Guest Column: Mother’s Day rescue

I’d like to think that my Mom was with me on Mother’s Day this year.  Mariette passed away a short time ago, and I think of her every time I sail on the Dawn Treader III, a 34 foot O’Day sloop out of Dana Point, Calif.             

On Mother’s Day, I took the boat out despite the rough conditions. I was talked into it by my motley crew, an interesting amalgam of three tall ship tars, a competent small ship sailor, a young mother, and her 3 year old son. The winds were consistently building throughout the day around 20-25, gusting up to 35.  Even the inner harbor had white caps.  I would never have considered this with inexperienced crew, but sailors live for this kind of challenge and they assured me we could handle it.             
After a few hours of getting hit in the face with cold sea water, I called it, and had Ryon head for the harbor. Close to the harbor entrance I saw a guy on what looked like a paddle board.  I thought he was crazy being out in this weather, and headed towards him.  I thought it might be someone I know who is crazy enough to do that.  But it wasn’t my crazy friend, but rather a young guy, maybe 18, on a capsized sailfish waving us down.  Just as we came within hail he ran right off his boat and swam frantically towards mine.             

He reached my boat in seconds and grabbed the gunnel on the rear quarter of the boat.  , Kris locked hands with his mid-drop, hauled him up and the young man scrambled on deck.  Our self- satisfaction was short lived, however.  The panicked look on the teen’s face as he explained that his mother is still out there somewhere put us all in hyper crisis mode.  This might turn to tragedy as we couldn’t see anything between the swells and the chop.  Everyone jumped into gear.  Kris got through to the Harbor Patrol springing them into action. Then Ryon dropped the main and climbed up as high as he could. Then someone spotted.  I got the PFDs out of the locker, and several people kept pointing with outstretched arms, as we were all properly taught, so I could easily keep track of her position.             

I got someone to prep the horse shoe lifebuoy on the stern as I attempted to circle the bobbing mom.  She later said several big boats had already passed her blindly as she waved and yelled leaving her feeling helpless.  She had been in the water for 25 minutes before we got there.  It was tough to get close enough to her with the wind blowing and I was afraid to run her over.  I’ve trained on this maneuver many times, and I know to approach her straight up from downwind, but it took a lot to control the boat, and all I can think of now is how I could have done it better.               

I must have circled her 10 times trailing the horse shoe hoping to encircle her, all the while telling her that if we can’t get her in our boat the Harbor Patrol will.  Now we could hear the patrol boats’ sirens inspiring a sense of anxiety and comfort simultaneously.  We yelled that we had her son,  and we weren’t going to leave her.  I tried a different approach where I was able to hold my position, and Dave was able to reel in and re-throw the bouy right to her.  She grabbed it and the guys reeled her in.  I kept it in neutral as she was aided up the swim ladder just as the sheriff and harbor patrol boats approached.  We signaled that it was all good and alerted them about the deserted sailfish.             

Rusty has a medical background so he was checking both mother and son’s extremities for color..  Clearly, both were showing signs of hypothermia. Once docked, we went below to boil water for hot liquids, plugged in the electric heater, and found some dry clothes.  Dave forfeited his long sleeved shirt, and each swimmer wore somebody’s borrowed jacket.  Every towel and person on board did good service that day.             

At the dock, we had Chase  and his mom, Christine warming up for about an hour or so drinking hot cocoa.  With one final check from Rusty that their toe nails were pink and responsive, we exchanged numbers, said our goodbyes, and wished them luck with the boat. 

The sheriff had found the daysailer and towed it to the patrol dock where they would collect it in the morning.  

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