

Anyone got hard facts on this?

UPDATE (Feb. 27): Sailing Anarchy has managed to debrief skipper Chris Bailet and has published a much more detailed account of what happened in two installments: Part 1 and Part 2

These are well worth studying and conflict in some particulars with the secondhand account I received from Peter Johnstone immediately after the incident. The Reader’s Digest condensed version: things seem to have been considerably dicier than first described. The port side window was smashed as the rig came down leaving broken glass everywhere, the port side companionway was compromised and couldn’t be secured, the port side propeller had a line wrapped around it, the starboard engine was not starting properly, the electronics were all out, the owner and his son seemed to be in shock, the central bowsprit (or longeron) forward was not secure, and some seriously bad weather was coming up soon.

Bailet’s description of the attempt to rendezvous with Ocean Crescent is particularly chilling:

The Ocean Crescent told us to hold course and they would come around our port side, around our transom, and to windward, along the starboard hull. As they were in final approached, they radioed that they would be crossing in front of our bow, then stopping to windward of us. At this time we were going approximately 2-4kts down the waves, no engines (STBD kept cutting out) with our starboard quarter to the wind. The Ocean Crescent made this call while they were within approximately 900ft (3 of their boat lengths) of our bow, approaching at about 10 knots. As they got close, they made an emergency turn to port to try to avoid collision. As soon as it became obvious they were going to hit us, I try a handful of times to get starboard engine on, finally it caught and I threw it into reverse. The starboard side started to turn, exposing our port bow and longeron to the ship, and they collided with our port bow forward of their midships. It was a big blow, and we heard the crunching of the carbon (really getting sick of that sound now), though we didn’t know how much damage we’d sustained as we rolled off their bow wake and slid down their starboard side. But OC was still turning to port, and as we neared their transom, the tanker went bow down on a wave, completely exposing their massive spinning propeller. It missed our port hull by a few feet.

Meanwhile, the owners of Ocean Crescent have published their version of events here and released photos of Rainmaker, post dismasting, taken from the ship.

Rainmaker rescue

Rainmaker damaged

The latter photo was taken when Rainmaker was in the ship’s lee close aboard. Note the sagging longeron and the missing port side windows.

SA has a third post on this coming up, with info (so we’re told) on the salvage effort, and I’ll post a link to that when it appears.

ANOTHER UPDATE (March 2): As promised, here’s a link to SA’s final report: Part 3

The skinny on the salvage effort is that they evidently left an activated EPIRB onboard. (I’m a little surprised the Coast Guard was cool with that, as we were told in no uncertain terms to brings ours with us when we abandoned Be Good Too last year, although in this case the EPIRB had already been activated, and in ours the EPIRB was still a virgin.) In spite of this, they were unable to find the boat with either a search vessel or with planes before the signal cut out, though they did find some debris from the boat. Another interesting point is that SA’s Mr. Clean, in his final analysis, seems to state as fact that the dismasting occurred through a failure to release the mainsheet, though there is nothing about this in the interview with Bailet.

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46 Responses
  1. Anonymous

    The weather forecasts have shown gale, storm and even hurricane strength winds for the offshore Mid-Atlantic waters for several weeks now. This is not a storm that just popped up out of nowhere. What I can’t understand is how and why someone would leave port and intentionally sail into gale conditions. Or did they forget to check the weather???

  2. Andrew Burton

    I’ve been watching the weather for the last few weekdays I’m off on attic from theNE soon. There have been a few decent small windows that a quick boat could take advantage of. I imagine that’s what they did.

  3. Spencer

    There’s a concept sometimes called “spurious accuracy” that holds that things like financial spreadsheets, market forecasts and graphic weather maps are given more credence than they deserve because they are so detailed and appear so inevitable. Beware “spurious accuracy”!

