Though their ship sank quickly after the whale strike, the crew was soon rescued thanks to a number of other boats nearby.
Rick Rodriguez and three friends were 13 days into their dream sailing trip when disaster struck — literally. While sailing from the Galápagos Islands to French Polynesia, at least one whale struck their boat and sank it. Rodriguez and the others spent ten hours at sea before they were rescued.
“It just happened in an instant. It was just a very violent impact with some crazy-sounding noises and the whole boat shook,” Rodriguez recounted to NBC News. “It sounded like something broke and we immediately looked to the side and we saw a really big whale bleeding.”
As the Washington Post reports, Rodriguez and three friends — Alana Litz, Bianca Brateanu, and Simon Fischer — were in the middle of making lunch on March 13 when they felt something collide with their ship, the Raindancer.
“The second pizza had just come out of the oven, and I was dipping a slice into some ranch dressing,” Rodriguez told the Washington Post. “The back half of the boat lifted violently upward and to starboard.”
As the boat’s alarm went off and water began to pour through the hull, Rodriguez and the others rushed to gather the necessary supplies — food, safety and emergency equipment, and bottled water. Fifteen minutes later, they scrambled onto a lifeboat and a dinghy and watched as the Raindancer disappeared beneath the ocean waves “at an unbelievable speed.”
Then, Rodriguez and the others started sending messages asking for help.
“Tommy this is no joke,” Rodriguez wrote to his friend Tommy Joyce, who was 180 miles behind them on the same route. “We hit a whale and the ship went down… Tell as many boats as you can. Battery is dangerously low.”
The Guardian reports that Rodriguez also sent mayday messages via a VHF radio and sent a distress signal to a worldwide rescue network. Then, the four friends waited, powering down their devices to conserve power.
Fortunately, their messages were rapidly received. Peruvian officials picked up Rodriguez’s distress signal and notified the U.S. Coast Guard, and Joyce messaged back to assure Rodriguez and the others that help was coming.
“We got you bud,” Joyce wrote back, according to the Washington Post. “We have a bunch of boats coming. We got you brother.”
In fact, there were a number of boats in the area — from yachts participating in a rally to a commercial vessel called Dong-A Maia. The closest boat was a 45-foot catamaran called the Rolling Stones which was just 35 miles from where the Raindancer sank. Its captain, Geoff Stone, messaged with Joyce and Peruvian officials to determine the Raindancer’s last known coordinates.
It took Stone and his crew nine tense hours to reach Rodriguez and the others. As Stone later explained, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to find them in the open sea. “The seas weren’t terrible but we’ve never done a search and rescue,” he said.
Happily, Stone was able to find Rodriguez and the others and safely bring them aboard. In all, the Raindancer crew had spent ten hours adrift at sea.
According to the Washington Post, there have been 1,200 reports of whale-boat collisions since records started being kept in 2007. However, such collisions usually don’t cause extreme damage. The last whale-boat collision that required rescue was in 2009, when a whale strike sunk a 40-foot boat off the coast of Baja California, requiring a Coast Guard rescue.
In the aftermath, Rodriguez expressed both gratitude for the rescue and sadness for the loss of his ship, where he’d been living since 2021.
“I’ve worked so hard to be here, and have been dreaming of making landfall at the Bay of Virgins in the Marquesas on my own boat for about 10 years,” he said. “And 1,000 nautical miles short my boat sinks.” However, he added: “I feel very lucky, and grateful, that we were rescued so quickly. We were in the right place at the right time to go down.”
After reading about the sailing crew that was rescued after their ship was sunk by a whale, see how two men and their miniature poodle survived 10 days at sea after their ship lost power. Or, discover the story of the woman who fell off a cruise ship and survived by treading water for ten hours.