Mountain View Voice

News - September 16, 2011

Local swimmers abandon ship in Hawaii

MV team escapes fast-sinking vessel off coast of Lanai

by Nick Veronin

A boat carrying six swimmers from a Mountain View open-ocean, competitive swimming team sank suddenly in choppy conditions between the Hawaiian islands of Lanai and Maui on Sept.9.

All 11 people aboard, including the swimmers from the Mountain View Masters Swim Team, their guests, the crew and a young child, made it out of the ship safely and were promptly picked up by other nearby boats. Despite the accident, all members of the team completed the Maui Channel Swim — a 9.5-mile relay race between the two islands.

"On the one hand it's kind of funny," Mountain View Masters swimmer Bob Stenz said with a laugh, "a boat full of swimmers going down." But for Stenz, his wife and others aboard, while the entire incident happened very fast, it was much scarier in retrospect.

"In the moment it was just instinct," said Stenz, a longtime Mountain View resident. But when he thinks back to the boat rapidly tipping backward, the bow rising in the air and water rushing into the cabin where he and his wife were, the scene is much more frightening. "My wife and I were probably in the most peril."

The team got on the boat at about at 6:15 a.m. and set out from Maui to Lanai in a 25-foot fishing vessel. About an hour later, heavy swells were threatening the boat and at about 7:40 a.m. the ship started taking on lots of water, according to Mountain View swimmer Christine Johnson. The race was supposed to begin at 8 a.m., but had been postponed due to the conditions.

The ship sank in a matter of minutes, said Stenz, who was pulling life jackets out of the hull of the boat as it went down. As the boat began to sink he jumped ship, but his wife, Ann Quesinberry, was briefly trapped underneath a shade canopy. According to her, she was completely submerged for a moment and could not move, though she tried. Ultimately, she freed herself and swam to the surface.

"It's disturbing, just thinking about it," said Quesinberry, who sounded perturbed when recounting the accident over the phone.

"You don't expect a boat to go down," said Christine Johnson, another member of the swim team, who was sitting on the bow of the ship as it began to founder. She heard someone from the back of the ship shout, "Jump!" And so she plunged into the water.

The ship's captain, who according to Stenz and Johnson was more focused on saving his vessel than warning his passengers of how much water it was taking on, managed to get his grandson — a child of about 4 or 5 — into a life vest and away from the boat safely. Everyone else, including the captain's son, the rest of the swim team and another non-swimming guest all made it off safely and were quickly picked up by other boats nearby.

The Mountain View Masters swimmers, who called themselves "Team Wiki Wiki" for the relay race, were "adopted" by a team from Oahu. Giving up on the competitive element of the relay race, the Oahu team swam side by side with Stenz, Johnson and the four other Wiki Wiki swimmers, sharing their boat and completing the race together.

"I am glad that the swimmers continued on," Quesinberry said. She was not scared that her husband and his team decided to get back into the same rough waters that had worked sunk their ship. According to Stenz and Johnson, after they were rescued it was very quickly decided that they would push forward with the race.

The Oahu team risked disqualification by adopting the Wiki Wikis, but by that time, Stenz said, completing the relay race was no longer about competition and the prospect of victory. Rather, it was about finishing what they had set out to do — a determination the team from Oahu seemed to understand.

"I love the fact that swimmers are so dedicated," Johnson said, recalling how members of each team tempered their pace so as not to separate from the other team. "They were absolutely fine with it," she said of the team from Oahu. "They were very welcoming."

At the end of the day, the two combined teams finished the swim in just over six hours. Though they are all pleased with how the race went for them, they arrived on the Maui shore to more disconcerting news: a 14-foot tiger shark had been sighted during the race, and in a separate serious incident, a swimmer from Half Moon Bay was gravely injured when he was run over by the propellers of a boat near the finish line.

"Personally, I feel very fortunate," Quesinberry said. "We got off lucky."

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