Vancouver Island mariner details harrowing rescue off coast of Oak Bay

A view just before sunset from the Mana Kai, Juaning Higgins' new boat, pictured on Oct. 20. (Submitted by Juaning Higgins - image credit)
A view just before sunset from the Mana Kai, Juaning Higgins' new boat, pictured on Oct. 20. (Submitted by Juaning Higgins - image credit)

Juaning Higgins had just bought a new boat, the Mana Kai, and was eager to get it back to his home on Vancouver Island.

He travelled to Seattle on Oct. 19, intending to sail it home to Maple Bay a few days later, but changing weather meant he wanted to get out on the water right away.

He left before dawn the next morning.

But the voyage would not go as planned.

Higgins was approaching Canada after the sun had set when the weather turned. The wind had picked up, making the sea churn.

"I turned on the search lights to see the white water that was breaking so that I could point the bow in the right direction," he told On The Coast host Gloria Macarenko. "I was actually off course."

Higgins was supposed to be headed toward Oak Bay, just off the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, in the dark of night, but he couldn't make way, he said — he couldn't move forward.

Submitted by Juaning Higgins
Submitted by Juaning Higgins

He sent a distress call to the Canadian Coast Guard, but it had quickly became a mayday call when he completely lost propulsion. In his log book, he said he felt like the boat was going to roll over.

But it would be 20 minutes before anyone could reach him.

"Twenty minutes is a long time."

I was now adrift.  - From Juaning Higgins' logbook, Oct. 20, 2022

The Canadian Coast Guard confirmed to CBC it took the call from Higgins, and said the CCGS Cape Calvert was sent to help.

In a moment of panic, Higgins called up his first mate: Tanya, his wife of 21 years.

"I just needed to not be alone."

Submitted by Juaning Higgins
Submitted by Juaning Higgins

She told him about her day, and reminded him of some projects he needed to finish up at their leather goods shop, Span, back home in B.C., to try to calm him down.

But Higgins said he feared for his life.

I am ready to say goodbye. - From Juaning Higgins' logbook, Oct. 20, 2022

Eventually a commercial vessel arrived and shone a spotlight on him. Shortly after the Coast Guard showed up, and asked Higgins if he had a personal flotation device.

Higgins was indeed wearing one. He then mobilized to help the Coast Guard team with his rescue, and that of the Mana Kai, in the wild Pacific Ocean.

Sea Spray is coming in the starboard side just over the gunnel, and I can see this because someone's got their searchlights on!

- From Juaning Higgins' logbook, Oct. 20, 2022

When he boarded the Cape Calvert, the crew made him comfortable and safe, he said in his logbook.

"It felt like a giant hug from the entire country of Canada."

After all this, he said he's feeling patriotic, and proud of the Canadian Coast Guard.

 

Their hard work, he said, makes him want to officially become Canadian — Higgins is a U.S. citizen, with permanent resident status in Canada.

"I'm aiming for citizenship after this," he said.

Higgins said he wants to remind other seafarers to be prepared and know the proper protocols to call for help when in trouble at sea.