RAINMAKER ABANDONED: Gunboat 55 Hull No. 1 Dismasted, Crew Evacuated by Helo

31 Jan

Rainmaker rescue

For me this is like déjà vu all over again. All this month I’ve been thinking about where I was a year ago, dangling from a wire beneath a Coast Guard helicopter many miles offshore with a busted catamaran beneath me. For SAIL Magazine’s story click here. This year’s victim, unfortunately, is an award-winning Gunboat 55, hull no. 1, Rainmaker, which got dismasted yesterday after getting raked by a 70-knot whiteout squall about 200 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras. The five-member crew elected to abandon the vessel and was evacuated by a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter operating near the limit of its range.

Gunboat CEO Peter Johnstone broke the story late yesterday on his Facebook page and described the incident to me in more detail early this afternoon.

Rainmaker was 36 hours into a passage that began at Gunboat’s North Carolina yard, bound for St. Martin, when she was dismasted. Sustained winds at the time were 30-35 knots, with 40-knot squalls coming through at intervals. The crew, led by skipper Chris Bailet and owner Brian Cohen, were flying a triple-reefed mainsail and a storm jib. Also aboard were Cohen’s son and two other professional crew. The coup-de-grace was delivered by one 70-knot squall, a microburst Johnstone termed it, that looked no different from the other squalls as it approached. In Johnstone’s words: “The mast came down with the wall of wind.”

According to Johnstone, the rig was cleared with no damage to the hull, and the crew salvaged the storm jib in hopes of putting up a jury rig later. There were lines around the props, which precluded any motoring until they could be cleared. “No question, they probably could have turned downwind and tried to sort something out later,” Johnstone told me. “But the weather forecast was bad, and in the end they decided to play it safe with the lives aboard.”

According to the Coast Guard’s report, a 350-foot cargo vessel, Ocean Crescent, was 40 miles from the scene and diverted to pick up the crew, but was unable to come alongside the catamaran. According to Johnstone, Rainmaker collided violently with the ship and was almost sucked into its propeller. Ultimately, the crew was lifted off at approximately 5 pm by a Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter sent from the Coast Guard airbase at Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The Jayhawk reportedly didn’t have enough fuel to make it back to Elizabeth City and instead landed in Manteo, North Carolina, not too far from the Gunboat yard, at 8:10 pm.

Here’s a viddy of the lift that the Coasties have posted:

Conditions look quite a bit rougher than they were when I got to appear in one of these productions last year.

I am sure a lot of people out there are already in Armchair Admiral Mode, doing the would-have should-have could-have thing, second-guessing the crew’s decision to abandon ship, but I can tell you from experience this is a definitely-have-to-be-there sort of decision. I met the skipper, Chris Bailet, when I was aboard Rainmaker at the Newport show last fall and was very impressed with him. I’m guessing he very likely might have organized a way to get the boat back to shore once the weather settled out, but there are other personal factors to consider. I’m thinking in particular of the owner, and that son of his. I’ve met many owners who are bolder than their skippers when it comes to a boat’s safety. But a child’s safety is something else entirely.

Johnstone has stated an effort will be made to retrieve the boat, which is valued at about $2.5 million. I imagine right now they’re pretty busy organizing that.

Rainmaker in Manhattan

This is Rainmaker on her home turf, off Manhattan. Brian Cohen intended to use her as “a floating conference center” for a group of investors he leads during the summer season and spend winters aboard down in the Caribbean. You can read more about Cohen and the boat in this Forbes profile here, and can also catch them together in this viddy:

Rescue crew

Rainmaker‘s crew with the Coasties that retrieved them, safe and sound in Carolina

One question I’m asking myself is about the ultimate range of these Coast Guard rescue helicopters. We were 300 miles offshore when we were rescued last year, and they refueled twice at sea on a U.S. Navy vessel while retrieving us, once coming out to us and once going back. When I asked about this, my Coasties told me the Jayhawk’s range is about 300 miles. Hence on a 600-mile round trip, plus spending a lot of time hovering while lifting people aboard, it obviously made sense to stop twice for gas.

Now here we have the same helo saving Rainmaker’s crew on a 400-mile round trip with no fuel stops and apparently just barely enough fuel aboard to pull it off.

According to Wikipedia, the Jayhawk “is designed to fly a crew of four up to 300 miles offshore, hoist up to 6 additional people on board while remaining on scene for up to 45 minutes and return to base while maintaining an adequate fuel reserve.”

Anyone got hard facts on this?

This article was syndicated from Wavetrain


  1. Jared Robinson

    Why not a last comment from another old salt,

    “A seaworthy boat will take care of you, when you can no longer take care of yourself.”

