bela better


bela better

During the Singlehanded Tranpsac race, Canadian single hander Derk Wolmuth became incredibly ill when a staph infection moved into his chest cavity. Suffering from a near fatal case of septic shock, the solo sailor set off his EPIRB. Wolmuth was rescued by an Oakland bound Matson ship, about 450 nm northeast of the island of Kauai. Wolmuth’s boat, "Bela Bartok" was left to steer herself towards the islands, sailing under half-furled jib and Monitor wind vane. The cruising boat, a 31-foot Vindo 40 (the model name is confusing, I know) eventually made her way to Maui at an average speed of about 3.5 knots. Bela Bartok wasn’t the only Canadian boat headed to Maui as the Vic-Maui fleet crossed within miles of Bela. Thanks to the Singlehanded Transpac fleet being equipped with Yellow Brick trackers, Bela Bartok could be constantly monitored and her position updated to the incoming Canadian boats, thus presenting almost no hazard to navigation.

When Bela Bartok was abandoned, the SSS Singlehanded Transpac fleet decided to rescue her. There was no other option for us. A member of our fleet had become deathly ill and was forced to abandon his home. As a small fraternity of ocean-crossing single handers, there was no way that we were going to let Derk lose his home without us putting up a fight. John "J-Lube" Lubimir of the Quest 33 "Flight Risk" rallied the troops and offered to charter a fishing boat. Several fleet members offered to board her and sail her to safety. Others offered to pay for airfare. A rescue effort was in the works.

As the boat began approaching the island of Maui, Dave Morris of the Wylie 31 "Moonshadow" consulted with his friends Dale and Carlo Alliotta of Maui. They had been in Kauai with Dave to see him finish the race. Dale and Carlo were able to refer us to the owner of a fishing boat that could help in the search and rescue. With a plan in the works, Ruben Gabriel and myself flew to Maui to rescue Bela Bartok and sail her to port. Taking the same flight as Dale and Carlo, we rode with them to Wal-Mart to provision and then to their house on Maui. Setting up mission HQ in the dining room, Ruben and I followed the boat on Yellow Brick’s website, using a private link that only us and the Coast Guard had access to. The public link for Bela was taken down days before to prevent salvage attempts. Ruben organized logistics with the Coast Guard and the charter boat. And Dale and Carlo were EPIC. We really lucked out staying with them. Special thanks to Carlo for showing us so much Maui hospitality and aloha spirit. Those macadamia nuts lasted us all the way to Oahu!!!

Dale and Carlo drove us to the boat launch ramp at Kahului Harbor at 2 AM. Daniel the charter boat driver was already ready to go. The boat was a 22-foot fishing boat with a 170-hp diesel inboard engine. It proved to be very seaworthy, the perfect boat for the operation. Waiting for Bela to get just a bit closer, we waited until 0445 to leave the dock in Kahului. Motoring at about 9 knots, we made it to Bela at about 0630. The Coast Guard cutter "Galveston Island" was standing by to oversee the operation. With the Yellow Brick updates, finding Bela was a piece of cake. At 0645, Daniel drove us up close and I boarded first, at the port side shrouds. Our plan was for me to board first since i’m lighter and more agile and Ruben to assist so that he could pull me out of the water if I fell in, as Ruben is much bigger and stronger than I am. It would be a lot harder for me to rescue him than vice versa. Once I got on board, I immediately went to furl the jib but there were ropes EVERYWHERE! Most of them made no sense, even when considering being rescued by a freighter. I have no idea what all of the ropes were for and why they were tied the way they were. Derk was obviously not thinking clearly at all in his final hours on the boat. Having to literally cut ropes away and untangle them to be able to furl the jib, I finally got it furled after a few minutes. With the boat merely drifting and bobbing around, Daniel and Ruben came by for about 9 or 10 passes. Ruben passed over 1 dry bag of supplies each, 4 bags of groceries and three 1-gallon water jugs. We had originally provisioned for sailing to Hanalei but had decided on Honolulu several hours earlier, so in hindsight we had way too many groceries.

