engine gas tank before it could explode. As we drifted away from our boat, it continued
to burn furiously, and the propane and fuel tanks exploded.
We collected spare lines from the dinghy and retied the fenders so we could use
them as floats. The dinghy remained floating, barely, having lost most of its inflation
tubing. Fortunately, it had a rigid fiberglass bottom with an air pocket, so it didn’t sink.
We were able to recover the oars, which floated as well.
For the next 90 minutes, we treaded water and attempted to right the dinghy so we
could get out of the water. All of our attempts to attach flotation failed. As we contemplated a different strategy, a sportfishing boat appeared on the horizon. We later
learned they’d been more than 20 miles away when they saw the smoke. We frantically
waved an oar until they saw us. With great relief, we were quickly brought aboard. As
we sped away, we watched Sandpiper burn to the waterline and sink.
Annette was suffering from shock and hypothermia. Once out of the water, we
saw that we both had serious open burn wounds on our arms and legs. Our rescuers
took us to the fishing village of Los Barriles, where an ambulance took us to a local
clinic and our wounds were bandaged. For the first time, we were able to call home
and communicate our situation to friends and relatives. Next, we were taken 40 miles
south by ambulance to Saint Luke’s Hospital in San Jose del Cabo.
An agent from the U.S. Embassy helped us with temporary passports, we were met
by our son Gavin at LAX airport, and we were never happier to arrive in California’s
Channel Islands. The day after that, we were examined by a top burn specialist, who
had Ed admitted to the Ventura County Medical Center, anticipating he would need
skin grafts. Fortunately, over the next four days his condition improved, and grafts
were not necessary. In time, our wounds healed. We’ll never know the cause of the fire,
but we know we’re lucky to be alive, and we plan to incorporate the lessons we learned
from this ordeal into our next boat. (See “Sandpiper Epilogue,” p. 66.)
board, Ed and
unable to snuff
out the flames
before they engulfed
The BoatU.S. Foundation, a 501(c)( 3)
nonprofit organization dedicated to
keeping boating safe and clean, is
independently funded by donations
from BoatU.S. members and grants.
Foundation staged a
dramatic test to make
the point that seconds
count when your boat’s
on fire. Check it out
BY SCOTT CROFT
BoatU.S. Foundation Findings