The Rescue of Bela Bartok

Due to a medical emergency, Bela Bartok, a Vindo 40, was abandoned during last summer's Singlehanded TransPac, but quick thinking, excellent seamanship, a Monitor windvane, and a lot of luck came together to save the boat.

November 27, 2012


Before abandoning ship, Derk Wolmuth trimmed his jib and engaged his wind vane and Bela Bartok sailed onward. Ronnie Simpson

**A letter to the editor of Latitude 38 from Hans Bernwall, president of Scanmar International: **

September 5, 2012

“I just came back from vacation in Sweden when your August issue landed on my desk and I could read your story about the amazing rescue of both the skipper, Derk Wolmuth and his boat Bela Bartok in the Single-handed Transpac. I have worked with these sailors since the race was started many years ago. The story was fascinating for Scanmar since we manufacture the Monitor windvane, which steered the ‘ghost’ boat 450 nautical miles without a skipper on board. I believe that this was a first in windvane self-steering history but when I started to look into the matter the story got even better.


I called Derk who answered from his boat in Hawai’i. He was back in good health and filled me in on some of the details. Derk mentioned that he believed that the containership captain, Thomas Crawford, also had a small sailboat and it was equipped with the same self-steering device, a Monitor windvane.

Scanmar checked their records and found out that Captain Thomas Crawford of Lopez Island in Washington State had purchased a unit for his 31 ft Mariah at the 1994 Seattle Boat show. How is this for coincidence; the Captain of a 860 foot containership is also an accomplished small-boat sailor with his own a 31-foot boat and he goes to save a stricken single-handed sailor with a similar kind of boat and equipment.

I called the captain of the containership and Captain Thomas Crawford was kind enough to write the following letter which he has given permission to publish in its entirety.”


It was nice talking to you and you are so correct about good news as opposed to bad. The below is a copy of the report I sent to the MOKIHANA‘s owner and operator Matson Navigation Company after much prodding from them. I try to fly under the radar as much as possible but sometimes that does not always work out.

In the rescue response the paramount goal was to save Derk.

Once he mentioned that Bela had a MONITOR, my second goal was to try and get her to the islands. Murphy was someplace else, thankfully. When I asked Derk over the VHF if he wanted to save his boat he probably thought I was nuts as his problem was staying alive. When he answered in the affirmative, I gave him a laundry list of tasks to complete prior to pickup and had him secure his trim for a SWxW reach and adjust his MONITOR to maintain it and avoid using the engine unless he wanted to bail out of the deal. Once he had that and the remainder of the list squared away the long and tedious task of keeping MOKIHANA on a parallel course and slow enough to claw up alongside Bela, started. It felt like hours of engine orders and helm orders from my perspective as MOKIHANA is a rather odd duck with regards to windage (hermaphrodite rig describes her well) and needs copious amounts of water past the rudder to counter the wind effect and to keep from getting weather cocked or in irons. The minimum engine speed is 7 knots so clawing too fast just complicates things.


When Bela entered MOKIHANA‘s wind shadow, Bela was like a cork. Derk kept his cool when many people might have panicked. If he had tinkered with the vane or helm adjustment and trim during the period that MOKIHANA was on near approach and blocking the wind I don’t think Bela would be in Honolulu today. That was the critical part of the salvage, planning for the post-rescue passage. The bow thruster wash was used to capture Bela, keep her from moving away from the hull and for washing her aft as the crew passed and hauled on gantlines secured to her bow and stern. Somehow, that worked. During the rescue transfer the wind had carried MOKIHANA with Bela alongside to an easterly heading. After Derk was aboard it was necessary to get Bela headed for Hawaii. Gantline hauling, engine, helm and bow thruster were used to get her headed in the right direction again.

When Bela was cast off I had her heading 235 degrees T and gathering speed with the MONITOR vane working like nothing ever happened. The radar plot had her up to 3 knots by the time contact was lost.

The dead reckoned transit expected was for Bela to make the islands someplace between west Maui and Kauai based on currents, prevailing and forecast winds sometime Thursday the 19th. When the word came that she was recovered north of Maui the morning of the 19th, high fives were numerous. Derk had walked down the gangway in Oakland the night before under his own steam. So, both goals were accomplished. Derk was alive and mending and his home was safe in Oahu. Many people working towards a number of goals made for an amazing outcome. Not a Mars landing but not that far removed for a bunch of people unknown to each other and with no planning or rehearsal.


I read in an online report sent to me that numerous lines were found adrift on Bela and her prop was fouled when she was recovered. At least two, the largest two, were the gantlines MOKIHANA used to bring Bela alongside for Derk’s transfer and the point of sail positioning for the subsequent attempt to get her to Hawai’i. They were cut as short as possible when Bela was cast off on her solo-solo passage to Maui. I was worried they might foul the Monitor oar on the transit and felt sure the prop would be fouled by the headline gantline regardless. As it turned out, the prop was fouled and that might have prevented the oar from being fouled by coincidence. Murphy was someplace else, again.

My compliments on the MONITOR. It is a very cleverly designed and superbly seaworthy piece of equipment. If I did not have one I would buy one. A cruiser without a MONITOR is like a sailor without a knife, etc.
Tom Crawford

The following was added in a memo to the owners of the container ship:
Derk Wolmuth is a very lucky man by all indications. Good weather ceased 12 hours after his pickup; he had the good sense to call for help in time. He received excellent attention from the MOKIHANA‘s medical officer, Todd Campbell. He was lucky enough to encounter the MOKIHANA and her superb and thoughtful crew. The icing on the cake was the recovery of his sail vessel and home, the_ Bela Bartok_, on the morning of July 19th still on a course of 235 T at 3.7 knots approximately 15 miles north of Maui by a salvage team put together by the Transpac contenders. He has good friends. He has physically recovered from his illness as of this writing and is back aboard the Bela Bartok in Ke’ehi Harbor on Sand Island and happy to be alive.

The potential for such a rescue to go wrong is always there. The training, experience, teamwork and seamanship of the crew of the MOKIHANA reduced that potential to near zero.

Comment from the MONITOR side:
This is a fantastic sea story and an amazing example of coincidence, luck, skill and seamanship and in a world full of negative news this feel good story deserves to be told in detail in my opinion. I personally would like to find a way to way to nominate Captain Tom Crawford and his crew for the SEAMANSHIP OF THE DECADE AWARD if there is such a thing. I have a feeling that quite a few Masters of large containerships could have lost both boat and skipper in their effort to do this rescue operation. The Matson line should be proud of having such a Master on one of their ships.
Hans Bernwall
President/owner and circumnavigator 1970 – 76 BGPS (before GPS)
Point Richmond, CA.


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