At some point during the transfer process, Ruben had been stabbed in the thigh with a fish gaff. With him boarding a boat that was literally a bio-hazard, this presented a healthy fear for both of us. Once Ruben got onboard, we immediately re-set the jib and went about making the boat halfway sail worthy. First things first, he hand-steered and I found the First Aid Kit. With neosporin and a band-aid, we administered first aid. We tried to clean the wound but had no hydrogen peroxide. After treating the wound, we celebrated our clean and successful transfer and recovery of the boat with a celebratory shot of rum. At exactly 7:36 am. We had brought a bottle of Sailor Jerry’s to celebrate us being pirates and commandeering a ghost ship.

The next goal was to clean up the boat a little bit. Derk’s staph infection had apparently began with an open wound on his butt. So it was with much disdain that I discovered 3 dirty pairs of boxer shorts on the boat. 2 down below and 1 in the cockpit. I wore a ziploc bag as a glove and threw them all overboard. "Great, dude almost died of a deadly ass infection and there’s dirty underwear everywhere", I joked to Ruben. With the boat halfway cleaned up we set the main sail. Sailing downwind with main and jib, we sailed with the island of Molokai off to port. A bit later, we poled out the jib to go downwind more effectively and then set a twin jib as the boat was well set up for it. Unfortunately the spin halyard was skied, so we never flew the asymmetrical spinnaker. In fact, the main halyard was fouled around the radar dome and we were fortunate to use the spare main halyard/ topping lift for the main.

Sailing downwind under main and twin jibs, Ruben and I worked our way past Molokai and then steered an almost straight course to Oahu. It was a fantastic sail with one of my best friends. Warm tropical trade winds, dramatic islands to look at, Jack Johnson on the stereo and a bottle of rum. It was truly an epic day sail. Watching Oahu gradually rise out of the Pacific at sunset was quite beautiful. Sailing past Koko Head and eventually to Diamond Head, night fell upon us and we reveled in the night time glow of Waikiki. With a rope wrapped around our prop since rescuing Bela, we hadn’t even tried to start the diesel. When near the entrance to the channel into the Ala Wai Harbor, an 18-foot power boat from Waikiki Yacht Club came to tow us in. The owner, Mark, quickly hooked up and perfectly towed us into the harbor. There was a very touching moment when coming in on a dark black night, the members of Hawaii Yacht Club rang the bell and clapped for us. The sound of that bell and those hand claps have been burned into my memory. It was very beautiful. When approaching Waikiki Yacht Club a few moments later, three members came out to take our dock lines and help us tie off. It was 10 pm local time and after 36 hours awake, Ruben and I wasted no time in stepping off the boat and walking away. We were exhausted. And with that, it was mission accomplished. We had set out to save Derk’s home and we had succeeded. We were stoked! The members of WYC poured us a mai tai and had some delicious poke waiting for us.

This journey was very special to me and very personal. In 2008, I abandoned a boat at sea that I lived on and I lost everything in the process. So to have the opportunity to help rescue someone’s home is very personal and I am truly honored and grateful to have been able to be a part of it. And there is truly no one that I would have rather shared the experience with than Ruben Gabriel. We have done so much Moore 24 sailing together and against each other, and to share this experience with him was quite special. Ruben was an incredible team mate and partner to have. He is a true seaman and one of the best sailors that I know.

And to everyone who helped in this effort, a hearty thank you from myself and from everyone in the SSS. But most of all, from Derk Wolmuth. You selfless people came together to do the right thing and give a sad story a happy ending. John "J-Lube" Lubimir, you are one of the most generous and good hearted men that I know. It was an honor having you join the fleet this year. Jeff Lebesch, two-time race veteran purchased a plane ticket and so did Rob Tryon, the race chair this year. Rob’s wife Ladonna Bubak was instrumental in organizing the rescue and the tow and accommodation at WYC. Ruben’s wife Robbie Gabriel helped with logistics and Dave Morris linked us up with Dale and Carlo. Huge thanks to Dale and Carlo for helping us provision, housing us, the aloha stoke and driving us to the boat launch at 2 am. Daniel the fishing boat driver rocked it out and the Coast Guard was super accommodating and easy to work with. And lastly, WYC for Mark volunteering to tow us in, the guest slip and the poke and mai tais. Truly a class yacht club. Third summer in a row that WYC has treated me with love. Great yacht club. But mostly I want to recognize the entire SSS organization. When a member of this fleet falls ill, we step up to do the right thing. Everyone always says the SSS is an amazing group of people and the 23 skippers this year have proven that as a group.

And with that, the tale of Bela Bartok is a happy one.


Ronnie Simpson