Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.

Rescue at Sea!

   This past Sunday -- I hurled myself down the companionway ladder, and bracing myself against the lurching of the ship I leaned over the chart table looking for the radio receiver. I found it, waited until the bucking hull wasn't trying to throw me in the opposite direction and picked it up. Took a breath, and pressed transmit:
   "May day, may day, this is the sailing vessel Dawn Treader..."

   To properly tell this story I'll have to begin the week before, however. My friend, coworker and fellow tallship sailor Russell had invited me out to a bar in Dana Point, and I had taken my friend Anna along. There we met Russell's friend Monique, a red-headed woman of about fifty who I think was already drunk as a skunk when we met her. She immediately annoyed me with "oh how long have you been volunteering on the Pilgrim? Oh you'd have remembered me if you'd been there when I was there, I'd have been the one telling you what to do," and generally engaging in one-up-tionship about sailing and then when she noticed I have a slight Irish accent trying to similar play some sort of "more Irish than thou" thing because she'd apparently once been in Waterford, where, from her account, it sounds like she made a nuisance of herself at a tallship festival. As the night went on she eventually became belligerent and Russell had to escort her away.
   The next day Russell reported that she felt terrible about the night before and wanted to invite us all to go sailing on her 35' boat. I was kind of skeptical about spending any more time with her, but was optimisitc than when sober she'd be a lot better. Just to cover my bases I asked if I could invite one more person and extended the invite to my friend very-experienced-sailor Ryon whose substantial experience and strong personality I felt would provide a buffer against her.

   So on the day of sailing we had myself, Russell, Monique, Ryon, Anna, Anna's three year old son Vincent, and another friend of Monique's came, this guy Dave who was a pretty alright fella.
   At the time of departure I believe there were already two red flags in the harbour. One red flag denotes a "small craft advisory," and two means the wind is blowing at gale force. Apparently it was expected to increase in force as well. Monique was skeptical about these conditions but we had a very experienced crew and we were all excited to go out, so out we did.
   We had a grand time out there, we were barely even heeling over, and though there were whitecaps all about the swells weren't that big. Monique didn't want to set the jib (the sail between the mast and the jibboom in front), so we were sailing with the main only -- which I thought was a bit amateurish -- these boats are designed to be properly balanced with both sails set. With only the aft sail set there's significantly more force pushing laterally against the back of the boat and its going to constantly want to turn windward. Finally I convinced Monique to set the jib and she admits in her own account of the adventure that the boat then handled much better.

   After bounding about for maybe two hours out there, Monique declared she wanted to return to the harbor for fear her old sails would blow out. We put on the motor and headed upwind to the harbor entrance with the main up and centered to balance us, acting as a sort of sky keel if you will. Ryon was at the wheel, belting out some ribald shanty. At this point we noticed what appeared to be a paddleboarder standing on his board about a half mile downwind of the harbor entrance. This immediately seemed out of place among the flying spray of the whitecaps, and we soon ascertained he was waving his hands for help, so we made for him.
   At this point Anna was busy puking over the stern and would be uninvolved in subsequent events. Her son managed to sleep through it all.

   I had gone to the front of the vessel to better see and communicate with the paddleboarder we approached. As we got close we could see he looked to be a young guy, maybe 18, on not a paddleboard but a tiny ten foot sailboat with its sail down and in the water. Then we heard him yelling something at us that just curdled the blood -- "my mom is in the water somewhere over there! my mom is in the water!!" you could hear absolute terror in his voice.
   One interested aspect of this is that I was so focused on what I was doing I was barely aware of things that happened that I wasn't involved in. I believe Ryon relinquished the helm to Monique and with Dave doused the mainsail so we could manouver under motor better.

   As we came abreast of him, presumably to come upwind and down to him, the lad leapt from his boat. That was my impression anyway but everyone else agrees he "Forrest Gumped it" and walked right off the boat. On any account, as I saw him go in with no lifejacket, I was sure he'd just made his last bad decision. I remember glancing back at the cockpit and seeing everyone looking panicked, but no one had gotten the throwable lifering in hand yet so I yelled at someone to do that and went to the rail nearest the incoming swimmer. Astoundingly, he quickly swam the 20-30' between our vessels, against the whitecaps to our moving vessel! Thats the power of sheer terror I guess. He tried to grab our side and I swear it was like a scene from a movie, it was probably his only chance and he couldn't quite make it. I hit the deck and with one arm around a stanchion with one hand reached out and.. just got his fingers! But that was enough to get my other hand on his arm and from there we got him up. He of course immediately started frantically babbling at us that his mother was in the water and we needed to get her. We immediately started steaming that way and I went below to call the it in on the radio.

