NORFOLK, Virginia (AP) — Three people and a dog were rescued Friday from a life raft in the Atlantic Ocean about 900 miles (1,450 kilometers) northeast of Bermuda after their sailboat sank in a storm, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
The 49-foot (15-meter) sailboat Blue Pearl sank Thursday evening after being badly battered from two days of storms, according to an audio recording with the sailboat's captain posted by the Coast Guard.
"We were preparing to die," said 55-year-old Leonard Rorke, a citizen of the United Kingdom who is the sailboat's owner.
Also rescued were 29-year-old Henri Worthalter of Belgium, 50-year-old Lisa Rorke of the UK and Dexter, a Jack Russell Terrier.
Coast Guard officials were notified Thursday by the International Rescue Center after a message came in saying people were in a life raft and needed help. Coast Guard watch standers in Portsmouth, Virginia, issued a call for help about 6:30 p.m. to any commercial ships in the vicinity of the life raft. Three ships answered the call and diverted their course to aid in the search.
The sailboat's crew had an electronic position-indicating radio beacon in the life raft that allowed the Coast Guard to direct ships toward their location. Rorke said there was poor visibility, 25-foot waves and winds reaching about 40 miles per hour. He also said the life raft had to be patched up and that they were holding on "for dear life."
"We were bailing water. It was life and death," he said in the recording of the rescue's debriefing. "We're very grateful. We are very, very lucky."
Rorke said the sailboat sank after the bulkhead broke up and the vessel began taking on water.
"We had lost everything," he said.
The ordeal ended about 12:30 a.m. after the Tilda Kosan diverted course from its planned trip to Mexico. The ship found the life raft after making three passes in dark, stormy conditions. It was about 36 miles away from the life raft when it first joined the search.
Rorke had high praise for the Coast Guard, which coordinated the rescue.
"They were fantastic, absolutely fantastic. They didn't play around. They were super quick," he said.
Time was of the essence. The radio beacon only lasts for about 48 hours.
"The presence and proper activation of the emergency position indicating radio beacon was instrumental in saving the crewmembers of the Blue Pearl," Petty Officer 1st Class James Hines, a search and rescue controller at the 5th District Command Center in Portsmouth, said in a statement. "This stresses the importance of a properly registered EPIRB, which provided us with an emergency point of contact and information on the boat."
The Tilda Kosan plans to take the sailboat's crew and its dog to Bermuda.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis