Three Cruisers, Including 9-Year-Old, Saved in Dramatic Rescue

West James beamed as he showed off a new entry in his journal. “I survived a dangerous rescue.”

James, his father, and uncle were attempting their first voyage across the Pacific in a sailboat when rough seas damaged their boat hundreds of miles from land.

Some 30 hours earlier, the 9-year-old, along with his father and uncle, was plucked from the Pacific Ocean in a harrowing rescue made all the more difficult by a container ship that came to their aid — but capsized their disabled sailboat.

“It was scary. I thought we were going to die,” West said Thursday in Honolulu.

A series of mishaps over five days left West, his 32-year-old father Bradley James, and 29-year-old uncle Mitchell James drifting in their boat about 340 miles away from Oahu. It also was storming — one of several bursts of bad weather the three encountered since they’d set sail for Hawaii from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on Jan. 11.

“There were waves crashing all over the place. We had no engine. We had no sail,” Brad James said, describing the last few hours aboard his younger brother’s sailboat. They had a leaky exhaust, a broken water pipe, an overheating engine, and ultimately a snapped mast, which made sailing to land impossible.

It was their first time crossing the ocean, but the trio from Edmonton, Canada, were experienced sailors and had come equipped. A working satellite phone helped them reach the U.S. Coast Guard, which redirected a commercial ship from about 150 miles away.

By early Wednesday, the Horizon Reliance was in sight of the stranded sailors.

As the 900-foot ship maneuvered into position, James’ 39-foot sailboat bounced off it. Then two massive waves — 25 to 30 feet, Brad James estimated — forced the big ship’s bow onto the sailboat.

“It just crushed it,” Brad James said.

Less than two minutes later, the sailboat sank and the three were in the water with the life jackets and headlamps the Coast Guard had instructed them to put on.

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