Rescue at Sea: Adventure of Celebrity Century Cruise October 2011


Jack Cumming and Others


This is a story that began with an announcement and we’d like you to experience it as we did.  The point of the story isn’t its content, as interesting as that may be.  The point of the story is the fallacy of human observation.  This is a critical understanding for our time in which judicial proceedings tend to turn on the testimony of witnesses even as the science is telling us that witness accounts are notoriously unreliable.  The tale of our participation in a rescue at sea will make this clear for all. 


Our tale begins uneventfully with a cruise.  A cadre of Carlsbad by the Sea (CBTS) residents set out together to cruise to Hawaii and back.  It was to be a time of relaxation, a time of camaraderie.  And it was all that and more.  We were four days at sea, and it was noontime, when the Greek-accented voice of the Captain came over the address system.  This was not unusual in itself.  It is the Captain’s custom to give a noon report detailing where the ship is, how much water is under the keel, what the weather is like, and routine details like that.  But this announcement was anything but routine.  The Captain announced that our ship had been contacted by the U. S. Coast Guard at Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, and assigned to speed to the rescue of sailors in distress.  Our Captain told us that the captain of the stricken vessel had received life-threatening injuries.


We learned that the rescue effort would require 24 hours or more and that we would miss a stop at one of our destination ports, Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, as a result.  Rumors soon swirled all over the ship and we listened to all of them.  After all, we were at sea with little better to do than to participate in the intense speculation about the events that had changed our course, causing our ship to assume a new vector at an acute angle from the original line of the cruise.   We were to steam 12 hours to the north and east (our journey had been steadily south and west), to rendezvous with the stricken vessel, and to bring those in danger safely aboard our ship from where we would transport them to our destination port of Hilo, Hawaii, Hawaii.


As word of what was happening at sea spread to those still on shore at CBTS they wanted to know all the details as we were experiencing them on the ship.  The following exchanges resulted.  This will allow you to experience the event chronologically just as we experienced them.



From: Jack Cumming

Sent: Saturday, October 08, 2011 7:53 PM

To: 'Don Harvey'

Subject: Rescue at sea


Hi, Don,


Corinne said that you were interested in our rescue at sea mission.  I don’t know that I’m the best reporter.  Mary Killeen seems to have had the best vantage point.  She stayed in their cabin while Ray and Doug Richie were up on deck.  At it happened the entire thing took place right outside Mary’s cabin window.  She was able to lie in bed, with pillows to prop up her head, and with an eagle’s eye view of the operation.


Here’s the tale as best I can piece it together.  It took us 12 hours each way at full steam to the rescue point and to return to our track.  Thus the operation took a 24 hours out of the cruise and involved an extra 500 miles of journey.  Some reports have it that there was a captain on board the sailing ship plus three others.  Another report has three people altogether. 


Some reports describe the sailing ship as a wonderful machine worth more than $100,000.  Others describe it as an ancient wreck that shouldn’t have been out on the seas.  I infer that it was a schooner because we are told that one mast was down but that they were sailing with just the one sail that was left to them.  That leads me to infer that it was two-masted but I can’t confirm that.


One report is that the “captain” was elderly and already ailing when they set out but that he had this “on his bucket list” to accomplish before he dies.  Other reports just call him captain.  I asked the Staff Captain on board our ship if the “captain” of the sailing vessel was licensed and he said “yes” though I’m not sure that the Staff Captain’s English was up to the question. 


The name of the sailing ship was “Quantum Leap,” which Valerie interprets as meaning that it was a step up from what the owner had sailed in before… but it made me imagine that the owner may have hit it rich and used his newfound wealth to acquire the ship.  Speculation is rampant in these parts.


Valerie and I slept through most of the actual pickup.  Our cabin is at the stern, right over the stern thrusters, and we’re on the top deck, which causes whiplash intensification of the vibrations, so there was a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.  According to the eye witnesses, including Mary Killeen, the seas were very high in the rescue zone.  The crew told us that there was concern that the rescuers, too, might be in danger.


By all reports our cruise ship situated itself so that the distressed sailing ship was in the lee of the larger ship.  The crew were lowered into a tender and approached the distressed ship carefully to guard against the possibility that the smaller ship might have had pirates or other armed marauders.  That caution proved unneeded and all turned out to be as it was represented to be. 


