GALVESTON — Three people who had planned to deliver 10,000 pounds of coffee from Belize to Texas on an eco-friendly sailboat were rescued Tuesday by the U.S. Coast Guard after they were struck by 25-foot seas 200 miles offshore.
Joe and Terry Butcher, owners of El Lago Coffee Co., along with Joe’s brother, Douglas Butcher, planned to ship the coffee via their sailboat, Red Cloud, from San Pedro on Amgergris Cay in Belize to Galveston Bay. Joe Butcher told The Daily News in early December that the high price of gas would soon create a demand that products be shipped in an environmentally friendly way.
The Butchers could not be reached for comment.
The trio hit trouble late Tuesday morning when the Gulf of Mexico waves swelled to 25 feet and the winds kicked up to 30 to 35 knots, said Mario Romero, Coast Guard public affairs officer. Their engine had died earlier, leaving them at the mercy of seas, said Jim Perkins, a ham radio operator who communicated with the Butchers as their 42-foot sailboat tossed, turned and filled with water just 200 miles from home.
“They were that close to home when everything went wrong,” he said.
Perkins called the Coast Guard about 11:45 a.m. reporting the boat was in danger, according to Coast Guard reports.
The guard dispatched a boat, a helicopter and a jet to rescue the Butchers and their dog. They arrived about 3 p.m., hoisted the people and dog from the boat, refueled on an oil rig, waited for almost half an hour until the wind died and then returned to Ellington Field where a family friend was waiting to take them home, Coast Guard reports state.
The boat was in decent condition when the trio was rescued, Romero said. Joe Butcher hired a salvage company to retrieve the boat offshore, Romero said.
“There’s an emergency-position-indicating radio beacon that’s broadcasting the exact location of where they left the boat,” he said.
The Butchers bought Red Cloud, a home-built boat, from an owner in Sabine, according to earlier newspaper reports. They have had coastwise experience in the boat, including a couple of Harvest Moon Regattas.
It’s not clear how much coffee was on board, and what, if anything, was lost at sea. The trio had reportedly delivered 500 pounds of school supplies and a dozen musical instruments to needy children of Amgergris Cay.
Coast Guard rescues 3 people, dog from sailboat
By RUTH RENDON
Jan. 2, 2008, 12:18PM
The owner of a sailboat rescued by the Coast Guard on New Year's Day is hoping to salvage the vessel and its cargo.
Joe Butcher along with his wife, Terry, and brother, Doug, were returning to El Lago on their 42-foot sailboat, Red Cloud, with a load of 10,000 pounds of coffee when they were met by angry seas and fierce winds.
This morning, Joe Butcher, 45, was in discussions with Coast Guard officials about getting his boat from 200 miles off shore.
The Butchers and their Schiepperke dog, Skipper, were rescued Tuesday by a Coast Guard helicopter when their boat started taking on water.
The helicopter crew rushed 200 miles over the Gulf of Mexico to the vessel after receiving a report at about 11:45 a.m. Tuesday that the Butcher's sailboat was taking on water.
Battling 25-foot seas and 30- to 35-knot winds, the Coast Guard hoisted the Butchers and Skipper aboard the helicopter.
Terry Butcher, 50, suffered a minor leg injury.
As the rescue helicopter made its nearly 3-hour trip to the distressed sailboat, a Coast Guard Falcon jet crew traveled to the scene to monitor the vessel before the rescue.
Because of the distance involved, the helicopter crew had to land on an oil rig to refuel during the return to shore. Heavy winds kept the group on the rig for nearly a half hour.
The helicopter crew brought the Butchers and their dog to Ellington Field in Houston, where a family friend was waiting to bring them home.
The Butchers were returning to their home in El Lago on a maiden trip from San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye in Belize with a load of 10,000 pounds of coffee to sell through their El Lago Coffee Co.
Storm brewed trouble for trio
Texans have 5 tons of coffee afloat in the Gulf
By RUTH RENDON
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Sailboat crew rescued Somewhere out in the Gulf of Mexico, 200 miles off Galveston, the 42-foot sailboat Red Cloud is drifting unmanned with 10,000 pounds of vacuum-packed coffee on board.
