Wednesday, July 05, 2006



I received an e-mail from the father of one of the boys that was on the boat "Fat Chance", that sunk off Point Reyes in early June. He requested that I post an updated article that more accurately describes the tragic events from that day...

In the photo above, Andy Brinkley is the young man seated furthest back in the boat.

I attended Andy's Memorial...I had drawn some of my own conclusions about what had happened based upon the very limited information I had heard. I think I understand now why speakers at his service referred to Andy as a hero.

Life is a precious thing...full of surprise, adventure, love and's also full of risk, choices, second guesses and regrets...

From The Oregonian, Thursday, June 8, 2006, Page One

‘Trip of a lifetime’ in the Pacific Ocean
turns tragic for recent graduate

Fresh from Lincoln High School, Andy Brinkley perishes
during a sailboat journey with his dad and two friends.

By David Austin

It started as Lincoln High School graduate Andrew Brinkley’s dream trip: three friends, two dads, a 29-foot sailboat called the Fat Chance and the wide-open Pacific Ocean.

Brinkley, 18, known as “Andy,” was fresh from last week’s walk across the graduation stage in Portland. He’d spent weeks talking about the trip. His father had just bought a boat in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the dads and boys would spend a week sailing it home to Portland.

But shortly after they set out, a rogue wave swept Brinkley into the frigid water and left him dead, his family and friends in mourning, and the Lincoln High community shaking at the second consecutive year that someone died shortly after graduation ceremonies.

“There’s always going to be a whole lot of ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ on this,” said Andy’s oldest sister, Jenny Brinkley, 32. “If you could just go back in time and repeat the events of the day, you’d take the opportunity without questioning it.”

Andy’s father is Ken Brinkley, who lives on a houseboat in North Portland and operates an auto shop in Vancouver. Jenny Brinkley said her father, an avid sailor, talked to his son, and they decided that a post-graduation sailing trip on the new boat would be a good idea.

Andy brought along two friends who also graduated from Lincoln: Marcus Tillett and Max Hamlin, both 18. Tillett’s dad, Paddy Tillett, a seasoned ocean sailor, joined them.

“They spent hours and hours going over all the charts and things, checking equipment and provisioning,” said Bryony Tillett, Paddy’s wife. “This was the trip of a lifetime for those boys.”

On Saturday, the dads and boys drove to San Francisco. Once there, they picked up the boat, bought more supplies and set sail Monday.

At the start, Jenny Brinkley said, the ocean was smooth with only a small-craft advisory that warned of slightly rough waters. Tuesday morning, they encountered 5-foot swells.

The wave strikes

Shortly before 7:40 a.m., a large wave swept Andy Brinkley and Paddy Tillett overboard. Paddy Tillett was connected to a safety line, but Andy, who was wearing a life jacket, had just gone on deck and hadn’t tethered yet.

Ken Brinkley was also on deck and connected to the safety line. He pulled Tillett aboard, then realized his son had been tossed into the sea.

Hamlin, the crew’s radioman, used the radio to broadcast a mayday call that was picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard. The swells made it hard to track Brinkley’s movement in the water, so his dad tried to turn the boat around. But the engine wouldn’t start.

They tried the radio again, but it was dead. They activated the emergency locator beacon that broadcast the boat’s location. Meantime, Andy Brinkley had drifted farther and farther from the boat.

The Coast Guard launched an 87-foot cutter from its Humboldt Bay station, two helicopters from San

Francisco, three 47-foot patrol boats from Bodega Bay and a C-130 rescue airplane from Sacramento. At 9:08 a.m., one of the helicopter crews spotted the sailboat about 35 miles west of Point Reyes, said Lt. John Fu of the Coast Guard’s San Francisco station.

Andy spotted

At 12:23 p.m., a helicopter crew spotted Andy Brinkley about three miles northwest of the Fat Chance and hoisted him out of the water. Crew members performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation as they flew to a Bay Area hospital. He was pronounced dead shortly afterward. An autopsy is planned today, his family said, but he probably died of hypothermia.

On Wednesday, Jenny Brinkley described her brother –the youngest of four children and the only boy –as “an old soul” who served as the glue for a family split by divorce.

“He was always looking to make peace,” Jenny Brinkley said by telephone from San Francisco. “He kept us all grounded and kept us all laughing. He was the nucleus of our family.”

She said her father, too distraught to talk, is a seasoned sailor who raised his children on a houseboat. Water, she said, was a way of life for the family.

“He’d been sailing for his entire life,” she said. “We were always around the water, and it was second nature to us. He says he’s going to move off his houseboat and never go sailing again. It’s all so sad.”

Mother’s memories

Pam Brinkley Brokaw, Andy’s mother, remembers the baby who arrived on Christmas Day and never caused any problems for his parents. That is, until he developed a fondness for playing practical jokes.

Brinkley Brokaw remembers when her son was 7 and – knowing his mother was afraid of spiders – began leaving a large, plastic one in crevices around the house.

“It used to frighten me so much, but we laughed about it,” she recalled. “Now, I’m at such a loss. How do you sum up 18 years of such an amazing person?”

At Lincoln, students walked quietly through the halls, consoling one another and talking with teachers. A makeshift memorial with Andy’s photograph sat on a table across from the main office. Amid flowers and other mementos was a large sign where students scribbled messages to Andy and his family.

Principal Peter Hamilton said staff and students were shocked. Andy’s death came a year after Matthew Neyhart, 18 and a Lincoln senior in 2005, died in a car accident on graduation day.

“It’s hard because (Brinkley) was such a nice kid,” Hamilton said. “And you think you’re done with graduation and everything, and this happens. It’s hard not to flash back to last year.”

Fellow students

Chelsie Fish and Koby Watt, both 17, graduated with Andy Brinkley and worked with him as teacher assistants in the main office. They remembered their friend as someone who did things his own way.

“We all had a little bit of a bond because we were always hanging out in the office together,” Fish said. “It’s definitely caught me by surprise because I would’ve never thought this kind of thing would happen to him.”

Watt shared the most outstanding office aide award with Andy Brinkley. He remembers the tall, skinny kid as having “unique qualities.”

“He was one of the funniest kids I know,” Watt said. “He always made me laugh.”

Andy Brinkley’s family wants to set up a scholarship fund in his name. Pam Brinkley Brokaw said her family will hold a memorial service next week. She urged parents not to be shy about being protective of their children.

“People used to give me such a bad time about being overly protective,” Brinkley Brokaw said, fighting back tears. “All those years of watching out for him and looking out for danger. You just never know when that moment’s going to come when they don’t come home.”