There was no evidence of U.S. Coast Guard or Navy vessels or aircraft in the area so it’s likely that the U.S. authorities didn’t think that there was a threat, or potential threat, to the cruise ship and its full complement of Americans.  Perhaps the authorities would have been more careful if we had been cruising in the Mediterranean or in other waters thought to be potentially hostile.  In any event I found it interesting that the Greek Captain of our cruise ship, at least, took precautions to protect his ship and his crew.


The tender from the cruise ship circled the stricken ship several times and then moved in alongside it.  The injured yacht captain was taken off on a backboard and transferred to the tender, or so the eye witnesses tell the tale.  The other two (or three) people then came onto the tender and the report is that the last to leave the sailing ship was a young man who was able to spring across the short distance into the tender. 


With that then the tender came up on the larger ship from behind and the two vessels coordinated their speed to be equal.  The tender was brought gently up against the platform that had been lowered from the side of the cruise ship and was tied to the parent vessel.  The injured man was then brought aboard, presumably to the sick bay and what medical attention was available for him on board. 


There was then some more backing and filling involving the various side thrusters; the tender was raised again on its hoist into its traveling position; and finally the cruise ship resumed course toward its destination.  At that point, which was a bit after one in the morning, the cruise director came on the full ship speaker system, including the direct feed into the cabins, to announce that the rescue had been successfully accomplished and that we were now setting sail for Hilo once more.


The sailing ship itself, the Quantum Leap, was abandoned to the waves and people saw it drifting off into the darkness like a ghost ship as we turned and resumed our travels.   Because the cruise ship had to go considerably to the north and back east in the direction from which we had come, we were then in the storm track from Hawaii toward the Pacific Northwest, so the rest of the journey was wet and a bit bumpy.


We’ve now arrived in Hilo.  An ambulance came to meet the ship.  The party of two or three, including the man on a stretcher, were then taken off in the ambulance.  Since there is no hospital of note on the Big Island, it’s likely that the injured, sick man, or sick and injured man has now been transported to Honolulu, where we will be spending tomorrow.  I speak of the unfortunate in this way because the rumors are that he was already old and sick with liver and kidney disease but that he set out on the voyage from San Diego to Hawaii by sailing ship because that was on his bucket list to accomplish before he died. 


Rumors abound.  Some report that he was sick and just go sicker.  Some report that he was sick and got injured, with damage to his liver and kidney.  Some report that he was healthy and got injured when the mast fell.  Some say that he was sick but needed help after the power on the sailing ship gave out and could no longer support his medical equipment needs.  One report is that they ran out of fuel.  They are said to have been about halfway to their destination when fate took its turn.  No one seems to know the details for sure.  The Staff Captain of our ship, the Celebrity Century, only told us that the smaller ship had lost power and needed rescue. 


As an after note, there are several people on board who are intrigued by the possibility of finding the drifting ship and claiming it under Admiralty Law.  I don’t know how that works.  I hope that they’re in better health and better prepared than our unfortunate protagonist if they attempt anything as foolhardy as that.




P.S.  The Captain, Kostas Patsoulas, wrote the following letter to all guests.


October 6, 2011


Dear Celebrity Century Guest,


I am writing to provide you with important information regarding modifications to our scheduled itinerary.


As I mentioned in my earlier announcement, today we were contacted by the U. S. Coast Guard, who requested our assistance in aiding another ship with a medical emergency.  The Captain of that vessel had sustained life-threatening injuries and needed immediate medical attention.  At the time we received the call from the Coast Guard, the ship was located approximately 220 nautical miles from us.


Because of the time spent traveling to the other vessel, and the time and speed needed, it will be necessary to make some modifications to our scheduled itinerary.  We will spend tomorrow at sea and call to Hilo, Hawaii, on Saturday October 8 from 12 Noon to 7:00pm.  Regrettably, we will not be able to call on Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, during our sailing.  However, we will be extending our time in Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, on Sunday, October 9, and will now depart at midnight instead of our originally scheduled time of 11:00pm, so that you may enjoy additional time on the island.  The rest of our itinerary will remain unchanged.


Guests who booked shore excursions in Lahaina, Maui, through Celebrity Cruises, will have those funds refunded to them in the form of a credit to their onboard account.


I sincerely regret the impact this unexpected incident has had on our itinerary, and I thank you for your understanding and cooperation.  We will do everything we can to make the remainder of your sailing as pleasurable as possible.




