The two men rescued from a sailboat marooned on the rocks in front of King Harbor on Saturday afternoon said they thought they were going to die, according to Grant Currie, firefighter/paramedic with the Redondo Beach Harbor Patrol.
Currie dove into the chilly waters about 4 p.m. Saturday to mount a rescue as partner Matt Bandy kept the patrol boat off the rocks but as close as possible to the 26-foot sailboat as it heaved against the jetty in heavy surf. At one point, the entire bottom of the boat (the keel) was visible.
“I've been on those types of calls when the boat is broken apart,” Currie said. “I'm surprised it didn't break apart.”
Last March, a sailboat that careened into the Redondo Beach Pier broke apart almost instantly.
The more than 3-minute video, shot from the pier by Redondo Beach resident Wayne Craig, captured the dramatic scene. The sailboat, with its head sail fluttering in the wind, slowly inched closer to the rocks at the mouth of the harbor. Then, wave after wave pounded the vessel into the rocks. Finally, the patrol boat arrived and Currie jumped into the churning water to rescue the passengers.
Both crewmembers, one of whom was identified as Bradley Dorsey, suffered only minor cuts and bruises. A 70-pound pit bull mix who was aboard also avoided major injury. Dorsey did not respond to an immediate request for comment.
"More of an ego damage than anything else," Currie said of the men's plight.
The sailboat, however, sustained severe damage to the rudder and outboard engine. Pieces of rigging also appeared torn off, Currie said.
Only bad options
Currie said it was one of those rescues that could certainly get dicey.
“It was really like we only had bad options and we were trying to figure out the best of bad options we had to get this thing handled,” he said.
When the Harbor Patrol boat first arrived, the sailboat was getting battered against the rocks by strong waves and winds reaching about 20 mph. That day, double red flags indicated gale force winds in outer waters, Currie said.
Figuring they couldn’t get the boat close enough to attach a tow line, Currie said he chose to concentrate on rescuing the passengers. Dressed in his uniform at that point, he quickly changed into shorts, grabbed a lifeguard rescue can and swam toward the boat.
“The problem we had with getting them in the water is we didn't know how good of swimmers they were," Currie said. "And also what happens when I tell them to get in the water and a wave comes in and they get killed somehow and I told them to do that?”
Finally, there was a lull in the swells and Currie using what he termed "colorful language" instructed them to get in the water that instant. One of the men abide while the other stayed with the dog.
“He looked at me with these big eyes and jumped off the boat,” Currie said.
Just at that moment, the boat swung to the left and with the mainsail still fastened began to sail off the rocks.
“When the boat came off and started to turn, my biggest concern once we have a loose boat is about what happens if it turns to its right. Then I'm stuck between the rocks and the boat,” Currie said. “I was just swimming as hard as I could to get away from that boat.”
The sailboat continued on its trajectory and the pair was able to secure the sailboat to a tow line.
Craig, who shot the dramatic video said he was taking a walk on the pier when he saw the boat leaving the harbor. Swells were big and the sailboat made a turn around the bell buoy before attempting to came back to safer waters.
“I thought wow, that's kind of a tough technical move to come in on," Craig said. "It just kept going wide so I started filming it.”
Once he realized the boat was going up against the rocks, Craig called 911 operators who told him they were receiving other calls about the sailboat. He then continued filming.
“I was just glad no one got hurt,” Craig said.
After it was over, he said another boat came out of the harbor and did the same maneuver, only this time successfully.
Currie said he wasn’t sure how much sailing experience the two men had, but it was evidently not enough to be venturing out in strong weather like occurred on Saturday.
“They said what happened was they were sailing in and went to make the turn and the wind was just too strong,” Currie said. “They went to fire up the engine and there was no way the engine would keep up with the wind.”
Currie reminded boaters to be aware of the conditions and realistic about their abilities.
“Those types of calls can easily go another direction,” Currie said. “We're there to put our lives on the line for people. There's not a fireman I know who wouldn't put their life on the line to rescue somebody. But at the same time we want to come home and we want to be safe about our decisions and make good decisions.”
UPDATE 1/24/18: This story was updated to include the name of one of the passengers on the boat Bradley Dorsey.