Byline: Larry Potter
Regarding the story “Rescued Against His Will?” in the Dec. 23-Jan. 5 issue of The Log Newspaper (in which a sight-impaired singlehanded sailor claimed he was ordered by Coast Guard personnel to board a rescue vessel and abandon his boat at sea unnecessarily), I sympathize with the experience that skipper Dennis Howard had.
I personally have great respect and admiration for those in the Coast Guard who are highly trained and risk their lives to save others. On the other hand, I have dealt too many times with incidents of a young serviceman’s arrogant imposition of his authority and pseudo-“expertise.”
An example: We sailed into the Columbia River and headed up to Ilwaco Harbor, not knowing that all space was sold out for a fishing contest. It was getting late and the fog was coming in, so we anchored in the only possible spot along that 5-mile slough — which was across from a Coast Guard base.
Shortly after that, a Coast Guard inflatable came out to inform us that we had to leave immediately, or else have our boat impounded. Upon asking for an explanation, they said the water was too shallow — and that when the tide went out, they’d have to come out to “rescue” us.
I explained that I had already carefully calculated depth, draft and tidal change — to no avail — but that brought even greater, arrogant hostility. When I explained that I have literally anchored over 1,000 times in 20 years and have 70,000 miles of cruising experience, the “two-striper” only got angrier.
We were forced to leave, with the sun setting and the fog rolling in. We found no anchorage on the north side of the channel, as it was littered with crab traps.
In the process, we ended up wrapping a loose line and had to set sail to cross the busy channel, with barely enough wind to move us. It took a half an hour to cross, while we were receiving several five-blast warnings from passing ships. In all my years of sailing, it was the closest to a real threat to our property and lives we faced — and it was all thanks to the Coast Guard.
Years back, I remember reading a comment in a letter sent to Cruising World magazine: “Don’t call the USCG unless your life and property are in danger. Otherwise, they will be.”