OH NO.... Not Again!
Last year TIME MACHINE was involved in a MAYDAY situation (see previous posting). So what are the chances that anything like that would happen again. Slim to none..... NOT SO FAST!
During the transport from Duncan Bay Boat Club to North Cape Yacht Club, TIME MACHINE and her crew were involved in a rescue. TIME MACHINE was crewed by her skipper, Robert Gordenker, a long-time team member, Dennis Maurer and a team member new to boat this year, Dee Adkins.
We had been motor sailing 28 hours, with only a short stop for fuel, ice-cream and pizza at Presque Isle. Conditions were tough with 20-25 knot winds nearly on the nose and lumpy seas. It was just after 1600 hours on Saturday August 1, 2009 and we were approximately 17 miles north of Port Huron, East of Lexington. We were attempting to reach the shelter of the Black River (Port Huron) before a cold-front that was expected that evening came blasting through. We were taking a beating, but were making good progress.
Suddenly, as I looked around, I spotted what looked like a kayak paddle rising and falling. But we were at least 5 miles off shore and in big seas. Anyone out this far was probably in trouble. Right away, I called the other 2 crew (we were only 3 on board) on deck. We dropped the mainsail and turned toward the spot. All of a sudden it became clear what we were seeing. There were two people in the water, clinging to the hull of small sailing boat (a Club Flying Junior) that was just barely afloat. The people in the water were wearing PFDs. There was no mast or sails and they had been waving a short paddle, normally used to paddle up to the dock.
At this point instinct took over.
- Contact the Coast Guard. I called to CCG Station Sarnia (thinking were were in Canadian waters) on VHF channel 16. Advised that we thought we had persons in the water and Sarnia should stand by. They answered immediately and did not bother us.
- Get TIME MACHINE ready for a rescue. We disconnected the mainsail from the boom and stuffed it down the companionway hatch. Not elegant, but it got the sail out the way. we could then deployed several dock lines over the side as a make shift ladder.
- Check on the victims. We called to them and asked if they need immediate medical assistance... NO, we are just cold came the answer. We called to them and asked if they intended to abandon their vessel.... YES, we are very cold. We called to them and asked them to collect the lines trailing in the water so they would not foul our prop when we made our close approaches.
- Make the first approach. As we made the first circle, I advised CCG Station Sarnia that we had 2 people in the water and were attempting to take them on-board. As we came head to wind just next to them, we called for one to swim to us. The younger sailor took several strong strokes and reached the dock lines. The two TIME MACHINE crew grabbed his arms and hauled him up and under the lower life lines.
- Make the second approach. We made another turn and advised CCG Station Sarnia that we had one person aboard and one still in the water. As we returned to a position just to windward of the victim he tried to swim, but it was clear that he had no more energy. He also had the paddle and some of the lines in his hands. Having positioned TIME MACHINE to windward, we drifted down to the him and soon he too was lifted through the life lines. There was a moment of concern that TIME MACHINE and the hull of the small boat would crush together with the victim between us, but by carefully motoring forward a few feet, very aware of where the victim was so that he did not get into the prop, he stayed clear.
- Get the location of the hull. As soon as the two sailors were secured in the cockpit, we noted the coordinates from the GPS.
- Get the medical condition of the victims. Even before relaying the position of the incident to CCG Station Sarnia, we wrapped them in blankets and did a quick assessment for hypothermia. We knew that they were very weak. Their lips were blue, they were shivering but not shaking, they were talking but not very clearly.
- Relay the situation to CCG Station Sarnia. We contacted CCG Station Sarnia and relayed the Lat-Lon of the hull that was now adrift.
We also relayed our initial medical assessment of the two victims and advised that no immediate medical attention was required at this time, but that we were monitoring them closely.
- Move the victims down below and monitor them. We moved them down into the cabin, still wrapped in blankets. The combination of getting out of the wind, the warm cabin and blankets seemed to help a great deal. We were soon able to get their names and a contact phone number. They were a Father and Son.
- Decide on where to make landfall. We continued to warm the Father and Son, providing them with small amounts of hot coffee (just sips) and keeping a close eye of them. They requested to return to Lexington Harbor, which was the closest port. However, Lexington is a fairly shallow harbor and there was doubt that TIME MACHINE could make a safe entrance. The cardinal rule of a 1st responder is DO NOT become an additional victim. After several radio contacts with Harbor Lexington and a text message with a local sailor, we determined that we could probably make it.
- Continue to update the Coast Guard. Now that the immediate danger was past, we continued to update CCG Station Sarnia. They requested to know the nationality of vessel TIME MACHINE and as soon as they knew we were US flagged, they transferred control to USCG Station Port Huron.
- Make landfall. Very carefully we nosed into the harbor and were able to reach the gas dock without grounding. Once secured in the harbor we advised USCG Station Port Huron of our status.
- Releasing the Father and Son. I was not willing to release them on their own. It took several minutes for me to be comfortable that they were not in medical distress. Even then, I was not willing to let them walk to their car alone, so I sent one of the crew along. Communication at this time was hampered by a lack of cell phone coverage. The Father and Son were re-united with the Mother and we lost track of them.
- Followup with the authorities. I was soon called to the harbor master's office for a phone call from the Sheriff. A deputy was soon at the boat and I detailed the facts for him. He had other officers already searching for the victims and advised us that a good samaritan had recovered the hull and towed it back to Lexington Harbor. From the registration number he knew the names and address of the family. They matched with the names we had. The deputy congratulated us on a job well done and instructed the harbor master to provide us dockage at no-charge. Soon USCG Sector Detroit was heard hailing us on channel 16 and a full report was made to them by VHF radio.
Listen to the whole sequence of the radio transmissions on VHF16.
Thanks to Dan Burgoyne at USCG Station Fort Lauderdale for assisting in creating the edited recording.
In one of most emotional moments of the whole incident, the Father thanked me for rescuing them and asked if he could do something as a reward. I looked him right in the eye and said, "just seeing you and your son, alive and here aboard TIME MACHINE is the biggest reward I could possible get. Helping you is what sailors do for each other".
TIME MACHINE and her crew of 3 commend the Father and Son for staying with their boat, having the wits to wave the paddle and staying calm during the rescue. We also wish to acknowledge Canadian Coast Guard Station Sarnia for their professional support as information was relayed and US Coast Guard Station Port Huron for their assistance in determining that Harbor Lexington was accessible. We wish to thank the Sanilac County Sheriff and his staff and the Lexington Harbor staff for their support.