  4. finserni@gmail.com

    God bless the U. S. Coast Guard. they are angels and experts put into one beautiful force all around the U. S. Waters. I totally agree that no one can do monday morning quarterbacking if you were not there. The sea and the weather can be mysteriously threatening and violent for any vessel. Thank God all survived and it did not flip over and drown a la Perfect Storm. f. Inserni

  5. Captain Joei randazzo

    Off Hatteras its called a “Cyclonogenetic Phenominon” and can form all on its own at will… First the lightning, then the wind, then the rain…the deluge of rain is the best part because it hits so hard that the wave tops get bump rather than rolling thunder, Been in it 3 times on 2 different sailing vessels…Anywhere from 9 – 16 hours of the worst of it.

  6. Keith

    This was not an Alpha 42, build number one, (un sea-trialed, catamaran.)

    The weather is always to be respected when ocean sailing, or ocean crossing.

    If you choose too leave in the winter storm season, in a non proven design, (aka Alpha 42) you can expect too get into trouble, and did, for the paycheck.

    If a proven ocean sailing design, (Gunboat) gets into trouble in these conditions, then something has simply failed, causing the rig to come down. Would I have left in the winter to cross this ocean, No, but, that is because I have enough ocean multihull experience to make that choice.

    Some times, on ocean proven designs, parts will fail. That`s all this is.

  7. Anonymous

    if the props were clear I’m sure they would be able to motor to safety,. The cargo ship that had it’s prop stuck on the gunboat may have cut into the hull ? Gunboats won’t sink even if every compartment is flooded but I wonder how much damage the cargo ship did in it’s attempt to rescue the crew? As a skipper of my own yacht, I never fly more than a storm jib ,in 40+knot winds. with no racing, I’ll just motor if things get sketchy.Like the story says, lots of coulda,shoulda,woulda. I’ll sail a gunboat before any monohull any day

  8. Enter your name*

    Skipper and owner both on deck, I wonder if conflicting personalities, or opinions had a factor in decision making? When I skipper a boat, at sea my word is law when any decision is to be made. If the owner doesn’t agree to this arrangment, I won’t skipper that boat before we leave the dock, and the owner can find another skipper.

  9. Capt Joei

    When an owner is onboard for a delivery, it has to be clear from the begining. I always insist on the owner signing a “Letter of authourity” which must be notarized.
    No confusion to Crew who is Captain, and actually helps to calm the owner. Anyone who would like a copy of mine can e-mail me at mscaptjo@aol.com…It works!

  10. Don Joyce

    Hopefully when the boat is recovered, we will learn what failed and why. It would seem something else should have let go before the rig.



  11. Brett A

    While I am not a CG Helo pilot, I do have over 14000 hours of flight time in fixed wing jets, so I will take a shot at your question. The coastie you talked to most probably gave you the range it could go offshore…300 miles, without refueling and with loiter time and a 45 minute fuel reserve on landing. Thats with ideal conditions and that is most probably at a fast speed, which they fly much of the time when going on time-critical rescue mentions. According to my sources, the actual normal cruising speed of the H-60 is about 140 kts, which gives it an endurance of about 6 hours, or an 840 NM max range with no reserve fuel. On your rescue I have no idea of the winds they faced, the speed they flew at, or the time they spent on station, so I would say that the 300 miles offshore that you were was probably at the limit of their range and they refueled to be conservative, and if there was a Navy ship that happened to be near their route which could refuel them, why not? It gives them max loiter time on the scene should they encounter difficulties.

    On the gunboat rescue they were, according to your info, 100 miles closer to shore… or 200 miles less of flying. A 400 mile round trip, especially if it was at a the slower cruising speed of 140 knots to extend range, is certainly within the capabilities of the H-60. There is no telling whether or not a Navy or CG ship was nearby to use for refueling, so certainly that would have contributed to whether or not they chose to refuel. And of course you have the Aircraft Commander’s personal judgement as to how little fuel he is willing to land with.

    So it really all depends…. Winds, speed flown, ships nearby to refuel aboard, conditions faced on scene, and the commander’s own comfort level all play a factor as to how far off shore they are willing or able to fly to rescue a mariner in need. The main point to take away is that each and every rescue involves risk for these men and women and we should all be very grateful they do it, as I know most of us are.

  12. Dave koshiol

    Did they try a drogue ? It gets rid of 90% of your worries and is very calming for any scared persons on board from my experiense.

  13. Capt Ron

    I’m with Anonymous, and wondering the same thing, every winter it seems that there are one or two rescues in this part of the Atlantic….this makes No. 2

  14. Viking

    Is this an American Captain? They talk a big game, when things go wrong they cannot handle the situation and are quick to abandon boat. There are delivery companies who will not use American captains. If this had been a Kiwi, Aussie or Swede, they would not of abandoned boat. Losing mast is not a reason to abandon the boat. The boat is very safe without a mast.
    Alpha 42 last year. Rudder issues, no need to abandon but quick to call the coastguard.

  15. Keith B

    So why is hull # 1 of a new design, never sailed offshore, even in the relatively placid summertime New York/ New England waters a “proven ocean sailing design” just because it’s a Gunboat, As I recall another one lost the rig en route to Hawaii last year, it did, however power home, unaided. Beware of “Legends” you can be very disappointed.

  16. Spencer

    It seems that there is a lot of blaming of the victims here without much hard information on what happened. Accidents happen at sea and some are preventable but from this information I really can’t tell and wouldn’t want to guess. It could be very hurtful.

  17. Keith Burrage

    No they do not design or make the mast but I would assume they do provide the general layout, vessel righting moments and other relevant data to ensure that a properly engineered rig is manufactured to fully exploit the potential of the platform.

  18. Enter your name*

    During any storm,it seems that there is always a at-sea rescue of a sail boat.The weather forcasts are free.What gives?

  19. Jared Robinson

    I’ve been sailing since 1952 and have sailed about ten thousand miles mostly offshore. Three full gales, Hurricane Dot 1959, a knockdown squall on lake Ontario…

    And I know what the words Seaworthy, Sea-kindly, and able ship mean.

    You may be a computer genius, a brilliant business man, and blah blah blah…

    But that means nothing to the law of sea. You are either a sailor who can handle
    heavy weather, or you are washed up on a disabled wreck growing seaweed adrift
    on an heartless ocean.

    Drink your martinis tied up to the dock at the Yacht Club. Or play golf.

    Over the years, I’ve heart most of the seagoing sob stories. And as sob stories go, this is in a class all by itself.

    Jared Robinson

  20. Captain Bo

    Sounds like the aviation term, “Gethereitus” inflicted the crew or they would have never left port without a larger weather window. Allowing for little or no margin of error, only increases the chances of the error becoming a reality. Or, in this case, a nightmare.

  21. Scott

    This event illustrates one of the biggest issues with cats. When a monohull gets unexpectedly overpowered (too much sail up for the conditions), it gets knocked down, which is uncomfortable and scary and makes a mess. When a cat gets overpowered, things break because the vessel has so much righting moment. It can’t just lie down, or if it does, then it’s going all the way over, a state from which it will not recover.

  22. angus phillips

    Watch the video. It’s a hoot. Particularly love the new owner’s prescient comment: “It’s sailing without the drama.” Oh, yeah.

  23. HydroNick

    It’s a Nigel Irens design…he designed Joyon’s Round the World record beating trimaran IDEC…The comments about the boat not being offshore worthy, properly designed are nonsense.

  24. gian - Italy (kaufman54 cutter

    Cats have relatively large mainsails.

    3reefs is way too much in those conditions! Storm jib + try-sail, with hands on the sheet of it.

    I dislike cats. And I perceive some excessive confidence in what is ‘just’ a luxury boat, no more, no better than what I’d trust my life to, in the ocean…

  25. al stresen-reuter

    I don’t think the fact that the vessel was a catamaran has much to do with it. According to a representative on Hull #2 at the Miami Boat Show, the mast ‘exploded.’ So is this a question of carbon fibre technology versus aluminum spars?

  26. D.M. Walsh

    5/30/15…..Having just returned to Massachusetts making a delivery from the USVI, I can report that Rainmaker remains afloat in the Atlantic. We happened to sail upon her 4 days ago while beginning to enter the gulfstream. Her superstructure is now gone and it is partially swamped. It remains a hazard to navigation and has been reported to the U.S. Coast Guard. Yet another example of someone with too much money and not enough brains that should be held accountable for its proper disposal or salvage. While too many things can go wrong as it is, a responsible owner/captain should never have set out without a proper weather window no matter how tough or arrogant they think they are! If we had not seen it during daylight perhaps we would have been the victims.

