Cruising sailor in whale collision tells his story

Reflections in happier times - now lost after colliding with a whale
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A long range cruising sailor on a 50ft Perry Cutter had to be rescued after being hit by a breaching whale off the coast of Mexico, on the final leg of his journey round the world. The collision damaged his steering and caused the boat to start sinking. Now he is home in Sacramento, California, ready to tell his amazing story of the freak incident and his survival.

Whale breaching beside the yacht, pictured just seconds before it crashed onto the yacht causing heaving damage - photo from Universal News And Sport
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Max Young, 66, had owned Reflections since he bought her new in 1985 and had sailed her almost around the world, surviving many crises including the pirate-infested waters off the coast of Africa.

Telling the story, he now says the impact when the whale hit the boat was so powerful that the stern of the 22-ton vessel was lifted out of the water.

'The head of that whale would have had to have cleared at least 12 feet (from the water) before he came down on the boat,' Young told media representatives this week. 'I could see its head. It must have been a young whale because he only had a few barnacles.'

Young was not hurt in the collision, but the steep angle of the boat sent him sliding down the deck toward a pile of sea bags. He said he was only about 10 feet away from the whale at the time of impact.

Within a few seconds the whale slid back into the water, but not before causing severe damage to the sailboat and leaving behind evidence that it had been injured in the encounter.

'I saw a piece of rubbery type of material,' he said. 'It was skin from the whale.'

But Young had other things to worry about. Water was gushing in through what he later discovered was a massive crack, the boat's steering was damaged and any possible help was hours away.

Young said he was about 40 miles off the western coast of Mexico, or about 400 miles southwest of San Diego. While the boat's bilge pumps struggled to pump out the ocean water, he went to work trying to get the boat back on course.

Young activated an emergency beacon, which alerted the U.S. Coast Guard. The 11th Coast Guard District Command Center in Alameda picked up Young’s signal at around midnight, and sent a Coast Guard plane, a HC-130 Hercules, from Sacramento to check it out. The command center also asked a Panamanian merchant ship for help.

Young had a life raft on board and a larger inflatable boat, but neither was inflating sufficiently to be seaworthy. The ship, the Ocean Virgo, was about 40nm away from where Young’s signal was and wasn't expected for hours.

Max Young - rescued just days before his voyage was to be complete
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However, he deployed his life raft as much as he could, just in case he had to abandon his boat. The plane arrived and circled overhead, the air crew could see Young bailing out water. The Hercules stayed in radio contact.

'I started making my peace with God,' Young said. 'I thought I was going to die.'

It's when his spirits were lowest that Young first spotted the Ocean Virgo off in the distance.

'About that time I could see the freighter coming,' he said. 'I knew I was going to be OK.'

When the ship arrived, crewmembers helped hoist him off his boat. Young, who has spent most of his life on the sea, was unharmed during the ordeal.

'This case is one of those success stories,' Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Pamela Boehland said earlier this month, just after the rescue. 'A man went out prepared, the worst happened to him and he was able to respond.'

Young spent six days on board the freighter as it steamed to Panama. He arrived back in Sacramento Friday, just two days before he and his wife, Debra, were to celebrate their 23rd anniversary.

The Coast Guard were full of praise for the sailor's good seamanship. 'This case is one of those success stories,' said Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Pamela Boehland, 'A man went out prepared, the worst happened to him and he was able to respond,' she said.