The Maritime Mobile Service Network (MMSN) recently served as a critical communication link after the sport fishing vessel Free Spirit put out a “mayday” distress call on VHF marine channel 16 after running into trouble in Mexican waters. Brian Stipak, KF7QCX — skipper of the sailing vessel Ubiquity — heard the May 13 mayday, which advised that the Free Spirit was sinking quickly with four people on board and that all were abandoning ship. Unable to raise coastal stations on his vessel’s VHF radio, Stipak went to the MMSN’s 14.300 MHz frequency. Despite marginal band conditions, he was able to relay a position report to net control station Ken Porter, AC0ML, who had assistance from fellow NCS Scott Roberts, KK4ECR.
“They were taking on water and could not find the source, and were deploying their life raft,” Stipak recounted on his website. “He clearly gave the coordinates for his position, which I plotted and saw [he] was about in the middle of the Sea of Cortez, about 46 nautical miles from me. My VHF communication with him was marginal.” Stipak said that while he could barely hear the MMSN net control, the operator was able to copy the information. The S/V Fathom also heard the mayday and set a course for the distressed boat.
Porter notified the US Coast Guard in San Diego to relay the information to the Mexican Navy, which dispatched a vessel to the Free Spirit’s last-known position. The Coast Guard also tried to raise Ubiquity on 14.300 MHz, but band conditions were changing rapidly, and there was no further contact.
Stipak also was able to get through on his cell phone to the port captain at Puerto Escondido and leave information on the distress call.
“We did not hear from the boat in distress for an hour, the last communication saying they were deploying the life raft. I thought the boat had likely sunk,” Stipak said in his website narrative. “Then, the captain of Free Spirit came on the VHF again saying they had found and stopped the leak, were trying to pump out the boat, could not start the engine, had deployed the life raft, but not abandoned the boat and did not yet want to cancel the mayday.
Roberts later learned via the Coast Guard that the Free Spirit had been towed to the port of San Carlos and that all on board were safe.
“It looks like a great resolution to a very intense situation,” Stipak allowed afterward.
The MMSN is in its 50th year of operation. — Thanks to Jeff Savasta, KB4JKL, MMSN assistant net manager