Missing boater safe on Big Island

U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Leigh Cotterell
U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Leigh Cotterell
Doug Bennett
Doug Bennett

By Jim Mendoza - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Veteran Seattle sailor Ira Foreman stunned everyone when he called his wife Saturday, saying he was safe and sound on the Big Island.

"I'm ecstatic!" Susan Spinola said. "What a blessing for the new year."

Spinola feared the retired boat builder was lost at sea. He set sail from American Samoa and landed on Kauai. But when he left there on December 17 for Oahu, he fell off the map for two weeks.

"He encountered some strong winds. I guess it was difficult to fight those winds. So he ended up drifting south," U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Leigh Cotterell said.

"He had waves breaking over his boat, which he has never experienced before in all his seafaring," Spinola said. "When the storm let up, he had to work his way back north."

Using aircraft and manpower, the Coast Guard and Navy scoured 209,000 square miles of ocean south of Kauai, before suspending the search Thursday. A lot of eyes were looking for Foreman.

"There were," Cotterell said. "It was a four-day search. Pretty extensive. Pretty comprehensive."

Foreman told his wife he was out of cell phone range when he was blown off course. He had a VHF radio aboard his 36-foot sailboat, but he couldn't use it.

"I had sent him a replacement VHF antenna before he left American Samoa. But evidently it wasn't the right one," Spinola said.

Foreman is a veteran of solo trips across the Pacific. The 66-year-old's been sailing since he was fourteen.

"He is more than experienced. He's probably one of the best seamen I've ever known in my life," longtime friend Doug Bennett said.

"He's made several passages back and forth," Spinola said. "He's been around the South Pacific quite a bit. He's been to New Zealand."

Foreman told his wife he was never in distress, and was shocked to hear the Coast Guard was looking for him.

"The sea is such an unpredictable environment. It's not like driving your car in Hawaii Kai," Cotterell said.

The Coast Guard urges all boaters to file float plans prior to any voyage.

"I'm just so grateful for all the concern that everybody has been showing," Spinola said. "I'm so happy that we're starting the new year off with Ira safe."

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