88.6 F
Cruz Bay
Saturday, July 20, 2024


Thanks to quick thinking and "prudent action," Jeff Fangmann is alive, well and dry after his 27-foot sailboat sank 10 miles north of Buck Island Saturday morning.
"He was really sharp," said Lieut. Commander Robert Mokowsky, who flew the Coast Guard helicopter that located Fangmann.
If Fangmann hadn't had the good sense to bring his hand-held radio with him, he would have been a lot harder to find, Mokowsky said.
Fangmann also threw water, flares and his life jacket into a 9-foot fiberglass dinghy.
Fangmann was on his way to St. Thomas aboard his J-27 sailboat El Shaddai. He left St. Croix at about 2:30 a.m. under an almost full moon. The 43-year-old father of two was enjoying a quick trip and watching the sky get light when things changed for the worse.
"I was doing over eight knots, surfing down a wave, when I hit something and the boat just stopped dead, " Fangmann told the Source. "I was thrown forward so hard it took me a few seconds to get my thoughts together."
Fangmann then went below, where he found the keel supports on the J-27 broken, the keel shaking, and the boat taking on water. He said he could still see St. Croix so he turned the boat around and headed back home. But as the boat continued to take on water, he knew he was going to have to abandon it.
He got the dinghy untied from the deck and got it into the water with his supplies.
Fangmann, who has been sailing in Virgin Islands waters for 27 years, said he cried as he watched his boat go down minutes later. The sailor had owned the boat for eight years and is a familiar figure at regattas throughout the northern Caribbean.
After 45 minutes of rowing toward St. Croix and getting no closer, Fangmann put in a call for assistance to V.I. Marine Radio.
Lieut. Geoffrey Deas of the San Juan Coast Guard told St. Croix Source the call for help came into the Coast Guard air station at 7:55 a.m. via V.I. Radio and a helicopter was dispatched.
"We also diverted a U.S. Navy patrol craft that was in the area, to assist," Deas said.
"We launched out immediately," the helicopter commander said, "and when we got within 20 miles of him we could hear him on the radio. He guided us right to him."
"It's a lot easier to see a helicopter from the water than for us to see a small vessel in the water," explained Mokowsky, the pilot.
Fangmann saw the helicopter and told them where to find him. "He told us, 'Turn to your left, I'm right there' and then we saw him," Mokowsky said.
It was the 170-foot Navy vessel Squall that initially picked up the sailor and his dinghy. But Sgt. Joe Donohue of the V.I. Police Department, along with two members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary who had set out in a police vessel from St. Croix, picked Fangmann up from the Squall and brought him safely back to St. Croix, according to Deas.
Clarence Jones and Robert Evans of the St. Croix Coast Guard Auxiliary assisted Donohue.

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