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SETTING SAIL : Sailors Need Not Rely on Bottled SOSs

Summer Special: Sixth in a series on recreation and outdoor life in Orange County during the summer.

July 30, 1986|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

Lloyd Schultz, Phil Dyball and their colleagues are people sailboaters would hope they'd never meet but could be awfully glad to see.

Chief Petty Officer Schultz is in charge of the Los Angeles-Long Beach U.S. Coast Guard Search and Rescue operation based on Terminal Island. Sgt. Dyball heads the Newport Harbor patrol. They deal with difficulties for which novice sailors should be prepared.

"More of our problems are with power boaters," Dyball said. "It requires some kind of training to handle a sailboat."

Schultz: "A sailboat takes much more experience and seamanship than a powerboat. A powerboat, you can just jump in, turn the key and away you go. But it's much easier to get yourself into trouble in a sailboat."

And nobody knows the trouble they've seen.

Schultz recalled: "We had a family in a 30-footer that lost their rudder in mild seas coming back from one of the islands. If you're an experienced sailor, you can steer a boat without a rudder, using the sails, but they didn't know how to do this."

Meanwhile, a storm was coming, and they couldn't get their auxiliary engine started.

"They didn't know what else to do, so they were just sitting there 15 miles offshore," Schultz said. "By the time we got on the scene, it was 15-foot seas and they had been bouncing around in the weather all day. The kids were so seasick they had started to vomit blood. The man and wife were in the early stages of hyperthermia. They didn't take enough warm clothing along.

"They just went down in the cabin, closed the door and that was it. We had to get 'em off, but they didn't want to come off."

Finally, Schultz's crew was able to transfer the family to the rescue vessel and tow their boat in.

Normally, the Coast Guard handles emergency situations more than three miles offshore, leaving those close in to the local harbor patrols. But since 1984, with Congress cutting the Coast Guard's budget, they must be genuine life-threatening emergencies, or the boaters are subject to prosecution for sending a false "Mayday" signal.

Running out of fuel doesn't count. Those are passed off to commercial companies--"Like a tow-truck service," Petty Officer Roland McKinnon said.

The Coast Guard will respond to boat fires. "The big cause on sailboats is barbecues," Schultz said. "A wave comes along and you've got hot coals all over the deck."

The harbor patrols can be seen on any weekend giving a helping hand to a capsized sailboat.

"Lido 14s and Sabots turn over regularly," Dyball said. "It's just a matter of getting them righted again."

One problem is the age-old relationship between power and sail. Generally, a power boat must yield to a boat under sail, but it doesn't always happen.

"It's mainly a situation of inexperienced boaters not knowing the rules of the road," Dyball said, "or somebody (in a sailboat) pushing the right of way beyond reason."

McKinnon said problems are seldom with the boat.

"Generally, sailboats are pretty seaworthy. Usually it's a case of the people being incompetent."

Schultz, who once taught sailing, said: "There's nothing worse than getting some guy in your class who's read everything he can get his hands on about how to sail. Then he gets to your class and he knows it all. You can't teach the guy anything."

Schultz has strong advice for sailors who venture very far from shore: "One thing, especially with sailboats, is that there should be more than one person on board that knows what he's doing. Otherwise, if you lose the skipper, there's nobody left to sail it."

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