— Amanda Thorns and Dennis White rushed to the deck of the Emma Goldman after the 45-foot yacht rolled in 30-foot seas, righted itself and waited to be pounded again by the raging Atlantic.
Thorns, 25, and White, 63, immediately noticed that the mainmast and its rigging had snapped and was dangling in the water dangerously close to the boat’s wooden hull. When it went overboard, the rigging dragged Capt. Willie Thorns with it.
His face bloodied, Willie Thorns looked up from the water at his daughter and longtime sailing buddy and extended his arms for help. The tangled lines would not release their grip on the 63-year-old carpenter and master sailor from Massachusetts’ Cape Cod.
“I said, ‘Don’t leave me here,’ ” Amanda Thorns recounted Wednesday during an exclusive interview with TODAY’s Matt Lauer in New York. “I got to tell him that I loved him for the last time.”
Moments after Thorns kissed her father’s outstretched hand, a large wave carried Capt. Willie Thorns away. His body was never found.
Devastated as they were about the loss of their loved one and the Emma Goldman’s captain on that stormy early November night, Amanda Thorns and Dennis White still had to contend with the storm and the fact that they were adrift in a disabled yacht hundreds of miles north of Bermuda.
Making matters worse, the Emma Goldman was not equipped with an emergency GPS transponder or proper communications gear.
Standing there on the deck clad in pajamas and crying, Amanda Thorns briefly thought about giving up, but something took hold of her, she told Lauer.
“I did want to sit down and cry. I didn’t want to go on. I did want to jump in the ocean,” said Thorns, who had quit her job as a waitress in New Orleans to join her father on what would have been his first ocean passage. “Part of me that I didn’t know was there was bound and determined to get through it.”
Thorns believes her father had something to do with her decision to keep fighting for her life.
“He’s gone. I guess he gave it to me,” she said.
It took a few days, but Amanda Thorns and White, a master sailor himself, eventually were able to fashion a new mast and sail from the yacht’s dinghy. They spotted several passing ships as they crept southward, but were unable to attract their attention.
Finally, on the 15th day of their journey and 12 days after the ocean claimed Willie Thorns, a Greek oil tanker spotted flares White shot in the sky and picked the distressed mariners up.
When she was able to later that day, Amanda Thorns let her concerned friends and family know that she was safe but that her father did not make it.
“Shipwrecked for 12 days,” she wrote on her Facebook page, according to the Martha’s Vineyard Times. "Rescued today by the Greek ship Triathlon. Drinking whiskey and coke with the crew. Bermuda bound. Heartbroken and alive. RIP Capt. Willie Thorns. Bravest, strongest daddy.”
Asked by Lauer if the sailing party perhaps had taken too many risks and was unprepared for bad weather when they set sail Nov. 6, Amanda Thorns said that the winds were strong when they departed but were coming from the right direction. People who sail understand that sailors go with the wind, she said, and turning back was not really an option for Capt. Willie Thorns and his crew of two.
“If you are going to go, what better way to go?” Amanda Thorns said. “I get peace knowing that my father died doing his very favorite thing with his very favorite person. That’s what I’m sort of clinging to right now.”