New sailors Jackie and Jerome Hoitinck are sailing the world aboard Lonna, a newly-built hybrid sailing cat. While sailing at night near Brazil, they witnessed a fishing boat capsize. As Johnny-on-the-Spot, they had to make a MAYDAY distress call, but no one responded. Jackie tells their story.

I was sleeping in the cabin when I heard Jerome yelling: “Jackie, come now! A boat has capsized!”

I was immediately up, and upon reaching the cockpit, I heard voices shouting. It felt like we were in a very bad movie – and we were the main characters. I felt an immense weight of responsibility.

Jerome juggled with the genoa, deck lights and engines while keeping me informed. Adrenaline was surging. I walked to the lifelines and shouted into the darkness “Yeaaaah?! Where are you?!” hoping to hear them so we could locate them. The night was pitch black and we couldn’t see a thing. Luckily, the weather was good so we could hear them okay.

Jerome used the VHF for the second time.



This is…etc.”

No response. We were on our own.

Jerome informed me that, earlier, the now-capsized fishing boat had come very close. They probably thought we were another fishing boat. Jerome had given way to them a couple of times so they could pass Lonna safely, but they kept coming until they saw us clearly and veered away after noticing their mistake.

Jerome waved and we continued our course, but as the fishing boat turned away, it happened. We think the boat was heavy with fish, wet fishing gear and crew. The front of the boat was high, but the sides were low, especially this heavily-loaded. The boat turned too sharply, and a wave did the rest, maybe in combination with a shifting load. The fishing boat capsized before Jerome’s eyes!

The fishing boat’s crew was panicking. Because Jerome had to lower the sails first, they probably thought we were leaving them behind. My role was to find them. I used a torch, but the batteries were old, so it wasn’t much help. Instead, we turned on Lonna’s cockpit floodlights.

After a while we saw floating debris everywhere and soon the capsized boat loomed out of the darkness with people on the upturned hull. That was a big relief – at least we’d found them.

Jerome reversed Lonna to get closer, but with all the debris in the water, we had to be careful. Fishing nets, wood, and all sorts of other floating and semi-submerged rubbish could easily foul the props, but more importantly, we didn’t know whether or not there was a person in the water.


One of the men jumped in and swam towards Lonna. I grabbed his hand, and a soaking wet guy came on board. I patted him on the shoulder encouragingly. I asked him how many people were aboard – in Spanish because we don’t know any Portuguese. He understood. There were three crew, one of whom couldn’t swim. For a moment I misunderstood, thinking he meant one was missing, especially since he was peering under Lonna.

To rescue the non-swimmer, we used our life sling, which is attached to the stern. The man we’d just saved swam it back to the capsized boat and the guy who could not swim grabbed the sling, took a deep breath, and jumped into the sea. He was not using the sling correctly, but he made it. The third person came the same way.

It was surreal. Soaking wet and shivering, there they were. I grabbed a pile of towels and gave them around. Jerome gave the VHF to the person who was acting like the ‘captain’, and he immediately began talking to one of his colleagues. We know this because another fishing boat would later pick them up. At least he got response, unlike us!

One of the guys was not doing so well, so I took him inside with another towel and a very thick blanket around his shoulders. We gave them each a glass of water while the captain kept chatting on the VHF.

The first plan was to take them to their home port, 27nm from our location. It was a little daunting in the pitch dark (moonlight after midnight only) – and where would we go from there? Luckily, after more VHF chatter the captain came up with a different plan. Another fishing boat would pick them up. We were sort of relieved.

In the dark we saw a tiny light coming towards us. The fishing boat made contact by using his lights to send signals and we replied using the spreader lights. Two of ‘our’ fishermen were at the front of Lonna waving; the third was still below but doing much better by now. Jerome took two fenders out of a locker, but they were not needed. The fishing boat came up to our stern with its lights on and they threw a life buoy ring on a rope to transfer the men between the boats.

Before they left, each of them thanked us. This was a very special moment with heartfelt hugs – quite different to those we normally get. We couldn’t speak each other’s languages, but those moments said it all.


I asked if I could take a photo of them, and they happily agreed. After that, they jumped one after the other into the sea, grabbing the life ring so the men on the other boat could haul them in.

Off they went, hoping to return to the place where it all happened, probably to see what they could salvage. We felt for them.

We waved, and with a “Ciao,” it was over.

We talked about this a lot afterwards.

What did we learn? First and foremost, to be better prepared for situations like this.

We thought we were safe with all our equipment, but I now know everything is relative – bad things can happen no matter how well prepared you are. The language was a big barrier. We are not native English speakers, but we do know the VHF ‘language,’ so we assumed that other people would know it too. How wrong we were! Perhaps it would be prudent to prepare some sentences in the local language to use in case of emergency?

We realised that rescuing someone at sea is not easy, especially at night. The capsize happened next to our boat, but it still took us around 15 minutes to get the boat’s crew safely on board. We also wonder how many fishermen are not as lucky as this crew were in having a sailing catamaran next to them when they capsized. We don’t want to know that answer.