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Family missing at sea: Hoax or not, a lesson to foolproof family ventures

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(Read caption) The Coast Guard called off a search for a family missing at sea after a two day search effort came up with nothing. Either the Pacific Ocean swallowed the family whole, or the distress calls on Sunday afternoon were a hoax.
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While the US Coast Guard suspended its search today for a missing family at sea thought to have been lost aboard a 29-foot sailboat Sunday, suggesting either the whole thing is a hoax or the Pacific Ocean had taken them for good, I am reminded of the times I  lived aboard a sailboat with my husband and kids. We worried our loved ones to pieces as we had the adventures of a lifetime with our sons.

The crackling, garbled, weak radio distress calls — now being considered a “possible hoax” by the USCG —  made from 65 miles off shore and received by the USCG were believed to be coming from a distressed 29-foot sailboat, Charmblow, that was carrying a couple and two children, ages eight and four, says USCG Monterey Bay Station’s Executive Officer Noah Hudson. The USCG was able to pinpoint one of the initial distress calls using a Rescue 21 radio-only line of bearing as coming from the sea, Hudson says.

No sailboat named Charmblow is registered with the federal boat registry, nor had any boat by that name been to call at any marinas along the entire West Coast, Hudson says.

“It’s never an easy decision to suspend a search,” Hudson says. Of the veracity of the radio emergency calls Hudson added, “I’ve heard distress calls that sounded real and very emotional and turned out to be hoaxes and some that sounded completely fake and turned out to be the real thing. That’s why we take them all very seriously.”

My husband and I have been out there on the water with two toddlers, in bad weather, underprepared, and like this couple (real or imagined) without a life boat or emergency position indicating radio beacon, or EPIRB. We were stupid and we learned fast that as wonderful as the adventure can be, it could become terrifying in an instant.

We “lived on the hook,” meaning we were always short on cash and anchored off a town, touching the marinas only as a drive-thru for groceries and diapers.

In fact, I will never forget sailing from Pine Island, Fla. to Key West aboard our Jim Brown designed 37-foot trimaran with two pre-schoolers. We hit a poorly forecast tropical depression on the way back from the Keys.


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