Coast Guard rescues rower in grueling race

U.S. Coast Guard crews made another daring rescue of a rower in a grueling Monterey to Honolulu rowing race — the second rescue of race participants in a little more than 24 hours.

A Coast Guard spokesman said a helicopter crew was dispatched to rescue of rower in the Great Pacific Race, described by organizers as the “biggest, baddest endurance challenge on the planet.”

The distressed participant called the Coast Guard for help around 2 a.m. Sunday after his boat had capsized multiple times in rough seas and strong winds.

The stricken rower was about 52 miles off Morro Bay, a flight of about four hours for the helicopter crew dispatched from San Francisco.

Once on scene, the Coast Guard crew dropped a rescue swimmer into the water, who swam to the rowboat to check on the condition of the rower.

After determining that the rower was stable, he was hoisted into the helicopter.

When the helicopter arrived at Monterey Regional Airport the man  — who has not been named — was transferred to a waiting ambulance and taken to a hospital. His condition was not known.

Lt. Cmdr. Blake McKinney, an Air Station San Francisco pilot involved in the rescue said the fact that the rower was so well prepared increased his chance for survival and enabled him to call the Coast Guard for help:

“A lot of planning was involved in this particular rescue, due to low visibility and challenging weather conditions.  As a participant in the Great Pacific Race, the rower was well equipped with by filing a float plan, bringing a satellite phone and ensuring he had appropriate gear for the rough sea state he encountered.”

The rescue was the second time of the weekend Coast Guard crews were called to save rowers who were in trouble in the race.

Saturday morning a Coast Guard helicopter crew rescued four rowers in a 24-foot rowboat who called for help after their boat started taking on water about 75 miles west of San Luis Obispo.

In that rescue, a Coast Guard helicopter crew launched from San Francisco and hoisted four rowers to safety aboard the helicopter.

Seas were so rough and the winds were so strong that a “safeboat” accompanying the rowers for the race could not get the rowers on board.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Leon, an Air Station San Francisco rescue swimmer, said Saturday’s mission was the most challenging rescue he’s ever had:

“It was unique because there was no light, seas were incredibly rough and waves were crashing over the top of the boat, which was already filled with water. I’m glad we were able to get on scene and rescue the rowers because surviving the night in those conditions would have been difficult.”

Those four rowers are reported to be in good condition and did not require further medical attention.

The Great Pacific Race began Monday and covers 2,400 miles from Monterey to Honolulu. It is expected to take finishers one to three months to complete.


John Marshall is an SFBay editor and producer and writer for San Francisco’s KGO Radio.  Follow him on Twitter @breakingnewsman.

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