Four men rescued in storm-tossed sea Coast Guard copters pluck sailboat crew from waves

Josh Straitiff (facing), of Buffalo, N.Y., and Daniel Kelley, of Huntsville, Ala., thank the members of the U.S. Coast Guard who rescued them Friday from a sailboat that was adrift at sea during Tropical Storm Andrea.

Four men on a disabled sailboat trapped in Tropical Storm Andrea were plucked from the ocean 65 miles offshore from Charleston on Friday morning.

“We spent all night just getting pummeled by the storm,” said Joel Kreider, 55, of Pittsburgh, the captain of the vessel.

The U.S. Coast Guard dispatched two helicopters carrying rescue swimmers. The crews hoisted to safety Kreider; Daniel Kelley, 23, of Huntsville, Ala.; and Clay Stevens, 25, and Josh Straitiff, 19, of Buffalo, N.Y.

They were delivering a 35-foot sailboat from the British Virgin Islands to Norfolk, Va., when the storm hit.

“Some of the swells were huge,” Kelley said.

Kreider said one thing after another went wrong on the trip that began May 27. Drained batteries and a lifeless engine were the most serious problems. They could sail, but at night they were without lights, even for a compass.

“We were really in an unsafe situation where no one could see us,” he said. “Finally, Andrea hit us and that was the last straw. We were dead in the water against the wind and waves.”

The storm shredded sails, leaving the vessel helpless against 20-foot swells and winds up to 50 knots. An anchor was deployed but the storm ripped it away, he said.

“Last night was brutal. You are doing a whole lot of bobbing,” Stevens said.

The vessel contacted the Coast Guard using a satellite phone charged by a wind generator, he said.

An Elizabeth City, N.C.,-based HC-130 Hercules plane spotted the disabled vessel. The Charleston-based Coast Guard Cutter Yellowfin arrived on the scene. Helicopter crews from Air Station Savannah were dispatched.

One-by-one, the men jumped from the sailboat into the churning seas. Rescue swimmers guided them into a basket that was hoisted aboard a helicopter. They arrived at about 5:15 p.m. Friday at Charleston Executive Airport on Johns Island.

“We’re no longer shark bait!” one of the men shouted after climbing from a chopper.

The sailors gratefully shook hands with the Coast Guard crews who had pulled them to safety. They posed for a photo with their rescuers in front of a helicopter.

The sailboat crew first contacted the Coast Guard at about 6:22 p.m. Thursday. The Yellowfin was dispatched from Charleston at about 8:20 p.m. and reached the boat at midday Friday, officials said.

The rescue effort was slowed by a combination of the weather and the distance from shore, officials said.

None of the men were injured. Kreider said the sailboat was still afloat and would be salvaged.