    And you know what Sir Chichester said.

    “Any fool can sail around the world sober.”

    That’s right. Lots of people sail around the world no problem.

    But modern sailing boats are death traps.

    “We’re are so fast we can just sail around storms.”

    Good luck with that.

    Jared Robinson

  2. Mike Allison

    I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the word. “Evacuated” used synonymously with rescue at see. I can’t help but feel it was selected very carefully to describe”playing it safe”, or abundance of caution”. If it was a rescue, call it that. If not, the situation calls for not risking Coast Guard lives, and instead for but sorting things out, figuring out a jury rig solution, and staying with the boat – no matter how unpleasant until solution has been achieved or the situation has, in fact, become untenable. That commitment seems to me to be part of the bargain that distinguishes seamanship from recreation.

  3. mike

    There is an old proverb that says “it is foolish and humiliating to reply to a matter before one hears the facts”

  4. Mike

    The poor judgement that led to this accident (departing the east coast in this craft in January) immediately calls into question the seamanship of the captain. Furthermore, not addressing this point critically in your article is a disservice to your readers — especially the ones who also lack the prudent perspective necessary to avoid unnecessarily risking the lives of crew and rescuers.

  5. dennis


  6. Jeremy McGeary

    Charlie . . . you can do the math yourself on the Jayhawk’s range.
    Rainmaker was 200 miles SE of Hatteras. But it’s 100 miles from Elizabeth City to Hatteras, almost due south. So the round trip is 600 miles.
    I can hear Don Street tut tutting.

  7. Jose Pagan

    Thank goodness crew and brave Coast Guard crew got back safely. Great article written with background experience. No second guessing here. Crew reacted from their perspective on the event and human safety in mind and by all accounts, were successful. Kudos all around!

  8. Andrew Batchelor

    Is Brian Cohen going to pay for his rescue? Leaving the east coast in late January is sought with huge risks, which he took, surely the tax payer should not be left with the bill. I,M sorry he lost his beautiful boat, but we all. make decisions, his was not a good one.

  9. Hugh Moore

    Great report as always Charles! The USCG are again the heroes and this is one reason we pay taxes.

    One thing I always wonder about is why people don’t leave on the AIS or a simple SPOT tracker on boat so they can find it. I hope they recover the vessel. Leaving it floating is controversial on its own as it can be a hazard. A SPOT with 2AA batteries last for a month or more and the it costs about $200. I suspect they could afford one.

  10. Hugh Moore

    Great report as always Charles! The USCG are again the heroes and this is one reason we pay taxes.

    One thing I always wonder about is why people don’t leave on the AIS or a simple SPOT tracker on boat so they can find it. Why would here need to be I hope they recover the vessel. Leaving it floating is controversial on its own as it can be a hazard. A SPOT with 2AA batteries last for a month or more and the it costs about $200. I suspect they could afford one.

  11. Scott

    Just three thoughts on this matter.

    Thank you,
    Thank you,
    and finally
    Thank you

    To the US Coast Guard and the job they do for ALL mariners.

  12. Al

    Knowing well what the predictions of the weather in the ares were to be over a weeks duration, at a minimum, I have to ask, why would you have even left in a floating living room?

  13. First Last

    As stated, woulda, coulda, shoulda; ya gotta be there to make comments. All I have to comment on is, from personal experience, getting alongside another vessel or person(s) in the water is the easiest part. Getting people out of the water or transferring vessel to vessel is the most dangerous and difficult part.

  14. Hub

    Published performance numbers for any aircraft are for still air. Headwinds severely impact range. A 40 knot headwind would result in approximately 30% reduction in range. No wonder fuel was short. Excellent work (again) by the USCG!

  15. Paul Podbielski

    …. and Jared also walked across the ocean… barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways.

    TransKitchen, 2015

  16. Jared Robinson

    Nobody but a damned fool would ever sail a catamaran across an ocean. If it’s squally, you need to take down all sail and drift downwind.

    I sailed Hurricane Dot in in 1959, and later
    saved an Islander 37 from a sudden vicious squall in 1967 on Lake Ontario.

    One moment the wind is 5 knots, the next it’s
    40 or 60 knots. maybe 70!

    I’m used to “30 foot seas and 40 knot breeze.” I loved it.

    That’s when sailing becomes fun for a 17 year
    old salt.

    I’m older now, but I’m still able to “feel free to give Landlubbers a clue as to what real sailing is all about.”

    Don’t tell Me that you are “professional sailors.”

    If you were, the boat would still afloat, and you would still be on it, and headed toward safe harbor.

    Don’t tell me I’m ‘abusive.’
    The ocean is abusive.

    Jared Robinson

    Transpac, 1959

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