SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Jim Geary of Southwest Harbor got chatting with the people in front of him in line at the IGA grocery story Friday evening, and learned they were getting ready to sail to Miami.
“They had just purchased so many groceries,” about $500 worth, he said. “No one buys that many groceries. That was what triggered the conversation.
“I have no connection to these folks except for meeting them at the checkout counter and in the parking lot,” he continued.
But when news appeared Saturday that the Coast Guard was searching for a sailboat with three crewmembers following a 3 a.m. 911 call, he was worried.
“When I saw the boat was missing, they turned into family. I had this connection that was personal, and I was troubled that they were missing. All throughout the day just couldn’t stop thinking about them.”
He thought of the sailors’ actual family members, how if he were them, “I can’t imagine how scared [I] would be.”
And when word came Monday afternoon that the sailors and boat were fine, had already passed the eastern end of Long Island, and that the search had apparently sprung from miscommunication, Geary said, “it was like Christmas. I was so relieved.”
When the Coast Guard got in contact with the sailors Monday, the boat was about 96 nautical miles south of Montauk, N.Y.
The 40-foot Beneteau sailboat named Dove left Somes Sound around 11 p.m. Friday bound for Florida. The three crew members are Nat Davis, who is the boat’s owner, Charlotte Kirby and Wilfredo Lombardo.
Davis’ mother is a summer resident of Mount Desert Island.
Family members were able to establish communication with the group Monday, using a GPS-based communication device that had stopped working but was able to be reactivated from land. Then the Coast Guard confirmed the data from that system and made contact with the vessel directly, according to Coast Guard spokeswoman Petty Officer Nicole Groll.
She didn’t know whether the boat’s VHF radio, a more common way of communicating between vessels and with the Coast Guard, was operational.
“With outstanding coordination and cooperation with the families, we were able to confirm their loved ones are not in distress and are continuing their journey south,” said Coast Guard Cmdr. Kelly Denning, search and rescue mission coordinator for the First District.
Emergency dispatchers on the mainland received a 911 call from the boat at 3 a.m. Saturday. The person calling said they were on a boat, and then the line cut out. The dispatcher could not reach the caller again, and contacted the Coast Guard, who were able to track the cell phone’s location to near Mount Desert Rock.
It’s unclear why someone aboard the vessel dialed 911, but the call triggered a three-day search for a vessel believed to be in distress.
The search began at daybreak Saturday, with a Coast Guard vessel from Southwest Harbor and a plane from the Coast Guard’s air station in Cape Cod. The Canadian Coast Guard also assisted in the search, Groll said.
Fishermen in the area were asked to keep an eye out.
On Saturday night, weather conditions in the search area included 5 foot seas with 20-knot winds, the Coast Guard reported. The air temperature was 34 degrees, and the water temperature was 52 degrees.
The search continued Sunday and Monday until contact was made with the sailors Monday afternoon and the search and rescue teams stood down.
Peter McGuire and Matt Byrne of the Portland Press Herald contributed reporting.