Rescued Rower Discusses Experience on Open Sea

Two women competing in an international Atlantic Ocean rowing competition were recently rescued after their boat capsized in open waters. The women spent 16 hours clinging to their boat before being rescued by a tall ship. One of the women, Sarah Kessans, talks about her experience.

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MICHELLE BLOCK, host:

A capsized wooden rowboat, a rescue by a tall ship, sounds like the stuff of 18th-century maritime legend, but it happened just this week. Two young women had rowed 1,400 miles in the Woodvale Atlantic Race when their boat was flipped. They clung to the hull of the boat for more than 16 hours. Sarah Kessans and Emily Kohl were in the cabin of their 24-foot-long rowboat when they were hit by a large rogue wave in rough weather.

Sarah Kessans told us she set off an emergency beacon as the water level reached their heads, then she was able to swim out.

SARAH KESSANS (Rescued Rower): Well I went out first, and I was able to just basically swim freely from the cabin to the outside of the boat where I clung on to the grab lines that are connected to both sides of the hull, and they are basically there for emergencies. And hung on, just, you know, just tightly as I could and waited for Emily to come outside the cabin. Unbeknownst to me she'd actually gotten tangled up in our emergency grab lines. I was pretty scared, you know, standing outside the boat, I wasn't sure what was going on with her. But eventually she got herself free and was able to get herself on to the top of the boat.

BLOCK: Well, tell me about the more than 16 hours that you two women spent on top of that boat.

KESSANS: The first couple of minutes we spent, I was underneath the boat, I went back underneath the boat and untangled our life jackets and put one on and then threw one up to Emily. And then Emily was able to take the grab line and put that over the boat and have something to cling on to, cause once I got everything out from underneath the boat, we clipped ourselves together and Emily held onto the grab lines and the first hour or so we were just happy to be together and happy to be alive. It was a long 16 hours, but we kept each other up. Telling each other stories, telling each other jokes, singing, anything to keep each other's morale high.

BLOCK: You at this point I guess, wouldn't have known whether anybody would have seen your signal or whether any help was on the way.

KESSANS: No, we had no clue. That was one of the biggest points of uncertainty. Our satellite phone went out as soon as we hit the water, our VHS went out, so the EPERB was our only change of hope. And it was flashing, but we weren't sure if anybody had picked up the signal or not, and since we hadn't seen a boat in over two weeks, we really didn't know if there was any help in the area.

BLOCK: EPERB is the rescue beacon?

KESSANS: Yes.

BLOCK: Well, when, when did you realize that someone did know where you were and that you were going to be rescued?

KESSANS: About 14 hours after we had set off EPERB after our capsize, we were looking around and saw a light on the horizon. And our morale just shot up sky high and we were real happy and we're like great, you know, there is somebody coming after us. But sitting up was pretty cold and so, you know, after about 15 minutes, we realized the boat was getting closer so we laid back down to just try to get warmer again.

About 15 minutes after that, Emily got up to see where the boat was and we couldn't see the light, which was very demoralizing. About half an hour to an hour after that though, we saw a light in the sky and we hadn't seen a plane for 46 days, so it was kind of, you know, we got hopeful with that. And the plane actually started circling. But after a few circles, it passed right over the top of us and dropped an orange flare and after it dropped the flare, the boat started to come closer again and that's when we knew that we were definitely going to be rescued.

BLOCK: And it sounds like that boat was quite a sight coming towards you.

KESSANS: It was absolutely amazing, yeah. As it was dawning and getting lighter and the boat got closer, we weren't exactly sure what kind of boat it was and we figured it might be a Coast Guard plane so we were figuring maybe it was a Coast Guard Cutter or a Carrier or something and all I could see was two huge masts, lots of rigging. Unlike any boat we'd really ever seen before.

(Soundbite of laughter)

You know, our minds conjured images of pirate ships or, you know, different boats like that, and we just had no kind of clue what kind of rescue we were in for.

BLOCK: And you're still on that boat now I take it?

KESSANS: That's correct, yep.

BLOCK: Well despite everything that's happened to you, would you do this race again?

KESSANS: Yes. Actually, that's one of the biggest things. Both Emily and I are very determined people and we don't want to start something that we're not going to finish. So the next race is in two years, we're looking to definitely represent the country and go out there and break some records again.

BLOCK: Well, Sarah Kessans glad that you're safe. Best of luck to your partner and thanks for talking with us.

KESSANS: Thank you very much, we appreciate it.

BLOCK: Twenty-two-year-old Sarah Kessans talking with us from the Tall ship Stavros S Niarchos, headed toward the Windward Islands in the Caribbean.

(Soundbite of music)

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