SAN FRANCISCO — A Northern California man whose sailboat sank off of western Mexico after a collision with a whale said Sunday that the impact was so powerful that the stern of the 22-ton vessel was lifted out of the water.
Max Young returned home to Sacramento on Friday, 10 days after the breaching whale slammed onto the bow of his 50-foot boat during a solo voyage.
Young, 67, was on the final leg of a journey from the East Coast to Emeryville, Calif., when the 55-foot-long whale hit the boat just after dark on June 12.
"The head of that whale would have had to have cleared at least 12 feet (from the water) before he came down on the boat," Young told The Associated Press on Sunday. "I could see its head. It must have been a young whale because he only had a few barnacles."
Young was not hurt in the collision, but the steep angle of the boat sent him sliding down the deck toward a pile of sea bags. He said he was only about 10 feet away from the whale at the time of impact.
Within a few seconds the whale slid back into the water, but not before causing severe damage to the sailboat and leaving behind evidence that it had been injured in the encounter.
"I saw a piece of rubbery type of material," he said. "It was skin from the whale."
But Young had other things to worry about. Water was gushing in through what he later discovered was a massive crack, the boat's steering was damaged and any possible help was hours away.
Young said he was about 40 miles off the western coast of Mexico, or about 400 miles southwest of San Diego. While the boat's bilge pumps struggled to pump out the ocean water, he went to work trying to get the boat back on course.
Young activated an emergency beacon, which alerted the U.S. Coast Guard. With that information, officials at the command center were able to direct a merchant ship, which was about 60 miles away, to the sinking craft.
Young had a life raft on board and a larger inflatable boat, but neither was inflating sufficiently to be seaworthy. And the freighter redirected by the Coast Guard, was still a few hours away.
"I started making my peace with God," Young said. "I thought I was going to die."
It's when his spirits were lowest, when Young first spotted the rescue ship off in the distance.
"About that time I could see the freighter coming," he said. "I knew I was going to be OK."
The Coast Guard also dispatched a HC-130 Hercules aircraft to help guide the rescue ship to the stricken boat. When the plane arrived and circled overhead, the air crew could see Young bailing out water.
When the ship arrived, crewmembers helped hoist him off his boat. Young, who has spent most of his life on the sea, was unharmed during the ordeal.
"This case is one of those success stories," Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Pamela Boehland said earlier this month, just after the rescue. "A man went out prepared, the worst happened to him and he was able to respond."
Young spent six days on board the freighter as it steamed to Panama. He arrived back in Sacramento Friday, just two days before he and his wife, Debra, were to celebrate their 23rd anniversary.