Ship saves elderly sailor 1,000 miles from Hawaii

Published: Jun. 13, 2012 at 9:15 AM HST|Updated: Jun. 14, 2012 at 3:04 AM HST
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The Horizon Reliance
The Horizon Reliance
Robert Bourdon
Robert Bourdon
Bourdon (center) flanked by his son & grandson
Bourdon (center) flanked by his son & grandson

An 81-year old rescued sailor is expected in Honolulu aboard Horizon Lines' container ship Reliance after being rescued about 1,100 nautical miles East North East of Oahu Monday.

Coast Guard officials in Hawaii say they first got news of the sick sailor, Robert Bourdon, Monday, June 11, from its rescue center in Alameda, California. They then started looking for vessels in the area to respond, and once again found the Horizon Reliance, its second rescue this year.

According to the Bourdon family's sailing blog Bourdon was sailing with family from California to Hilo, Hawaii aboard their 33 foot long sailboat, Gallivant, when he suffered a stroke Sunday night about half way between San Diego and Honolulu. The family departed on their sailing adventure, May 17, from Olympia, Washington which is listed as the vessel's home port, according to their blog profile.

"So, dad suffered a stroke, had impaired speech and some right side paralysis," wrote Jenni Bourdon. "The great concern was that the same parts of the brain that control those functions also control the 'swallow' function, and Dr. D was concerned with potential aspiration. Capt John made the right call ... and he and Justin and two of the crew members of the Horizon Lines vessel Reliance showed incredible bravery in making the at-sea transfer from a bobbing 33' sailboat to a stable 900' container ship…"

The Gallivant crew notified the Coast Guard, which used the AMVER information to divert the Reliance from its routine shipping route from Los Angeles to Honolulu. Horizon Reliance, managed by Horizon Lines of Charlotte, NC, joined the voluntary global ship tracking system sponsored by the U.S. Coast Guard called AMVER in 1990. The Automated Mutual Assistance Vessel Rescue System tracks participating vessel positions in the event of a need for emergency assistance.

It was just over four months ago on February 8, that the Reliance crew rescued a Canadian family of three after their sailboat lost its mast in rough weather and one of the crew got hurt.  Their sailboat sank during the dangerous rescue in a collision with the nearly huge Reliance in high seas, but the Canadians, including a young boy escaped with their lives.

The Bourdon's family is similarly grateful to the Horizon Reliance crew that plucked their loved one from the Gallivant Monday.

Their blog entry for Day 11 of the second leg of their trip stated, "We are so incredibly thankful for the bravery and kindness of the crew of the Reliance!," wrote Jenni Bourdon. "They have kept us updated on Bob/Dad/Grandpa's condition, and he is improving steadily."

The blog also details the three rescue attempts to transfer Bourdon off the Gallivant, first with a lifeboat, then by lowering a basket with the ship's crane.

Horizon Reliance Master Barry Costanzi wrote to the family, "That was some attempt at bringing him aboard! The plan was to bring him into our lifeboat, but the winds kicked up and the seas were just too rough to pull that off," he reported. "I have some minor scratches to my lifeboat and it looks like I have what's left of (the Gallivant's) anemometer and mast head light bulb."

"The last attempt," wrote Costanzi, "was with our accommodation ladder (gangway) where you saw our Chief Engineer and Boatswain make it happen. Once we had your dad on deck, we put him in the stokes litter (stretcher) and hauled him up to our hospital."

Bourdon's son, Captain John, blogged about the difficulty in maneuvering the rescue between such diverse sized ships.

"I eased up as slow as I could. The Horizon was still traveling along at 5 knots and I can only do about 7 max. I had to keep Gallivant's nose at just the right angle to the hull of the 900' ship. To keep her parallel would cause us to veer into her and collide because of the currents the Reliance was creating with her massive size,; too much away angle and we would dive off and have to start all over again. I made my move, and it all went perfect. We eased on in until we almost touched right at the spot at what was left of out gate. With a push Justin handed off his grandpa to Sean (Reliance crewmember), and with a shout of confidence, Sean  yelled "I gotcha Bob!"

Coast Guard officials say Bourdon is in stable condition and received food, water and medical attention onboard the Horizon Reliance. The vessel is expected to arrive in Honolulu after midnight. Then an ambulance will transport Bourdon to an area hospital for further treatment. Bourdon is from Longview Washington.

Click here to read more blogs from the Bourdon's sailing trip and rescue.

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.