(Illegible but interesting signature scrawl)



Celebrity Century


This letter was followed a couple of days later with the following:


October 9, 2011


Dear Celebrity Century Guest:


As many of you witnessed, we assisted a vessel in distress whose skipper had sustained life threatening injuries and needed immediate medical attention.  When the Coast Guard contacted us, we were the closest ship to the other sailing vessel, and according to maritime law, all ships are required to assist a vessel in distress.  Due to our crew’s courage and professionalism, we were able to safely transfer the three crew members from the Quantum Leap onto Celebrity Century at night, and in challenging eight food seas.  If you would like see footage taken during the rescue, it will be played on television channel 15 and before tonight’s shows in the Celebrity Theater.


Regrettably, because of the time spent traveling to the other vessel, and the time and speed needed, it was necessary to make some modifications to our scheduled itinerary, and we were not able to call on Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, during our sailing.  Like you, we were very disappointed that we were unable to call on Lahaina, Maui.  But we are delighted that we were able to assist the skipper of the other vessel, and provide him with life-saving medical assistance.  Thankfully, he is doing well and I know you will join me in keeping him in our thoughts and prayers.


As a gesture of goodwill, and to thank you for your understanding of this unexpected, but necessary rescue, Celebrity Cruises will provide your stateroom with a $100 onboard credit.  This credit will be applied directly to your onboard account and may be used for an onboard purchase or service.


Again, I sincerely regret the impact this unexpected incident has had on our itinerary, and I thank you for your understanding and cooperation.  We will do everything we can to make the remainder of your sailing as pleasurable as possible.



(Illegible but interesting signature scrawl)



Celebrity Century


From: Jack Cumming
To: 'Corinne Sawyer'
Cc: 'Don Harvey'
Sent: Tuesday, October 11, 2011 12:10 AM
Subject: Rescue


They just showed video of the Rescue at Sea which is nothing like the pack of rumors that I shared with you earlier.  I filmed it from the TV in our stateroom.  The resulting video is too large a file to send from the ship as a video. 


In brief the distressed vessel seems like a small sailboat that is fully intact, though without onboard power for lights etc.  The older man was not carried abroad but came across like any elderly person would.  He seemed to be a man in his early 80s.  A second man might have been about 70 and then there was younger man about 30.  All of them were ambulatory.

Here is the Video

;The Floundering Ship The stricken sailing captain
The ailing man safe at last The two crew of Quantum Leap prepare to abandon shiip



From: Don Harvey
Sent: Tuesday, October 11, 2011 3:32 PM
To: Jack Cumming
Subject: Re: Rescue

Jack, this episode would make a great story for Spectrum. Can I count on you to write it or con someone else?

Don Harvey


From: Jack Cumming
Sent: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 10:20 AM
To: 'Don Harvey'
Subject: RE: Rescue


That’s a good idea.  It will be done.



Conclusions. This is a story of compassion and heroism and human responsiveness.  It is a tale of mankind’s capacity to reach out to the remotest parts of our globe to help those who need our help. 


It is a tale of our capabilities as humans.  But it is also a tale of our limitations as observers and as arbiters of events that touch us.  It is extraordinary how many unfounded rumors, and opinions, and judgments were made.  Some judged that those in distress had themselves to blame and should be left to their own devices.  Others judged that we all overreach in our quest to excel and that the aspirations of the human spirit toward that which is difficult to achieve is part of human greatness.


It’s clear that the reliability of witnesses should always be approached with skepticism.  It suggests that proceedings based solely on countervailing opinions with witnesses divided into adversarial categories as is done daily in our courts should be reconsidered to see if we can’t develop a better system of inquiry, perhaps along the lines of the strictly scientific investigations for which the National Transportation Safety Board has been known.



Here’s a news account of the event which we stumbled on after the above was written.




Captain's nightmare at sea

Sunday, October 9 1:09 am

Description: Captain's nightmare at sea


Tribune-Herald staff writer

Enduring airport security, confining seats and a long flight across the Pacific Ocean are appealing to Washington resident Phillip Johnson, whose arrival in Hilo required a Quantum Leap in transportation modes.

"I was under a tremendous amount of stress," Johnson, 62, said of his recent journey.

He arrived around noon Saturday and immediately went to Hilo Medical Center to be treated for five broken vertebrae and a cracked rib suffered on his trip from California.

Johnson is not complaining, however, because the outcome could have been much graver.

He, a nephew and another man were rescued at sea Thursday night after the 48-foot yacht Quantum Leap they were transporting to Hilo from San Diego, Calif., lost power about 700 nautical miles northeast of Hilo.

"We were experiencing some heavy weather problems," said the retired U.S. Navy airman with 40 years' sailing experience who was serving as captain of the Quantum Leap.

