HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Three Canadian visitors started their voyage from Puerto Vallerta, Mexico to Hilo on a sailboat, but they'll soon arrive on the containership that rescued them early Wednesday morning. West James, 9, was traveling with his father, Bradley, and uncle, Mitchell, on the 38-foot sailboat Liahona. They ran into trouble nearly 280 miles northeast of Hilo. The engine overheated and the mast broke.
"Their family has vacations in Hawaii every year so he (Bradley) wanted to have a sailboat there so he could sail between the islands," explained family friend Daniel Butler by phone from Alberta, Canada.
The Coast Guard contacted the Horizon Reliance to request assistance under the Automated Mutual Assistance Vessel Rescue Program. The 893-foot cargo ship was 149 miles away.
"We're thankful the Reliance was in the vicinity, the closest ship, to go an attempt a rescue," said Ali Nikkhoo of Horizon Lines. "20 foot swell, and the darkness, and maneuvering the ship the size of a football field, and getting it close to a small sailboat, it takes a special skill."
The strong winds and powerful waves made the rescue difficult, and the sailboat ended up sinking.
"They were maneuvering to pick up the passengers and as it became closer to the sailing vessel, they collided somehow. All three people ended up in the water," said Commander Mark Morin of the U.S. Coast Guard.
All of them had lifejackets with strobe lights. Crews reached Mitchell James, 29, first. It took another 50 minutes to turn the ship around to pick up his brother and nephew.
"It pretty much sounds like the most terrifying scenario in my opinion for me at least, and for a nine-year-old boy to go through that, I tell you what, he's going to have the best story of all his friends for the rest of his life," said Butler.
"They had some mild hypothermia, but they were eating on the ship and they were okay," said Morin.
There is a warm welcome waiting for them in Honolulu. Horizon Lines packed gift bags with clothes, chocolates, and even a camera and journal for nine-year-old West.
"He was allowed to go on this trip with his dad by his mom, but he promised his mom that he would keep a journal and take pictures during this voyage," explained Nikkhoo.
Now he has more than enough material from his unforgettable journey.
The Reliance is set to arrive in Honolulu around 4 o'clock Thursday morning. Family and friends from the Big Island will be waiting to greet the rescued sailors.