With a disabled engine, rough seas and sails wrapped around a mast late Sunday and early Monday morning 50 miles off Gloucester’s shores, the crippled Canadian tall ship Liana’s Ransom and the vessel’s crew faced a tragic fate.
But because of a U.S. Coast Guard rescue out of Gloucester and the quick decisions of a young captain, all nine crew members from the Canadian-based pirate ship replica were on land and able to tell their story in Gloucester on Wednesday while their charter vessel — the 85-foot Liana’s Ransom — was towed to a Maine port.
Gloucester is a far cry from the warm temperatures and crystal-clear waters of St. Maarten in the Caribbean, where the crew was headed from Nova Scotia. But all were in good spirits as they sat around a table in George’s of Gloucester early Wednesday afternoon for a late breakfast.
Liana’s Ransom, meanwhile, was brought to the Kittery Point Yacht Yard in Eliot, Maine, by Towboat USA, according to Capt. Ryan Tilley, 24, and is ready for assessment of its damages, which include a broken mast. The ship had been drifting freely and unmanned from Monday, at the time of its crew’s evacuation, until Wednesday.
A charter ship, Liana’s Ransom gives passengers a taste of a pirate’s life, with powder cannons and a plank to walk, according to Tilley. He said the ship, owned by his family for the past eight years, is insured, but its repairs are expected to top six figures.
“I would say easily in excess of $100,000,” he said.
Tilley and his grandfather, Dave Phelps, who served as the Ransom’s mechanic, were headed to Maine with the rest of the crew later Wednesday. Tilley and Phelps planned to begin to tend to the Ransom while the rest of the crew members — who hail from Canada, Great Britain and Australia, and who all appeared to be around Tilley’s age — were planning to gather their belongings before heading home.
Liana’s Ransom’s mechanical problems began Sunday afternoon, according to Phelps, after she set off from Meteghan, Nova Scotia. Phelps said Tilley approached him with news that the port, or left, engine was losing revolutions per minute.
“It renders the motor inoperative,” Phelps explained. “The loss of the port engine was a setback.”
Luckily, Liana’s Ransom has two engines, and the journey continued with just the starboard, or right, engine. But the Ransom wasn’t making sufficient headway, Phelps said, and Tilley decided to put up one of the sails to try to move the ship forward.
“Unfortunately, when they got it up, it ripped,” Phelps recounted.
Not long after that, Tilley noticed the starboard engine also was beginning to lose RPMs. Adding oil every hour and a half kept the working engine going for a bit.
“It ran pretty good for six hours,” but that’s when the seas began getting “rough,” Phelps said.
Liana’s Ransom was supposed to stop in Cape Cod, Phelps said, but because of the mechanical issues, Phelps and Tilley wondered whether they would make it. That’s when Ryan’s father, Joseph Tilley, contacted the U.S. Coast Guard, which began to monitor the Ransom’s progress.
After a couple of hours of communication, Ryan requested the Coast Guard assist in towing the Ransom to Gloucester.
“After we were under tow for a couple of hours, the physical condition on the deck had deteriorated significantly to the point where a major incident could occur with a loss of life,” Phelps said.
The bowsprit, or nose on the front of the ship, had snapped off, Phelps said. The bowsprit, he said, helps to maintain structural support of the masts through cables. Without it, Phelps and Tilley became concerned that one of the all-steel masts could come crashing down onto the deck, resulting in serious injury or worse.
Tilley then decided to ask the Coast Guard to help him and called for the crew to evacuate. After the crew abandoned ship, on of the masts came crashing down.
While Tilley worked above deck, Phelps split his time between there and the bunks below.
The rest of the crew was being tossed around their bunk area because of rough seas.
With seasickness running rampant for some, Mark McGuire of New Brunswick said he and several others resorted to an all-cracker diet.
If they thought the initial tossing around by the sea was difficult on their stomachs, it only got worse, McGuire said.
News of one of the sails ripping and disabled engines made it to the bunks, he said, which resulted in panic.
“I went to hibernate. I woke up to, ‘The ship’s going down, call your mom,’” Jeremiah Van Wilder of Santa Barbara, California, said.
Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. But the decision to evacuate did result in a literal leap of faith by the crew.
One of the two 47-foot Coast Guard motor lifeboats pulled up alongside the Ransom while a helicopter hovered in the cloudy skies above.
Each crew member was told to put on an immersion suit and wait below decks until they were asked, one by one, to go onto the Ransom’s deck and jump onto the Coast Guard boat.
Though a Coast Guard video from the rescue shows each of the boats rocking wildly during the rescue, eight of the nine crew members were able to successfully make the jump. Luke Arbuckle of Prince Edward Island hit his head on the Coast Guard boat before falling overboard.
Arbuckle said the two vessels separated farther midleap, resulting in the painful and wet landing.
“I saw him bobbing around out there,” McGuire said before the Coast Guard reeled Arbuckle into safety.
Luckily, the incident resulted in only a minor concussion, for which he was treated at Massachusetts General Hospital.
The rest of the crew was brought back to Gloucester; crew members stayed at the Captain’s Lodge for the rest of Monday night through checking out Wednesday morning.
Pirate ship repairs
Phelps and Tilley plan to stay in Maine while Liana’s Ransom is assessed and repaired, the captain said.
Once repaired, Tilley said the crew will be invited back to finish the journey down to St. Maarten.
Eight-year owners of the Ransom, Tilley said he and the crew dress up as pirates for passengers. Guests are able to watch powder cannons being fired and get a chance to walk the plank, among other pirate-like escapades.
The ship was built to look like the ones used by privateers and pirates in the 1700s and early 1800s, according to its website.
Tilley praised the Coast Guard’s efforts throughout the entire ordeal.
“My crew and I are all incredibly grateful that the Coast Guard came,” he said. “They were nice to us during the whole thing.”
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