Two injured sailors involved in an around-the-world race were rescued from their storm-damaged yacht by Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf, one of the Coast Guard’s newest assets, approximately 250 miles offshore. The successful rescue of the two sailors followed two days of intensive search and rescue operations exhibiting just how versatile and highly effective the national security cutter is. Below is a firsthand account of the search and rescue operation by Bertholf’s executive officer, Cmdr. Dave Ramassini.
An announcement was heard aboard Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf: “This is the XO coming to you from the pilot house…happy April 1st Bertholf…We’ve been diverted and directed to make best speed to a vessel in distress…No joke!”
As the executive officer aboard Bertholf over the past two years, I’ve had the great fortune of seeing this platform answer the call time after time. Our recent search and rescue case was no exception demonstrating the remarkable capabilities that our national security cutter brings to the fight.
“It was a dark and stormy Saturday night.”
Bertholf was on patrol off the California coast when we received a call diverting us to the northwest for a sailing vessel that had suffered serious personnel injuries after being tossed about by some monstrous waves. All that lay between us and the distressed sailing vessel was about 300 nautical miles and a low pressure system harboring 40 to 50-knot winds and 20 to 30-foot seas.
“Left full rudder…All ahead full…Set flight quarters.”
Bertholf landed a Jayhawk helicopter out of Air Station San Diego and then proceeded overnight into the next day directly into the heart of the storm. While unthinkable in our nearly 50-year-old high endurance cutters the national security cutters are replacing, we proceeded with a medium range helicopter secure on our large flight deck making full speed dead into the 20-foot seas. The national security cutter’s speed of service, sea-keeping and reliability are unlike any other ship in Coast Guard inventory. The Bertholf, in this case, proved an extreme endurance cutter giving us the ability to travel twice as fast in howling gale while carrying a larger helicopter that could fly twice as far – a quantum leap forward for safety of life at sea.
After punching through the storm, we were able to find a fleeting pocket of fair weather on the backside, allowing us to launch our helicopter towards the sailing vessel while continuing at full speed towards the vessel ourselves.
The helicopter crew arrived on scene and attempted to lower a rescue swimmer, who was temporarily hung up in the rigging of the sailing vessel due to the stormy seas and the tight area in which to descend on the racing yacht. At this point, given Bertholf’s proximity to the sailing vessel, the hoist attempt was aborted after weighing the risks as we closed and assessed we were able to launch our response boat.
The size of Bertholf not only provided the necessary speed and sea-keeping abilities, but also a great lee when the going gets tough to allow the tough to get going! Bertholf maneuvered up swell from the sailing vessel and launched our response boat. Once the response boat was away, Bertholf was able to keep station to provide a bit of a lee for the sailing vessel to afford our small boat crew the opportunity to move in for the rescue.
Once the small boat was back aboard Bertholf, we were able to assess the patients’ condition and determined we could safely transport them back to port aboard the ship.
Upon return to homeport the following day, we transferred the patients ashore and were surprised at all the media attention the case had received – it’s just another day at the office for this crew!
The only thing I’m prouder of than the performance of the national security cutter is that of her crew. A great ship deserves a great crew – from where I sit – we are fortunate to have both! “Through surf and storm and howling gale, high shall our purpose be.” I’m extremely happy to report the national security cutter continues “full speed ahead” living out the Coast Guard’s motto of Semper Paratus – Always Ready.