Capt. Robert Corcoran (left) accepted the award, accompanied by an equally proud John E. Bahen (Argyll's owner) and Sandy Taylor (of Northrop & Johnson, which represents Argyll for charter).
Other people may have continued on their way, but the captain and crew of Argyll stopped—and helped.
Stories that start off with a small powerboat overloaded with refugees and adrift at sea often don't end happily.
This is not one of those stories.
In fact, this story is quite possibly unlike anything you've heard before. That's because it involves a yacht crew who could have easily concluded it was better to keep on going to maintain their schedule than approach an unidentified and therefore suspicious small boat miles from shore. They could have concluded it was too risky, given all-too-real concerns about piracy. But instead these ten people heeded the call of duty to their fellow man.
Last spring the 153-foot Argyll was bound for Miami from St. Thomas, a trip she'd made previously without incident, when Christopher Burton, the bosun on watch, noticed a small boat about two miles off the port bow. Even though Argyll was within sight of the U.S. mainland, Burton quickly decided the powerboat was far too small to intentionally be that far offshore, so he notified Capt. Robert Corcoran. Grabbing a pair of binoculars, Corcoran determined the boat was in the mid-30-foot range—and packed with people, including children, who were frantically trying to get their attention.
What Corcoran did next is something that many boaters wouldn't have done in a similar situation. He instructed his crew to alter Argyll's course and head for the powerboat, all the while practicing their own safety drills.
When they were close enough to see the boat's occupants clearly and talk with them, the crew realized the boat was overloaded with Cuban refugees. The chief engineer, Anuar Vasquez, translated for his team: The powerboat's captain explained they lost a propeller and were out of gasoline. They'd been drifting for three days, with no food or water. The one bright spot—if that term even applies—is that the boat wasn't at risk of sinking.
Corcoran instructed his crew to begin passing out food, water, blankets, and first-aid supplies. The food and water disappeared as quickly as it was handed over. Corcoran then notified the U.S. Coast Guard and informed the agency that Argyll would remain on-site until a rescue team could arrive and take over.
Imagine the relief the refugees felt when Argyll changed course.
It took a few hours, but a Coast Guard vessel finally did arrive. Perhaps it was a miracle, perhaps it was sheer luck, but no one aboard the refugee boat died.
Had it not been for The Triton, a crew newspaper, this story might not have been brought to light—but even then, most owners and members of the megayacht industry still didn't know about it. That changed when the International Superyacht Society (ISS) bestowed the annual Distinguished Crew Award on them last October. If ever there were a reason to recognize professionalism, which this award does, this was it.
Gary Groenewold, an ISS board member and the southern regional vice president for Westrec Marinas, which sponsors the award, summed it up this way: "With all of the fears of piracy around the globe, combined with tight cruising schedules between destinations, they could have kept on going. But instead this crew chose to observe the first law of humanity: to provide assistance to those in need."
Down The Ways
While most people spent early December trying to escape the cold weather, an American owner didn't let chilly temperatures dissuade him from attending the launch of his 230'3" yacht in Germany. The six-deck, nearly 42-foot-beam Martha Ann hit the water at Lrssen's facility on December 10, complete with a deep-blue hull. Code-named Shark while under construction, she is a sistership to Apoise and St. Nicholas, both of which launched in recent years. Martha Ann should turn heads on the charter circuit after her delivery in April, seeing as she has an integral bar in the top-deck pool as well as king-size-bed-equipped guest staterooms (four on the lower deck, one on the bridge deck).
If you're an avid moviegoer, don't miss the romantic comedy/adventure flick Fools Gold, which opens this month, because you'll get a good, long look at the 138-foot Keri Lee. Launched as Status Quo, the Richmond Yachts-built beauty stars opposite Hollywood heavyweights Kate Hudson, Matthew McConaughey, and Donald Sutherland in a story about treasure hunters. From the scenes we've seen, Keri Lee holds her own.
This article originally appeared in the March 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.