Paying For A Lost-prone Sailor

Larry Price
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Wednesday - January 11, 2012
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Lt. Leigh Cotterell, spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard, had the quote of 2012. He was speaking about a 66-year-old Seattle sailor who was reported missing in the Pacific Ocean while attempting to sail from Kauai to Oahu.

The Coast Guard searched more than 200,000 square miles for the man. After a week, the Coast Guard suspended its search. The drama escalated as the family remained hopeful that he would be found.

Well, he was found. Winds apparently pushed his boat outside the Coast Guard search zone. He was in good shape and was surprised to hear about the massive effort to find him.

This prompted Cotterell to issue this memorable quote: “It’s pretty unusual. We don’t normally suspend searches and then have someone show up the next day.”

The Coast Guard is reviewing the search to see whether any lessons can be learned. One lesson is pretty simple for taxpayers: “How much did the massive four-day, around-the-clock search cost?” Right now, nobody knows or, probably more accurate, nobody wants to say. Air and sea emergency services are expensive.

The sailor is on the Big Island now preparing his boat for the trip back to Seattle.

I don’t know anything about sailing, but I do know about paying taxes, and I have a few suggestions for the government to consider.

Because we are a resort destination, it makes sense that visitors who are not familiar with Hawaii’s waters should not be allowed to just take off for a destination without special equipment on board. Nothing really expensive, maybe something simple, like a compass. After all, when you are on Kauai and headed for Oahu and end up off the Big Island, you need direction, especially with high winds and huge waves on the horizon. Why not invest in a GPS cell phone?

Even more frustrating is the testimony from his mother, who said 30 years ago he was lost trying to get from Fiji to Hawaii.

I asked a few seasoned skippers about the 66-year-old sailor’s challenge, because he’s preparing to sail back to Seattle. I learned that in Hawaii you don’t have to submit a plan of your trip in advance so that everyone who may have to search for you knows where you were attempting to go.

Airplanes have flight plans and so do cargo vessels, so why not recreational craft?

But then, it is a free country and our sailor has a right to sail off into the wild blue yonder. That said, if you wander off your compass heading for whatever reason, the taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay for your hobby gone terribly wrong.

I hope they send this adventurous sailor a bill from the U.S. Coast Guard.

I personally will track his voyage back to Seattle, and I’m not taking any bets that he’ll make it back in one piece without assistance.

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