Portland Baked Beans Helped Crew Survive Harrowing Sea Journey
The Portland Sun
By Timothy Gillis
James Moore, a Portland native and an experienced sailor, was about 350 miles out in the Atlantic Ocean, east of Virginia Beach, when he encountered 25-foot breaking waves, 40-mph winds, lightning storms, and near-zero visibility. He was sure these moments were going to be his last.
“There was a 36-hour period where I thought we were going to die,” he said this week. “The thoughts range from the minute, like ‘what can I do right now to help our survival?’ to the profoundly existential – the people you love – the decisions you made. Every decision you made before you left land may have been your last.”
Earlier, when Sean Monesson, 40, and his father Larry, 60, asked Moore to sail Sean’s boat, the Elusive, to Panama to connect with Sean’s wife, it seemed like an ideal way to pick up valuable sea time in order for Moore to get his captain’s license. The boat had been harbored in New Jersey. Sean’s wife had moved to Panama, and he wanted to take his sailboat, which he lives on, there to be with her. The intended route was to head to Bermuda and then hit Panama at the canal. On the morning of May 20, at around 10 a.m., the crew began to encounter a large low-pressure system.
“There were huge waves, winds, no visibility, sheets of lightning,” Moore said. “I stopped trying to navigate to any place and just tried to survive. My intention was to make it back to the East Coast, but it became impossible.”
The boat had experienced a rigging failure and an engine failure. There was plenty of food on board, but cooking in 25-foot waves presents unique circumstances, Moore said.
“At that point, I’d been up for 30 hours straight, working on the ship. I found a large can of maple B&M beans. I thought this was something I could cook and make warm. It took me 30 minutes to open the can and heat it up. I got it into three bowls. It was the first hot food we’d had in a long time, and the last food we had before we abandoned the ship.”
After a 600-foot Norwegian tanker responded to a Coast Guard emergency broadcast, Moore and the Monessons were rescued.
“I had about three minutes before the tanker rescue,” Moore said. “I called my parents just in case — to say goodbye. Tanker rescues are not always successful. It was an emotionally difficult call for a father and mother.”
The tanker took them to its previously planned port of call in North Carolina, with the rescue not altering its destination or affecting its arrival time. Moore has cousins in Raleigh, so there was an impromptu family reunion. Before returning to New York City, he flew back to his parents in Portland.
“I went back to apologize, for putting them through that,” he said. “I helped my mom put in a garden and went sailing with my dad.”
Moore has always been on the water, growing up in Readfield where he was within walking distance of three lakes.
“I grew up swimming, canoeing, and kayaking,” he said. “My parents live in Portland and have a boat at the marina next to the B&M factory.” Moore owns a 30-foot Alberg sailboat named Apollo.
After connecting with his loved ones after the rescue, Moore sat down and penned a thank you letter to B&G Foods, the parent company of B&M Beans.
“It may seem a little eccentric, but I was appreciative. I wanted to apologize or thank anyone who played a role in getting us out of there alive,” he said.
He spoke of his plight this week, after returning with a crew of six from delivering a boat called the Avra from the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club in Bermuda to Brewer Yacht Yard in Glen Cove, New York. He saw the more recent voyage as a way to get back on the horse, as it were, by getting back in the boat. It was the same run line where he had to abandon ship.
“It’s the first time anything like that has happened to me,” Moore said. “Some of the greatest sailors in the world have also lost their sailboats. Bermuda was colonized after a shipwreck. In retrospect, we got everyone off that boat. We didn’t injure any of the rescuers. If everyone is alive and not missing any limbs, that’s a success. Boats can be replaced; humans can’t.”
Although the experience may have prematurely aged him, Moore wanted to point out an inaccuracy of the Coast Guard report.
“They said I’m 40. I’m only 30.”