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How a Dramatic Rescue at Sea Unfolded During 50th Running of Transpac

Phil Uhl
The yacht "Merlin" rounding Diamond Head in the 2017 Transpac race. The Diamond Head buoy serves as the finish line for the 2,200 mile sailing race.

The biennial long-distance sailing race has been sending yachts from Long Beach, California, to Honolulu since 1906. This year, for the first time, one of the competing ships never returned to port.

More than 90 boats competed in the 2019 Transpacific Yacht Race, better known as Transpac. It was the 50th running of the 2,220-mile, long-distance sailing competition, which has run every other year, with some interruption, since 1906.

Roy Disney, skipper and owner of the Andrews 70 Pyewacket, was set to complete his record-setting 23rd consecutive Transpac. But two days into the race, around 200 miles from the California coast, the Pyewacket picked up an emergency distress call from another competitor, the 70-foot OEX.

The OEX appeared to have struck some kind of marine debris, losing rudder control and tearing a hole in the ship’s hull in the process. OEX was rapidly taking on water and the nine-man crew was preparing life rafts after attempts to plug the hole were unsuccessful.

Disney and the Pyewacket were only two miles from OEX’s position when the 2 a.m. distress call went out over the onboard radio. In less than 15 minutes, they had reached the OEX, which Disney estimated was less than an hour from being completely submerged.

Credit Courtesy of Transpac Yacht Club
Crews of the Pyewacket and OEX upon returing to port the night of the rescue. Roy Disney is pictured in bottom row, third from the right, wearing a blue hat.

Crew members from the OEX abandoned their vessel and were brought aboard the Pyewacket via emergency life rafts.  Disney estimated that the OEX crew spent around 10 minutes in life rafts while the Pyewacket maneuvered to receive the beleaguered sailors.

After affecting the rescue and verifying all OEX crew were accounted for, Pyewacket returned to Long Beach, withdrawing from the race in the process.

Pyewacket skipper Disney said there was no hesitation about giving up on the competition.

“We just did what we had to do. I am 100 percent positive, had the roles been reversed, they would have done exactly the same thing. It’s not a debate, it’s what you do.”

Roy Disney spoke with Hawaii Public Radio at the Wakiki Yacht Club. He flew to Honolulu for the 2019 Transpac award ceremony.

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