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Real life drama unfolds over Joana's search

Joana: Boat breakdown and search provides
real-life drama at Tuna Jackpot

WON Staff Writer

CABO SAN LUCAS, BCS -- A photo taken from the start boat shows the Joana headed past Cabo's famous arch, ready to take part in the Los Cabos Tuna Jackpot. Little did the anglers -- Wayne Harmond, Brian Taylor, Robert Taylor and Larry Voldenc -- know it wasn't a tuna that would make them a big part of the seventh annual event.

On the afternoon of the first day of fishing, the captain of the Joana reported mechanical problems to Mike Packard, who was once again the staff member in charge of the radio as tournament control. Packard said the initial reports were confused, with one report indicating the boat would be able to make it in on the remaining engine.

By the time it was determined the boat was a single engine vessel and was adrift, all tournament boats had returned and it was night. Packard would remain in radio contact all night and the next day would notify competitors to keep an eye out for the Joana.

Compounding the situation was the fact the Joana carried no functioning navigational devices and could not report a position. A container ship reported it had passed the vessel the first night and provided coordinates, but when the Mexican Navy dispatched a launch and a helicopter to the numbers, the boat was nowhere in sight. Instead they found a panga full of drugs.

Meantime, Packard and other tournament boats kept up radio contact and encouragment, while at least one boat decided to actively search for the Joana. Chris Badsey's 45-foot Rampage Reelaxe had been plagued by boat problems before and during the tournament and he and his team, two-time money winners Steve and Dave Brackmann, were not in any of the daily jackpots. The line at the fuel dock early the second day meant they could only get half tanks of fuel and got a late start, but the fast vessel was soon leading the pack towards the Finger Bank.

THE JOANA foursome still made it to the awards banquet where Scott
told his team's story of nearly 48 hours lost at sea. The boat is
seen charging by the starter boat at the shotgun start the first day.

"On the way up we heard the mayday call at 9:15 a.m. looking for the missing Mexican boat Joana with 6 people onboard" Badsey told WON. "I spoke with the guys and we made a decision to assist with the search and rescue immediately as I was in this same situation a year earlier without rescue for 36 hours at sea when the Mexican Navy never came to rescue us. Friends from California flying down had to charter a boat (and) run out to our last known coordinates, as all electronics were dead and we had no radio unlike Joana who did."

Badsey said he got an approximation of the Joana's position when he had a good radio signal and the Bottom Line, which was 88 nautical miles away, also had a strong signal. Badsey also noted the owner of the tournament boat Trauma sent out his private G5 plane to search.

Meanwhile Tuna Jackpot officials continued to press the Mexican Navy to search and the helicopter refueled and headed back out. Neither aircraft located the Joana. To make matters worse, Harmond, a diabetic, reported he was down to his last dose of medicine.

The Bottom Line had a fish aboard and requested that tournament officials allow them to search first and weigh after the 6 p.m. deadline. They were informed the rules of the tournament would be kept in place.

Low on fuel by 6 p.m., the Reelaxe turned back for the dock at troll speed, arriving at midnight. In the meantime, tournament officials and competitors had kept in contact with the Joana. Much effort was also put forth contacting both Mexican and U.S. Coast Guard officials.

Tournament director said the result was the Mexican Navy waived territorial jurisdiction and the Coast Guard launched rescue efforts that night, including a C-130 and a U.S. Navy vessel. One of the first things the Coast Guard did was issue a notice to mariners that included a grid that was the best estimate of the Joana's location.

Badsey decided to head back out and allowed Packard to come aboard the Reelaxe for the search effort.

"The Natural Stone and the Reelaxe were the only two boats that headed out," noted Packard. "Both captains felt this was something they had to do."

Packard said Badsey wasted no time getting to where he felt the Joana was located.

"About 12:35 a.m. we left the fuel dock, broke the lights of the marina and by the time we hit the end of Cape Rock we were doing 30 to 35 knots," said Packard. Packard said that despite heavy seas, the throttles weren't pulled back until the Joana was found.

"About 1:30 or 1:40 the navigator of the cruise ship Seven Seas had a conversation going with Joana and believed they had a visual on the vessel at that time," said Packard. "About 2 in the morning they confirmed that with us and about 2:15 the cruise ship came alongside the Joana. They put a tender in the water with supplies and a doctor for the diabetic aboard. It was about 4:15 when Reelaxe finally made contact with Joana."

With 6 to 8-foot seas still running, it was decided not to transfer the passengers and Reelaxe began to tow Joana. Then Natural Stone arrived and took over the tow duties and the 4 anglers transferred to Reelaxe.

"Chris Badsey decided he wanted to have brunch in Cabo," noted Packard. "We had been running 3 1/2 to 4 knots under tow, but we hammered the throttles down and proceeded to head back to Cabo at about 20 knots. We got in shortly before 2 p.m. to a very happy, proud welcome at N Dock with a lot of happy family members waiting.

"Thank God for once things turned out right."