Captain Alex Rogers will always remember the worst day of his sportfishing career. It was when he watched his 33-foot offshore fishing boat sink to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Rogers captured footage of the aptly named “disaster at sea” in July 2022 and shared the series of videos to his TikTok page, where they’ve been seen by millions of viewers.
@fishcabo Im gonna Ride her down! #fishprotocol #fishcabo #sinkingboat #liferaft #cabo #surrender #protocolsportfishing #winslowliferaft ♬ Surrender – Natalie Taylor
To get the full story behind the videos, Outdoor Life caught up with Rogers over the phone. From his home base in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, the 52-year-old charter captain shared the story of how his boat went down, and how he and his crew survived 12 hours in a life raft before they were rescued by one of his fishing buddies.
A Sinking Feeling
It all started the morning of July 18 with a 500-pound marlin, says Rogers, a California native who moved down to Cabo several years ago and started running offshore trips from a 33-foot Rampage he named the Protocol.
“The only reason I had a camera running that morning is because we were about 45 to 50 minutes into fighting a 500-pound blue marlin, and I wanted a video of the fight and catch,” Rogers says. “I was backing down hard on the fish, which washes big waves of water over the transom.”
He says this is something that all bluewater captains do when trying to land a huge fish like a marlin. And he’d backed down on other billfish in the Protocol countless times before. But unknown to Rogers, his first mate Cristian Balderas, and the four paying anglers on board, one of the through-hull fittings for the motor’s exhaust pipe had failed, which opened a giant hole in the boat’s stern.
“I noticed water was still on the stern deck and we hadn’t been backing down on the fish and taking water over the transom for awhile,” he explains. “That didn’t make sense. Then my starboard engine went dead.”
@fishcabo My guys stayed focused! #fishprotocol #fishcabo #cabo #sinkingboat #liferaft #billfish #lostatsea #yousay @Pure Okie ♬ You Say – Lauren Daigle
At that point, around 10 a.m., Rogers climbed down from the tuna tower and opened the engine compartment. It was overflowing with water. His clients were still hooked up with the marlin and trying to land it, but Rogers had to pull them off the rod as the boat kept sinking lower.
“We got a bucket brigade working with the anglers, trying to pitch water out of the cockpit, but to no avail. At that point the scupper holes were underwater, and the boat was filling faster with water,” Rogers says. “I knew something bad was happening.”
Now realizing that the Protocol was beyond saving, Rogers climbed back in the tuna tower and used his radio to call in a mayday.
“I was on the radio broadcasting our location when my electronics died,” Rogers says. “I was clueless the boat would sink that fast, [but] when I realized we were going down, I tossed down the life raft box. By that time my boat was really going under, and I just stepped off the bridge and into the warm Pacific.”
@fishcabo Replying to @walnutcafe8 #fishprotocol #sinkingboat #liferaft #cabo #billfish #winslowliferaft #jacksparrow #captainjacksparrow #fishcabo ♬ Addicted – KING COLE
His crew had already grabbed life jackets, and they swam away from the sinking boat to deploy the life raft. Rogers, meanwhile, kept filming as he watched his boat sink down in 10,000 feet of clear blue water.
“That’s when I realized the real challenge was ahead of us.”
12 Hours in a Raft
The Winslow life raft had a roof, along with basic emergency gear like water, flares, and fishing tackle. But it was rated for five people, and they had six adult men on board.
“The guys were distressed,” Rogers recalls. “We were cramped inside the raft with our legs entangled. It was pretty bad for the long hours we spent bobbing on the ocean.”
@fishcabo Sorry! Here is the sound! #fishprotocol #sinkingboat #fishcabo #winslowliferaft #billfish #protocolsportfishing #survival #aftco #jacksparrow #lostatsea ♬ original sound – Alex Rogers
With a hurricane brewing 200 miles away, the waves were rough and most of the men got seasick. Some puked over the side of the raft. Even going to the bathroom was difficult as they had to jump into the ocean to relieve themselves.
“It’s traumatic to be adrift in a raft on the open water. We had a range of emotions. Despair, hope, anger, frustration. I prayed to God. Apologized to God. Made promises to God.”
In between prayers, Rogers tried to stay positive. He says he was confident that one of his friends from Cabo’s close-knit fishing community would come save them.
What he didn’t realize at the time was that his GPS coordinates weren’t accurately received when he called in the mayday. This meant that some of his friends were searching more than 25 miles away from where the Protocol actually sank. High waves and strong currents made it harder to pinpoint their location, and even the Mexican Navy was unable to find them.
“The Navy quit looking for us at 7 p.m., and they closed the harbor down for boats because the hurricane was bearing down on us,” says Rogers, who credits his wife Brandi for coordinating with the U.S. Coast Guard, the American Consulate, and the charter captains they knew in Cabo. “But the offshore fishing community headed out anyways [and looked] for us long after sundown.”
Finally, around 11 p.m., after 12 hours adrift in the Pacific, someone in the raft said they thought they heard a boat engine.
“I could see a boat’s running lights almost a mile away, and I started jumping and signaling to it,” Rogers says. “I watched the boat turn, then spotted it’s red-and-green navigation lights coming to us.”
Pancho Bojorquez, a local charter captain and one of Rogers’ friends, was at the wheel of the 35-foot Viking. He was joined by eight or 10 others, who were almost as happy to see the anglers as the anglers were to be rescued.
“I knew then we were going to be saved,” Rogers says. “And all of us just started going nuts in the raft.”
@fishcabo Replying to @gecko.rau #fishcabo #fishprotocol #survival #lostatsea #protocolsportfishing #pro2col #billfish #winslowliferaft ♬ original sound – Alex Rogers
Back on shore, the fishermen reunited with their friends and families. And within two months’ time, Rogers bought a new 38-foot Egg Harbor boat, which he named the Right Rigger. He’s since replaced the roughly $60,000 worth of offshore tackle that sunk along with the Protocol. But he says the most important item on the new boat is a brand-new life raft.
“Those rafts are pricey, some up to about $5,000, but that’s the best money anyone can spend who fishes open water,” Rogers says. “When I bought the Protocol, my friend the late Ted Barta told me to buy a good Winslow raft for the boat because one day it might save my life.
“Best advice I ever got from a legend in the offshore fishing world. That raft saved all our lives.”