Quantum Leap - the abandoned yacht that just wouldn't give up

Quantum Leap on Baby Beach, her final resting place. If ever a boat deserved to be refloated, this is the one!
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All they had to do was stay on board and they would have reached their destination in three weeks. But their skipper, badly injured when a freak wave hit the boat, was suspected to be suffering from severe internal bleeding. They called for help, were rescued and abandoned the boat 700 nautical miles from Hawaii. Here follows the strange story of the yacht that just wouldn't give up.

Quantum Leap - it just wouldn't give up - Photo by Carla McGrew Jalbert
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Quantum Leap, a 49ft yacht being delivered from San Diego to Honolulu by delivery skipper Phillip Johnson, and left to its own devices with its main still drawing, took under three weeks to arrive on a reef off Baldwin Beach in Maui.

Knowing that a reef is not a fit place for a self respecting yacht to arrive, Quantum Leap managed to get itself off the reef and set off for the shore. Not finding a suitable harbour, it deposited itself on Baby's Beach not far away. Maybe it headed there because it saw people on the beach, which is a favourite family and swimming beach along the Spreckelville, Paia, shoreline.

What happened:

By the morning of Thursday, Oct. 6, the 48-foot yacht, Quantum Leap, that Phillip Johnson, his nephew and another friend had sailed from San Diego, Calif., had been experiencing problems with its generators and batteries for several days.

The three sailors had worked for long hours trying to get the generator and its backup started again, but to no avail. They were starting to worry that if they couldn't get power to their satellite phone and GPS devices, they might be left without a link to the outside world and help. Now this should not be a problem in itself, because after all, Quantum Leap was a sailing boat, and they could still sail her to her destination in Hawaii.

The sea had been getting rougher, with heavy winds, swells and waves. This also should not have been a problem as Quantum Leap is a very sturdy boat.

However, at one point, Johnson went into the galley of the vessel to fix a cup of coffee, and left his nephew at the helm.

'Occasionally, a wave would coincide with a swell and would bang against the side of the boat,' Johnson told the Hawaii Herald Tribune later. 'Suddenly, a gust of wind laid the boat over pretty hard. It must have knocked the boat over 30 degrees, and I flew across the galley, from the right to left side and hit against the galley stove. It bent me over in pain, and I couldn't even straighten up.'

Johnson was hurt badly and couldn't help in the navigation and operation of the boat, 700 nautical miles northeast of the Big Island. It appears in retrospect that the other two crew were not experienced enough to be able to sail the boat alone. Johnson's friend, a fellow Navy man and retired cardiac nurse, suggested that they phone for medical advice.

Using their satellite phone, they called the U.S. Coast Guard in Honolulu and spoke with a flight surgeon. The news was not good. The surgeon advised that Johnson could be experiencing extreme internal bleeding. He would have to get off the boat and make it to a hospital as soon as possible, he said.

'The Coast Guard said we were too far out to do a helicopter rescue, so they said they'll put out a call to all ships in the area,' he said.

The Celebrity Century was bound for Hilo with more than 1,800 passengers and 800 crew aboard when the call came in. In the true spirit of the sea, Captain Konstantinos Patsoulas radioed that he would be turning the 815-foot cruise ship around and heading for the yacht, taking his passengers for an unexpected adventure.

The trip took around 12 hours, but when the Celebrity Century finally did arrive, around 1 a.m. on Friday morning, the rescue itself happened in almost no time at all.

the rescue was without hitch. Patsoulas put the distressed vessel to the Celebrity Century's leeward side, sheltering it from the wind and resulting waves it was kicking up. A rescue team boarded a powered lifeboat and was lowered by electric winches into the water.

Pulling up next to the yacht, the lifeboat's crewmen helped the all three crew aboard, one by one, as the two boats bucked in the churning ocean.

The videos posted by cruise passengers, shown here, show the rescue from various angles and capture the excitement as the rescuers returned to the cruise ship's deck, where Johnson was quickly whisked to the onboard hospital in a wheelchair.



Meanwhile, the sailingboat was left to the high seas.

'It was a good vessel,' Johnson said after the rescue, and unaware of its fate. 'I don't know who designed it or who built it, but it was incredibly high quality. It never leaked a drop the whole time we were aboard.'

But even then, Johnson could not have realised just how strong his yacht was, arriving at its chosen destination, maybe looking a little shredded in the mainsail (no doubt from some hairy gybing) but still very much intact.

Last heard, the Coast Guard and the State were working together to remove the boat from the beach. If ever a yacht deserved to be refloated, it would be Quantum Leap! The owner of the boat was notified of the incident and the abandonment.
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Interesting email received from reader:

Sender: Jeffrey Keeton

Message: Great job by the crew of the cruise ship. My sister and brother in law were on that ship...missed out on Maui because of the delay arriving at Hilo. I am concerned about the condition the sailboat was left in...wouldn't it be nice if someone would have secured the hatches, doused and secured the sail, and maybe centered and secured the wheel / tiller.

Even more concerning were the PFDs worn by the sailboat crew. Please, Please, Please tell me that those Type-3's were not the only lifejackets they had onboard. I would think at night, during a rescue, the crew would be wearing either a Type-1 or at least some type of inflatable and in those conditions, I'd have also popped a few glow sticks and tied them to the PDFs, just in case.

I'm guessing that this is something people never talk about when planning trips outside the marina.

Editor's Note: The skipper was a commercial delivery skipper - he should have been aware of all of these issues.