December 9, 2010

Lost at sea

Raw Faith, a sailing ship built in Maine, sinks after taking on water off the coast of Massachusetts.

From staff and news services

The tumultuous journey of Raw Faith ended Wednesday as the three-masted sailing ship that was built by its captain in Down East Maine sank in about 6,000 feet of water off Nantucket, Mass.

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Sea smoke drifts by the Raw Faith in Rockland, Maine, In this Jan. 16, 2009, photo.


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Raw Faith sank in approximately 6,000 feet of water off Nantucket, Mass., on Wednesday. The Coast Guard rescued the only two people aboard the ship Tuesday after it began taking on water in rough seas.

Courtesy Coast Guard Cutter Reliance crew

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George McKay and his son Robert McKay were the only people on board Tuesday when the ship, battered by 25-knot winds and seas of 10 to 15 feet, began taking on water 166 miles southeast of Nantucket.

The Coast Guard rescued the McKays around 2:20 p.m. by having both men jump off the ship into the ocean. The men were placed in a bucket by a Coast Guard swimmer and hoisted into a helicopter. Neither man was injured.

The Kittery-based cutter Reliance remained with the 118-foot-long ship until it sank at around 7:36 a.m. Wednesday.

There is no plan to salvage the ship, said Coast Guard spokeswoman Connie Terrell.

Raw Faith had left Salem, Mass., on Saturday, bound for Bermuda. McKay did not return calls to his cell phone, and no one else could say Wednesday why he was headed for Bermuda.

It also was unclear if the weather exceeded the hand-built vessel's limitations. "With this being a nonstandard vessel, it's hard to say what its weather limitations were," Terrell said.

Over the course of four years, McKay and his three sons built Raw Faith in Addison in the style of a 16th-century galleon, without an engine. The ship was designed to accommodate people with disabilities.

McKay was inspired by his oldest child, Elizabeth, who uses a wheelchair because of Marfan syndrome, a genetic condition.

In 2004, the Coast Guard ordered improvements to the ship after it became disabled in a gale on Thanksgiving Day and had to be towed to Rockland for lengthy repairs.

Two years later, the ship lost all three masts in a storm off Maine's Mount Desert Rock. Once again, it was towed to Rockland.

The Coast Guard had concerns about the seaworthiness of the vessel, including construction that didn't meet federal standards for passenger vessels.

The Coast Guard also pressed McKay to get safety equipment, including the emergency radio beacon that was used when the ship got into trouble off Nantucket.

Terrell said the Coast Guard dropped off a survival suit because there was only one aboard.

"(McKay's) vision was to take this out to give sailing experiences to handicapped or underprivileged children. ... However, the vessel would never have been certificated," said Cmdr. Derek Dostie, the Coast Guard's top marine safety official in Maine.

Two former crew members said it was a blessing that no one was killed.

Danny Sicotte of New Harbor was Raw Faith's cook for nearly three years before leaving in 2008. While he embraced the mission, he said it could be hard to work with McKay.

"George was not one to take advice from his crew members. Once he had his mind made up, no one was going to change it," Sicotte said.

Sicotte said McKay talked about sailing to Bermuda back when he was the ship's cook.

"I feel it was reckless to go out to sea with just two people on board," Sicotte said of Raw Faith's final trip. "I thank God there were no handicapped children on board. I'm sorry it had to end this way, but maybe it's for the best."

Charles Brugh, Raw Faith's former executive officer, left the ship after only five months. Brugh was on board on Thanksgiving Day in 2004, when the ship was towed to Rockland.

"I'm just glad I made it off that ship alive,"said Brugh, who now lives in Florida. "I'm glad no one was killed."

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.


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