Rick Rodriguez and three friends were embarking on a planned three-week voyage from the Galápagos Islands to French Polynesia when their 44-foot sailboat, Raindancer, sank on March 13. Rodriguez said he was eating a vegetarian pizza for lunch when the accident took place.
“The second pizza had just come out of the oven, and I was dipping a slice into some ranch dressing,” Rodriguez told the Washington Post during a satellite phone interview. “The back half of the boat lifted violently upward and to starboard.”
An alarm sounded seconds after the boat collided with the massive whale, warning the crew that the vessel was filling with water. Rodriguez said his crew all had boating experience and acted quickly as he placed a mayday call on a VHF radio and sent a distress signal through a worldwide rescue network.
The distress signal was later picked up by the Peruvian Coast Guard, which notified the U.S. Coast Guard station in California, which oversees American ships located in the Pacific Ocean. The crew gathered food, emergency equipment and other essential gear before launching their lifeboat and a dinghy, though running out of time to grab their passports.
The sailors were reported to have had sufficient water for about a week, food for three weeks and a device that catches rainwater if necessary. While stranded, Rodriguez used a WiFi hotspot to message his friend and fellow sailor Tommy Joyce, who was sailing the same route but about 180 miles behind.
“Tommy this is no joke,” Rodriguez wrote. “We hit a whale and the ship went down.”
Rodriguez also texted a similar message to his brother, Roger, but added, "Tell mom it's going to be OK."
Rodriguez also asked his brother to send Joyce a message on WhatsApp as he checked it more frequently before turning off the WiFi hotspot for two hours to save power. Joyce later sent a reassuring, "We got you bud" in response to the message once he turned the WiFi hotspot back on.
The crew was later joined by the Rolling Stones, a 45-foot boat captained by Geoff Stone, who received Rodriguez's mayday calls from a friend and launched a rescue mission for the group with Joyce and the Peruvian officials. The ship is expected to make land in French Polynesia on Wednesday (March 22).