POLITICS

Captain says series of mishaps crippled Nova Scotia tall ship before rescue

03/31/2015 08:16 EDT | Updated 05/31/2015 05:59 EDT
GLOUCESTER, Mass. - The captain of a Nova Scotia tall ship that was crippled off Massachusetts says a series of frustrating equipment failures eventually forced the crew to leap to the safety of a rescue boat.

Two motorized lifeboats operated by the U.S. Coast Guard safely evacuated the nine crew members of the Liana Ransom early Monday morning.

The 26-metre, steel-hulled ship was under tow and was expected to be arrive in Portsmouth Harbor, New Hampshire, by midnight Tuesday, said coast guard spokesman Ross Ruddell.

Ryan Tilley, the 24-year-old captain of the Nova Scotia vessel, said the rescue unfolded after several mechanical breakdowns.

"In all my times in sailing I'd never seen that many things go wrong that quickly. I thought it was quite improbable but I guess we're living proof it can happen," he said in a telephone interview from Gloucester after the rescue.

The 26-metre vessel left the southwest coast of Nova Scotia at supper time on Friday bound for the Caribbean and by early Saturday its port engine had failed.

Tilley said when the engine failed, the ship had already travelled about half the distance to Cape Cod, and he decided to continue on.

"It was about the same distance either way, and the winds were from the north, so it didn't make much sense to turn back," he said.

As the ship continued, its starboard engine began to malfunction and required increased amounts of oil, raising concern the vessel couldn't motor the remaining distance, said Tilley.

The captain said he decided to attempt to sail, but strong winds tore the foresail and the foresail and the mainsail became tangled in the mast.

He said the generator also failed, and he was concerned about losing contact with the U.S. coast guard, which had been monitoring the vessel since it was notified at 12:35 a.m.

The two coast guard lifeboats had attempted to tow the vessel when it was about 93 kilometres east of Gloucester, but rough seas forced them to cut the tow line, Ruddell said.

The coast guard crew faced winds of about 55 kilometres an hour and waves swelling to three metres as they tried to get all nine crew members off the ship and onto the two lifeboats, the spokesman added.

Each of the nine members jumped from the deck of the tall ship onto the motorized vessels, with Tilley — whose leap was captured on coast guard video — the last to leave.

Ruddell said one man suffered a head injury when he leapt onto one of the rescue boats. He was flown by helicopter to Massachusetts General Hospital, while the remaining eight crew members were brought back to Gloucester. He said the man has been released from hospital.

The tall ship had another incident in which it was demasted in a rainstorm off Cape Sable Island in December when a stay snapped.

Tilley said a full refurbishment was done and it underwent inspection by Transport Canada.

"It was kind of a freak accident. We're unlucky enough to have two really bad luck scenarios right in a row," he said.

The ship's website says the vessel is certified by Transport Canada to carry 70 passengers, offers day sails and weekly charters and is "crewed by a colourful pirate crew in period costumes."

The schooner was built in 1998 in Houston and was sailed to Nova Scotia in late 2006, the website says.

Tilley said he plans to continue the trip to the Caribbean after repairs are completed.

— By Michael Tutton in Halifax.

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