  27. American Captain

    Is this an American Captain? They talk a big game, when things go wrong they cannot handle the situation and are quick to abandon boat. There are delivery companies who will not use American captains. If this had been a Kiwi, Aussie or Swede, they would not of abandoned boat. Losing mast is not a reason to abandon the boat. The boat is very safe without a mast.
    Alpha 42 last year. Rudder issues, no need to abandon but quick to call the coastguard.

    … You sir are a complete asshole… Go generalize about your mother…

  28. Charlie

    @D.M. Walsh: I was thinking about Rainmaker while coming through the Stream myself the last few days. If you are really think the mess she represents should be cleaned up, you should share the coordinates. The builder is in fact very anxious to recover her.

  29. D.M. Walsh

    We provided them to the US Coast Guard along with photos to verify the name of the boat. I trust they will handle the situation as it should have been done.

  30. Charlie

    @D.M. Walsh: I doubt the Coast Guard will do anything with the information. The builder, however, is anxious to act.

  31. Frank

    This Gunboat 55 has a few shortcomings for a vessel touted as a safe short handed long range cruiser, such as no lower shrouds connecting the hulls to the diamond spreader, as found on the older Gunboats designed by Morrelli & Melvin…

    The square head of the mainsail is directly below the diamond spreader on the third reef causing a heavy load on the mast section just below it…

    As for the seamanship displayed, I cannot figure why a captain would start its engines without ensuring all lines were clear of the props and preferrably onboard: fouling both props in this case was a big mistake, as the boat had enough fuel to motor back to port on one or both engines and save the day…

    There is also a device called a sea anchor, which is a must for a catamaran in rough weather: I always carried one in a cat on an ocean passage, even though it never got used…

  32. H20

    Built for racing or for offshore. Crewed for racing or crewed for offshore. Two very different things.

    Complete rubbish. There’s plenty of racing boats that have circumnavigated happily or done similar sea miles. One of the most successful boats to race out of the UK, for example, has 185,000 miles under its belt, both racing and shorthanded cruising. Even old IOR lightweights have been known to cruise happily around the world’s oceans for decades, and then there are designs like the S&S 34, which was designed for racing and has been used for several solo nonstop round the world passages.

  33. Stevie-dub-ya

    Is that actually “Rainmaker !!” in the video?……since a Rainmaker Gunboat was lost on her maiden voyage? Makes the video, just that much funnier! Probably doesn’t pass our girl, Liberty these days!

  34. Charlie

    @joe: Good question. I haven’t hard anything on Rainmaker. Gunboat, however, is reorganizing in bankruptcy and Peter Johnstone has stepped down as president. Company and its assets to be sold at auction.

  35. nicolò

    I’m not a sailor man, and I am familiar only with motor boats, but few things are quite obvious for me : why sailing in a storm? it was not a regatta, so there was no need at all. On top of that, they knew the wind was super strong, so why do not forget the sails and just use the engines? Maybe they wanted to try the thrill of sailing 30 knots? Or they were that kind of sailormen that think it is not acceptable to use engines on a sailing boat……Whatever it is, I see what happens as a human mistake and not a boat failure : boats are usually made to be safe, but they can’t prevent human stupidity.

  36. Brownni

    Just been found and hauled in off the East Coast of Bermuda Sunday March 14th. That’s a long time a float. Been towed into St. Georges.

  37. Chuck

    Interesting comment on American Skippers being rubbish.
    Aussies, Kiwis and Swedes get the tick it seems.
    Surprised you didn’t have a crack a the Brits but I figure
    you thought we taught them so not worth mentioning, we are guilty
    by history.
    Mind you if that’s the case, who taught the Aussies and the Kiwis?
    certainly not the Aboriginals and Sweden had nothing better to
    do than remain nuteral and supply Nazies with war material getting
    Rich while the poor old Brits and Yanks take it on the chin.
    Absolutely agree, you are an asshole, go listen to Abba, it might
    Enlighten you, but I doubt it….

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