   "...may day may day this is Dawn Treader just outside of Dana Point Marina there is a woman in the water out here" I announced as clearly as I could into the receiver... and realized I wasn't hearing anything on the radio and didn't appear to be transmitting. I desperately looked for any buttons or knobs I'd need to push but didn't see any. I'd find out later when things calmed down that I'd needed to take a panel off the radio to see all the knobs, but in the heat of the moment I just had a receiver that wasn't transmitting and no buttons in sight. So I pulled out my cellphone and called 911. They were right on it, as soon as I informed them I was a vessel outside Dana Point marina they transferred me to harbor patrol, who seemed to have a slightly harder time wrapping their mind around the fact I wasn't in the marina.

   We set off looking for the next MOB (Man OverBoard). I think all of us were really worried there was a good chance we'd never find her out there. I'm told Ryon had managed to shimmy halfway up the mast for a better vantage point. Finally the kid himself spotted her. As we'd find out later, their vessel had capsized, they had had only one lifevest with them (shakes head), and his mom had started to drift away from the boat so he'd swam to her and given her the lifevest ... which I'm sure saved her life, notwithstanding he'd endangered it himself in the first place. but swimming back to his boat and standing on it was probably for the best because we'd have never seen them both in the water.

   We approached and threw the throwable (unless we were dragging it all along, lord if I know). I also remember I kept bringing lifejackets on deck, as I was trained to "throw everything that floats at them" and someone else kept throwing them back below I guess to make room. I also told someone who looked idle to get lots of towels ready.

   We ended up circling her what felt like twenty times. I was kind of annoyed, because there's a manouver called a Williamson Turn that Monique should have known with all her experience which would have gotten her to the location of the MOB, instead of a constant turn hard-over which would never ever arrive at the center of the circle. The MOB was very lucid and responsive. The red Vessel Assist boats had emerged from the harbor moments after being called, but had then hesitated in the harbor entrance with sirens blaring for what felt like an eternity. God forbid the one vessel going in tight circles might be the on who called them out. Finally they put two and two together and came out. Finally just as two red vessel assist boats and the sheriff boat pulled up around us Dave made a throw with the throwable that the MOB got a hand on. As she was being pulled, realizing I had a free moment, and thinking the woman clinging to the throwable with the red rescue boats in the shot right behind her would be an excellent photo I tried to get my phone out and on camera mode but I was too slow. This may seem kind of silly but in retrospect I think I was just still in "what can I do next > what can I do next > what can I do next >" mode and when I found she was being pulled in and people were standing by with towels my mind moved right on down the checklist to "take a picture!"

   The mother showed classic signs of hypothermia, ie didn't feel cold, wasn't shivering. I'm told her toes were blue. We gave her some towels and a change of clothes and told her to go below and get out of her wet clothes. Talking about it afterwords we were all a bit irked that she apparently declined to do this. Her son had been given similar directions and we were quite alarmed to find that what he had in fact done was put the clothes we provided him on OVER his wet clothes!! So our "note to self for future rescues" was to be really stern about the importance of getting out of your cold wet clothes. [though my dear friend the infinitely-experienced-sailor Asli has since reported to me that its not actually important to get them out of the wet clothes as logn as you put sometihng warm over them, the wet clothes will act as a heat-retaining wetsuit at that point I guess, which makes sense.]

   We then served them hot tea, which I vaguely recall I think you're not actually supposed to do, but being as it was only a vague recollection and I wasn't in charge here I didn't suggest otherwise. It didn't kill them on any account. I just googled this and the internet doesn't seem to think its a bad idea but I could swear someone told me it does something like makes your blood rush to your stomach area and therefore exacerbates the condition of your extremities or something.

   The only photo I got out of it was of vessel assist coming in some half hour later with their boat in tow.

   So yeah, that was a fairly exciting mother's day. (:

Tags: lifeguarding, nonfiction, sailing
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