Windjammer Barefoot Cruises

Rescue In An Angry Sea
Windjammer's Amazing Grace Saves Hapless Couple From Burning Boat

The crew of Windjammer Barefoot Cruise's supply ship M/V Amazing Grace rescued two Canadians from their burning boat Thursday, April 15, after responding to a distress call. Amazing Grace crew members Gunther Senkowski and Sharwin Braithwaite both bravely placed their lives in peril in order to save the couple as their smoke-filled 35-foot sailboat drifted helplessly in 12-foot breaking seas approximately 40 miles off the east coast of Florida.

Amazing Grace was enroute to West Palm Beach to pick up supplies for the cruise line's fleet of tall ships when they heard the "mayday" at approximately 1:48 p.m. Ships Master Julian Legg, 38, immediately came about when it was determined that Amazing Grace was just seven miles from the reported location of the distressed vessel. The only other ship in the area, the cruise ship Disney Magic, was an estimated 15-minutes farther away.

"There was no hesitation at all," said Captain Legg, who was in the ship's office when the call for help came in. "We have a moral and legal duty to render assistance in an emergency."

Captain Legg was on the bridge speaking with Pat Gale, 51, on the VHF radio as Amazing Grace steamed toward the disabled vessel. He learned that there was smoke coming from the engine compartment of the sloop Indian Time, and that Gale's husband, Brian Gale, also 51, "needed help" and was suffering from chest pains. Pat Gale also reported that she was unable to lower the boat's foresail.

As they approached Indian Time, Chief Mate Gunther Senkowski, 48, who had joined Windjammer only four-days prior to the incident, reported that he saw smoke emitting from the aft of the small sailboat:

"We came along side and threw a heaving line over, but the woman was too tired and weak to pull the tow line aboard," said Senkowski. "It was too rough to launch our own boat and we were starting to drift together. That's when I decided to jump over the side and swim over and help them."

After securing permission from Captain Legg, and without regard to his own personal safety, Senkowski, a former SEAL for the German Navy and an eight-year veteran of the Canadian Coast Guard, leapt into the tumultuous sea and swam to the unmastered boat. He climbed aboard Indian Time's dinghy, and then aboard the boat itself, immediately dousing the foresail and extinguishing the engine fire. He then attached the tow line, took control of the vessel and steered it along side of Amazing Grace.

The two passengers of Indian Time were still in danger, however, as the two vessels pitched side-by-side in the turbulent ocean. Alone, Senkowski could not lift the couple to safety. Sensing Senkowski's predicament, Quartermaster Sharwin Braithwaite waited for an opportune moment and then leapt from the deck of Amazing Grace onto the canvas Bimini top of Indian Time. Together, Braithwaite and Senkowski struggled to help first Brian Gale and then Pat Gale onto the sailboat's Bimini top, where awaiting Amazing Grace crewmembers leaning over the side hauled them aboard. Brian Gale immediately collapsed and was tended to by the ship's nurse, who administered oxygen while awaiting arrival of the U.S. Coast Guard.

For Braithwaite, 31, there was no question about putting his life on the line for the couple in the sailboat: "There were two lives in trouble," he said. "I did my best to help them."

Nor was this his first rescue. In January, shortly after joining Amazing Grace, Braithwaite, a native of Georgetown, Guyana, operated the ship's launch to help rescue three people from the small sailboat Taurus Day Child, which was in distress off the coast of Bequia, a small Windward Island in the Caribbean Sea near St. Vincent.

After helping the Gales to safety, Senkowski was able to start Indian Time's engine and steer her away from further danger. Approximately five-minutes later, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter arrived and airlifted Brian Gale to Jackson Memorial Hospital's Ryder Trauma Center in Miami. Ten-minutes after that, the Coast Guard Cutter Chandeleur arrived and transferred Pat Gale aboard. They then took the sailboat in tow and transported Senkowski and Braithwaite back to Amazing Grace.

Amazing Grace was released from the scene by the Coast Guard at approximately 4:36 p.m. Gale was admitted to Jackson Memorial Hospital and then released on Friday, April 16.

"The crew of the Amazing Grace acted quickly and heroically to rescue Mr. Gale and his wife from their burning boat," said Lt. Ron LaBrec, a spokesman for the Coast Guard in Miami. "The actions of the crew of the Amazing Grace uphold the finest traditions of mariners coming to the aid of others in peril at sea."

"The crew all responded very well to this emergency," said Captain Legg. "They all came out to help and to do whatever was needed. They did a great job under very rough seas."

M/V Amazing Grace is a 257-foot passenger-carrying freighter and has been the supply ship to Windjammer's fleet of tall ships since 1988. Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, Ltd. operates the largest fleet of tall ships in the world, sailing year-round to more than 50 ports-of-call throughout the Bahamas, U.S. and British Virgin Islands, the West Indies and, beginning in June, 1999, the Venezuelan Coast.

Copyright 1998, Windjammer Barefoot Cruises, Ltd.

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Revised: April 29, 2002