"We were hit from the side by a wave," Johnson recalled Saturday from the hospital's emergency room. "I was thrown across the cabin in the galley area rather severely."

The two crewmen were uninjured, but the vessel was badly damaged and left without power, he said.

A satellite phone was used to alert the U.S. Coast Guard's Honolulu office, and Johnson was put in contact with a flight surgeon who suggested he needed medical attention as soon as possible.

But the Quantum Leap was too far away for an air rescue, so the Coast Guard put out a call to all mariners. The Celebrity Century cruise ship answered that call.

"We were very appreciative of that," Johnson said, noting he was aware the cruise ship, which was carrying 1,814 passengers and 800 crew, had to divert from its normal sea lane to rendezvous with the Quantum Leap and make a nighttime rescue on the open ocean.

"That lifeboat crew, I've never seen anyone as adept at boat-handling," Johnson said, adding his rescuers were "superb mariners."

He was treated by the ship's doctor and was allowed to stay in a stateroom.

"They were just incredibly competent," Johnson said.

Still, the experience was not without drama.

"There was some excitement, but it was incredibly efficiently carried out," he said, still suffering from a stress-caused rash on his left shoulder and neck area.

Johnson had to notify the boat's owner, providing the coordinates where the vessel was abandoned since the other crew members were unable to take over as captain.

The Quantum Leap, which Johnson described as a "very high quality," all-aluminum vessel, is now adrift on the world's largest ocean.

As for himself, Johnson said he plans to spend a few days recovering in Hilo after being treated and released from the hospital Saturday evening.

"I'm in pain still and stressed out, but I'm going to be OK," he said.

So will he again try to sail from the West Coast to Hawaii?

"Probably," Johnson said. "I would have to wait awhile before I attempt it again. For a while, I'll have to confine my sailing to coastal California."


10 Responses to Rescue of the Crew of SV Quantum Leap by the Celebrity Century October

  1. team2david says:

    she is a sloop and we lost power for the diesel generator AND aux. generator. so we could not start the engins or power the batteries to charge anything. We had already replaced many other broken things. we might have “limped” into port but then the skipper got injured and he was the only one with SAILING experience. The other crewman and I have only powerboat backgrounds. The coastguard advised us NOT TO CONTINUE!! My only regret was not getting her into port.

  2. wb6jao says:

    One question – we didn’t recognize the specific design, what is she? We do know that she’s Aluminum and we think she was first Registered with the USCG in ’89…

    Warmest Regards,
    Bill Finkelstein and Mary Mack – SV Raptor Dance

  3. wb6jao says:

    The Cruise Directory John did allow us to hold a seminar after you departed where we explained the basics of blue water cruising, what you were doing out there, and what (in a general sense) happened during the rescue. We didn’t have a lot of details other than the press reports which didn’t go into the specifics of the damage to Quantum Leap.

  4. wb6jao says:

    team2david – we’re so sorry you had to go through that ordeal. Those 15 were ignorant idiots. My wife Mary and I did 25,000+ miles over 7 years on our Valiant 50 sailboat and we have great sympathy for your experience. We’re sorry Quantum Leap suffered that damage and you had to abandon ship. We would have liked to buy you (a bunch of) drinks…

  5. team2david says:

    BTW, because of those 15 we were restricted to our rooms till we docked. we would have loved to have thanked each and everyone of the passengers and crew who gave up part of their vacation to help us!!

  6. team2david says:

    I was one of the THREE. would LOVE to hear from the 15or so out of 2000 that were angry because the ship came to get us. If you watch the video you will see the mainsail break loose during the rescue and slam hard over to port. that is one of the many things that kept going wrong on the trip. You can only see on close look that the main sail is LASHED to the mast because all the mast slides were broken.

  7. wb6jao says:

    chouxbijou – did you go to our presentation on cruising in open oceans in small boats where we answered questions about the rescue? It was in the Cinema on Deck 6 at 10:30 on (if memory serves) Wednesday?

    Vetiwitch – the boat “lost power” though the sails still appeared intact. The Captain of Quantum leap said in his newspaper interview that there was “Serious Damage” to the vessel, but it wasn’t obvious what that was from above on the Century.

  8. Vetiwitch says:

    what was wrong with the sailboat?

  9. chouxbijou says:

    I was there too. It was an amazing feat. Kudos to Captain Patsoulas and the rescue team!

  10. KiwiSere says:

    Like clockwork!