What started as a sea adventure for one man and his three friends ended in a dramatic rescue after his boat was sunk by a giant whale, leaving the group for hours in the Pacific and with a story that may just be stranger than fiction. . .
Rick Rodriguez and his friends were on a week-long trip to French Polynesia on their Raindancer sailboat when the crisis hit just over a week ago.
The group was enjoying pizza for lunch when they heard a loud bang.
“It happened in an instant. It was just a very hard hit with some crazy sounds and the whole boat was shaking,” Rodriguez said in an interview with NBC’s TODAY program in an interview that aired on Wednesday.
“It sounded like something had broken and we immediately looked to the side and saw a really big bleeding whale,” he said.
The impact was so strong that the boat’s propeller ruptured and the fiberglass around it shattered, causing the ship to sink in the ocean.
When water started pouring into the boat, the group went into survival mode.
“There was just an incredible amount of water, very fast,” Rodriguez said.
Alana Litz, a crew member, called the ordeal “surreal”.
“Even when the boat was sinking, I felt like it was just a scene from a movie. It was like everything was floating,” Litz said.
Rodriguez and his friends acted quickly, sending distress calls and text messages as they activated the life raft and boat.
Rodriguez said he sent a text message to his brother Roger in Miami and friend Tommy Joyce, who was sailing in the area as a security measure.
“Tommy, this is no joke,” Rodriguez wrote in a text message. “We encountered a whale and the ship sank.”
“We are on a life raft,” Rodriguez wrote to a friend. “We need help *QUICKLY.”
The group reported that the Raindancer sank after about 15 minutes. Their rescue took much longer, with the group in open water for approximately nine hours before they could be sure they would survive to tell the story.
Peruvian officials took the group’s distress call and the US Coast Guard was alerted, with the 11th US Coast Guard District in Alameda, California in charge of US shipping in the Pacific.
Eventually, another sailing vessel, the Rolling Stones, came to the group’s aid after Joyce shared the incident on a Facebook boating group.
Jeff Stone, captain of the Rolling Stones, said his ship was about 60 or 65 miles away when his crew realized they were the closest boat.
After searching the water, they were eventually able to find the group.
“We were shocked to find them,” Stone said.
The timing of the rescue operation, which was carried out at night, proved to be crucial, as the Stone’s crew could see the light from the boat bouncing up and down in the darkness.
Rodriguez lost his boat and the group said they also lost their passports and much of their possessions, but they said they were just grateful to be alive.
The severity of the whale’s injuries was not immediately clear.
Kate Wilson, a spokeswoman for the International Whaling Commission, told The Washington Post, which first reported the story, that about 1,200 reports of whale-boat collisions have been received since the launch of the worldwide database in 2007.
The US Coast Guard told the publication that collisions that cause significant damage are rare. He noted that the last rescue attributed to the whale’s strike was the sinking of a 40-foot J-Boat in 2009 off the coast of Baja California. The crew in that incident were rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter.
One of the members of the Raindancer sailing team, Bianca Brateanu, said the recent incident, as harrowing as it was, made her feel more confident in her survival skills.
“This experience made me understand how, you know, how capable we are and how adept we are at dealing with situations like this and dealing with them,” Brateanu said.
In an Instagram post, Rodriguez said he would remember his boat “for the rest of his life.”
“What is left of my house, the paintings on the wall, things, pizza in the oven, cameras, magazines – all this will be forever preserved by the sea,” he said.