Owner Joe Butcher, his brother, wife and dog were plucked out of storm-tossed seas New Year's Day by a Coast Guard helicopter, but Butcher's ready to go back for his boat and the coffee the crew was importing from Belize.
"I gotta go get my boat," a tired Joe Butcher, 47, said from his El Lago home Wednesday afternoon.
The Texas-size coffee run began in early December and started to go sour when they were forced to divert into Mexican waters to avoid Tropical Storm Olga by midmonth. Things got even worse when a cold front sent waves streaming over the boat and exhausted crew Monday evening. There was nothing to do but call the Coast Guard for rescue.
Even with the harrowing New Year's Day rescue experience, the Butchers did not make a resolution to not sail again.
The Butchers' maiden voyage with their Schipperke dog, aptly named Skipper, in tow was expected to take 2 1/2 weeks but didn't.
Butcher had described his new venture as "the dawn of the new age of eco-sailing."
The Butchers sailed to San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye, in Belize where they loaded 10,000 pounds of the roasted blend before returning home. Their plan is to sell the coffee through their El Lago Coffee Co.
Winds unexpectedly strong
About 11 p.m. Monday, waves started rocking the Butchers' boat, which by this point had lost the auto pilot capabilities. Joe, 45, and Doug Butcher, 47, of Tennessee, took turns at the helm. The two were still sore and bruised from the ordeal on Wednesday.
The crew knew the waters would be somewhat rough but manageable because the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predictions that morning had winds up to 40 knots. The winds ended up swirling at 60 knots, which was too much for the Red Cloud even with a storm anchor thrown overboard.
"We could not get a hold of the Coast Guard so we called Jim Perkins (a friend) and he called the Coast Guard," Joe Butcher said.
The Coast Guard was notified before noon and the helicopter arrived at the Butchers' boat about 3 p.m.
The Butcher brothers wanted to stay on board, but the Coast Guard would not allow it. All or none.
"We had to get in an inflatable rescue boat because the Coast Guard was afraid the boat's mast would swing around and hit the helicopter," Joe Butcher said.
To make matters worse, Terry Butcher, 50, had a minor leg injury, does not swim and was terrified of getting into the Gulf waters even with a life jacket.
With the waves crashing all about, the Coast Guard crew sent down a rescue basket and hoisted the Butchers and Skipper.
Skipper, a furry, roly-poly dog, was a real trouper, never barking and taking it all in stride, Joe Butcher said.
"I managed to get our passports, the video camera and seven packages of coffee," Terry Butcher said.
The coffee on the boat, she said, is vacuum packed in one-pound bags and bundled in double trash bags.
The location of the Butchers' boat and the high winds forced the Coast Guard helicopter to land on an Anadarko Petroleum Corp. oil platform to refuel.
The winds kept the Butchers and the Coast Guard rescue personnel on the oil rig until the winds died down.
"I can't say enough good things about the Coast Guard and Anadarko," Terry Butcher said. The group, she said, was treated to dry clothes, a warm shower and food.
Even Skipper was treated at the chef's galley, she said.
Boat being tracked
The Butchers said they plan to get a little bit of rest and are waiting for the Gulf waters to settle down. At that point, they plan to set out on a friend's boat to tow Red Cloud and its coffee cargo to El Lago.
The Red Cloud, which served as Joe and Terry Butcher's home for 13 years before it was gutted and turned into a "cargo" vessel, is being monitored by a Coast Guard tracking device, which should help in locating it.
The boat was taking on water when the Butchers abandoned ship, but a generator was left on with hopes that the boat's pumps would keep some of the water out.
Joe and Terry Butcher are experienced on the open water, having worked on crew boats for years, delivering workers and supplies to oil rigs.
When asked, Mario Romero, a Coast Guard spokesman, said he did not know the cost for rescuing the Butchers:
"We do not charge anyone for a rescue. They were in trouble and we went out there."
Chronicle reporter Richard Stewart contributed to this story.