Our beloved Quixotic sank in the Gulf of Mexico.
After years of dreaming, preparing and finally moving her from Dallas to Kemah, TX, we departed just before sunrise and headed off shore with a number of other boats participating in the Harvest Moon Regatta. Four friends came down from Dallas to join us for the first leg of our trip and the beginning of our cruising journey towards the Bahamas. We couldn’t have asked for better weather and the day began just as expected on what we thought was one of the safest, most reliable, solid boats possible.
Several hours into the regatta we were advised by friends following the regatta online that we were in the lead. We thought they were kidding. Our nearly 50 foot/50,000 lb. tank of a sailboat could not possibly be in the lead! Especially since we were also carrying 500 gallons of water, 300 gallons of fuel, everything we owned and a crew of 6 (including two fur babies). We did not expect to actually “compete” in the regatta. It was more about the social experience and to be with other sailors for Quixotic’s first offshore adventure.
Apparently, the conditions were perfect for our tank as we were still in the lead 14 hours later.
Until… we noticed a few inches of water in our aft cabin. While concerning, we weren’t immediately alarmed. But after unable to easily find the issue we made the decision to take down the sails and motor to the nearest marina. At 20 miles off shore, our choices were proceeding to Matagorada Bay or going back to Freeport. While not ideal, especially considering it was now dark and there were about 200 boats heading our direction, we opted to go to Freeport since it was closer. We radioed the race committee giving them a heads up that we were taking on water and would be returning to Freeport to address the issue. We also made a pan-pan call to the Coast Guard advising them of the same.
At this point we were confident we would make it to shore, find the problem and continue on as planned. My worst thought at that point, was, “damn, I really liked that rug!” Unfortunately, as we motored to shore, we continued to take on water. All 5 bilge pumps were operating and we were all using manual pumps and buckets to empty water from the rear deck of the boat. About 3 miles off from the shipping channel, we looked down into the salon and saw the floor boards floating… meaning there was at least 4 feet of water inside the boat. Seconds later, the engine seized and we lost power and were now drifting. At this point, we set off the epirb and made a Mayday call to the Coast Guard. They had checked on us periodically over the past couple of hours. And up to this point, we thought we would make it to shore safely.
The USCG got a helicopter ready and sent out a boat to the coordinates we provided. We dropped our anchor and continued to bail water as quickly as we could. Our fur babies, Sancho Panza and Lexapro were in their crate in the cockpit patiently waiting.
When the USCG boat arrived, they attempted to pass us high output pumps but the seas were too rough, so they quickly decided to throw lines to our bow and tow us in. Unfortunately, that only allowed more water to come aboard as the aft of the boat was squatting so low already. Chris quickly radioed the USCG crew and advised them they needed to cut the lines; we were going down. They advised us to have the crew meet us on the aft, port side of the boat and they would rescue us in 5 minutes. Chris responded, “We don’t have 5 minutes, we have 2.” The Coast Guard boat came to the aft and Sancho and Lexapro were taken aboard first, then three of our friends jumped onto the boat at the Coasties instruction. One more friend was pulled aboard when the water was to his knees. In what seemed like only a couple of seconds, Quixotic completely went down as Chris and I were standing on the coaming of the aft deck pulling us into the water. Two Coasties reached out grabbed Chris. As he was hanging by one arm, I went completely underwater hearing someone yell, “grab the girl, grab the girl”. I felt an arm around me and when I was above the water I saw Chris holding onto me with his free hand. Two Coasties then reached down and grabbed me pulling me on deck, immediately ushering me to the belly of the boat. The Coastie holding onto Chris reminded him he had his PFD on and should he drop him, he wanted him to pull the auto deploy. They were able to pull Chris aboard shortly after and he soon came to join the rest of us. The Coast Guard boat took us to their headquarters, provided us with water, blankets and first aid for our many abrasions. Fortunately, however, there were no more serious injuries. And we have the USCG to thank for that. What seemed chaotic at the time with all the shouting of commands, was actually extremely organized and efficient. After resting for a bit at the Coast Guard station, they offered to drive us to a nearby hotel, even stopping at a convenience store so Chris and I could purchase flip flops (we both lost our shoes in the water), a toothbrush and some snacks for us and the fur babies as the only things we owned were the clothes and PFDs we were wearing.