Could the Amber Alert family survive at sea? - Greenville, NC | News | Weather | Sports - WNCT.com

Could the Amber Alert family survive at sea?

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A father accused of abducting his children and getting away in a sail boat could survive in the Gulf of Mexico, sailors say, but it would be a very rough ride on him and especially the children.

"When I heard about the Amber Alert - my first concern was the boys, obviously, because this is not the day you want to be out on Tampa Bay on a 24-footer, much less the Gulf of Mexico," said Jopie Helsen, an experienced ocean racer and yacht builder. "If you're out on the Gulf of Mexico right now - you're talking about 8-foot seas."

Deputies said Friday that Joshua Hakken, the man they believe kidnapped his two sons Wednesday morning from his mother-in-law's house, had recently bought a sailboat. They think he left her Tampa home around 6:10 a.m. in her Toyota Camry, ditched it, got into his GMC truck, drove it to a John's Pass parking garage, and hopped on the boat. Police believe his sons Cole, 4, and Chase, 2, are likely with him and his wife, Sharyn Hakken.

"If they were downstairs - in life jackets - they should be okay...maybe a little seasick," said Charley Williams, who is also an experienced sailor.

But Helsen, who has been stranded at sea before, said the conditions in the Gulf of Mexico can be pretty brutal, especially on a boat that size.

"The Morgan boat [deputies are] talking about is actually a Morgan 24. It's a shallow-draft centerboard boat … draws about 2 feet," he said. "A 24-footer is just too small to be out there. The boat is just designed for coastal sailing … going inside Tampa Bay, the intercoastal waterways and all of that … it's not designed as an offshore boat."

His boat is twice the size.

"And when I was caught in storms like that even for a 47-foot boat that's built for it … it's like being in a washing machine," Helsen said. "You can't eat. It's just too rough out there to even think about eating. Dehydration is a big thing. With all the rocking and rolling - your body needs as much water as you can get."

It's why he's concerned about the boys' survival.

"I don't know how much water their boat would hold, but normally it would only hold maybe 10 gallons at the most," he said.

Yet Joshua Hakken's mother-in-law (and the mother of his wife, Sharyn), told deputies Joshua had been off-the-radar and hadn't spoken to anyone for the last 9 months. Investigators are likely asking the question: Had he been planning this journey? For how long? And to where?

"If they go to Mexico - you're going to have the Gulf Stream fighting against you," Helsen said. "That boat in normal conditions can only make about 4 knots. The Gulf Stream is going to be pushing against you at 3 knots. So your forward progress once you get to the Yucatan Channel is going to be 1 knot."

Cuba, which is closer and easier to get to because of the Gulf Stream, could also be a dangerous route.

"My greatest concern is the safety of those children," Helsen said. "If they're not harnessed in properly - a small boat like that can get a knock-down real easy which means that mast can go right down to the water and swing back up violently."

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