Rescuers headed into Hurricane Julio to save three men caught in the storm while sailing to Hawaii. Fierce winds broke the mast and blew away the life raft. The disabled boat was flooding in rough seas more than 400 miles northeast of Oahu.
Relatives said the sailors from Stockton left California last month. They managed to steer clear of Hurricane Iselle, but got caught up in Julio. The men are expected to arrive at Honolulu Harbor early Tuesday morning on the Matson container ship that was diverted to saved them.
The Walkabout sailed out of Long Beach, California more than three weeks ago. Relatives said that Ben Neely, 61, his son Lee Neely, 22, and family friend Mike Vanway, 22, planned to stop on Maui before eventually heading to Asia. On Sunday, however, Hurricane Julio battered the 42-foot sailboat.
"When I talked to my brother today, (he said) the rogue wave hit the boat, put it on its side. He said it literally knocked, wiped away the deck and it shattered the hatch, and just all the water came rushing in," said Linda Neely Bish, the captain's sister.
"He had high blood pressure and he had significant chest pains. He described one of his other crew members as sick and scared," said Lt. Garrett Faulkner of the U.S. Coast Guard.
With winds up to 115 miles per hour and 30-foot seas, the boat lost its mast and also started flooding. Coast Guard crews from Oahu flew into the storm to respond to the mayday calls.
"With that main hatch gone, with the sails tattered, they were having trouble that way. They also had significant damage to the boat. The railings were gone, and because of so much water onboard they were unable to get their engine started," said Faulkner.
The Coast Guard dropped equipment and life rafts, but the sailors couldn't retrieve anything in the rough seas.
"We flew around a hurricane to find these guys and spent a long time looking for them, and once we were actually able to find them, to not be able to get them gear is one of the most frustrating things," said Faulkner.
About 24 hours after the ordeal began, the Matson vessel Manukai shot a line to the sailboat's crew and pulled the sailboat alongside the ship. The men climbed up a 30-foot ladder draped over the side of Manukai's hull to safety. The storm damage was an unexpected end to the captain's retirement dream of sailing around the world.
"He's very depressed, of course, about losing our boat, our family's boat. I said, 'But it's all about your life, that's all we care about,"" said Neely-Bish.
The Walkabout, which was built by the captain's parents, is still adrift at sea.