Whale Sinks YouTube Sailors Mid-Pacific. (Unauthorized) Starlink to the Rescue
Facebook, WhatsApp Used To Coordinate With Sailboats in Vicinity
Update 9:22 a.m., March 15: The story has been updated to reflect that the vessel's EPIRB did in fact function properly. The signal was received at Rescue Coordination Center-Peru and details relayed to U.S. Coast Guard.
Update 9:34 p.m. Eastern Time: Rick Rodriguez, captain of the stricken vessel, has posted his description of events, which are contained below in two galleries of text images: “Then I looked and saw a huge whale and blood gushing out of its side as it began swimming down.”
Yesterday, the sailing vessel Raindancer was struck by a whale in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Within 15 minutes the 1976 Kelly Peterson 44 had sunk. The crew activated the boat’s EPIRB and climbed into a liferaft.
On the day of the rescue, a sailor involved asserted that their EPIRB had failed, but that turned out not to be the case.
Operating under that incorrect assumption—and perhaps spurred on by it—Tommy Joyce helped coordinate their rescue from his boat using Facebook and WhatsApp. By late last night the closest sailboat in the vicinity, Rolling Stones, had diverted to the coordinates communicated from the liferaft via an Iridium Go satellite messaging service. (WhatsApp is a secure Internet messaging and voice communication service, very popular outside the U.S.)
Loose Cannon has sought comment from the people involved, but this story was initially pieced together from various Facebook posts without an opportunity to ask follow-up questions. Contacted aboard the rescue vessel after the fact via WhatsApp, Raindancer’s skipper did not point out any mistakes in this story, but offered his version of critical events, published in the photo galleries below.
At one point in the account below, a crew member is quoted as saying, “We hit a whale,” but the damage was at the rudder area of the boat, so maybe this is not to be taken literally.
Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that a remarkable thing has happened because of the role that Starlink played, as demonstrated by the proof-of-life photo at the top of the page, transmitted from the middle of the ocean.
Apparently the whale struck Monday morning while Raindancer was ghosting along at up to six knots. They were enroute from the Galapagos Islands to the Marquesas of French Polynesia, having set out from the Galapagos on Feb. 28.
The two couples boarded the ship’s liferaft as she was sinking and took the time to attach their inflatable dinghy. The battery on the Iridium Go was low, so they turned it off between transmissions, calling at specified intervals.
They were able to communicate with a friend, Tommy Joyce, on vessel over a hundred miles behind on the same track. Happily, the area was full of boats participating in the World ARC, a round-the-world rally for recreational sailboats.
Another boat, a catamaran, was sunk in roughly the same neighborhood in August 2020. Although the crew’s mayday declared, “struck by whale, taking on water,” they had hit the whale, not the other way around. Read the story.
One of Raindancer’s weather sources was Predict Wind, which can be accessed through Iridium Go. Someone in the crew, likely Rodriguez, logged this message on Predict Wind two days before the whale strike:
More gentle breeze. Some of these modern, lighter boats that are a part of the World ARC have caught up to us in these light winds that don’t particularly favor old heavy boats. That being said we are still managing 130-140nm per day. Today is halfway day, so that should be a big morale for everyone. We’ll let you know how the halfway party goes.
Joyce spread the “Mayday” message on Facebook, and was able to communicate with the ARC fleet, some of whose participants also have Starlink terminals. Soon the vessel nearest the liferaft, Rolling Stones, was heading their way. Rolling Stones, captained by Geoff Stone, was not on the ARC roster, but he was being followed by the SV FAR and as many as nine other ARC participants.
By now the U.S. Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Center at Alameda, California had become involved, and a WhatsApp chat group was established between the Coast Guard and families of the Raindancer crew.
Sometime after 9 p.m. (their time), Raindancer’s people were taken aboard Rolling Stones, where they posed for that photo still wearing PFDs.
(Toggle through the text images. Story continues after galleries.)
Captain’s Statement (continued)
“Starlink was a gamechanger allowing us all to coordinate response over long distances,” Joyce wrote afterwards. What Joyce did not say was that most, if not all the Starlink terminals involved in the rescue were RV models (now called Starlink Roam) not authorized for use at sea.
The approved Starlink yacht package costs $10,000 for hardware and $5,000 per month for service. Most recreational mariners can’t or won’t pay that much. Instead, they mount a standard Starlink antenna and sign up for Starlink RV service; one-time hardware costs: $599 for the hardware and $135 per month for unlimited-data service. And guess what? It works great.
But there’s a looming issue. Using Starlink offshore goes against its terms of service contract. Without warning, Starlink could institute geo-fencing that would render all those terminals useless anywhere offshore.
Sean Welsh is veteran of Silicon Valley, who now cruises the U.S. East Coast with Starlink. Welsh is Loose Cannon’s go-to guy for informed speculation about Starlink because he keeps up with the company’s filings before the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.
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According to Welsh, Starlink cannot authorize or in any way encourage the use of the RV or land terminals at sea because neither has been approved for marine use by the FCC. If anything, the Raindancer rescue is an argument for somehow “legalizing” all that unauthorized Starlink usage by recreational mariners.
“My hope is that before Starlink geo-fences us to land, they come up with some intermediate plan for recreational users not just ships,” Welsh said.
The life of Rick Rodriguez, who sometimes goes by the handle “Ricki Rod” is something of an open book through his blog and YouTube channels, an older series of videos and a newer one, just begun, whose latest video can viewed below.
Nobody is outing anybody out. Everybody knows what's going on. There's an entire Facebook Group devoted to Starlink on boats, and they talk about this every day.
No argument there, as far as the skipper.