|nonoctave.com / Rebel Yell / Part I / Chapters 2-3|
|Rebel Yell||Jason Scott||Part I - First, Get Your Feet Wet... Real Wet!|
Murphy’s Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will. Murphy’s success can be directly attributed to his uncanny ability to find and attack the weakest link.
There is one thing that all cruising shippers are unanimous on. The single factor which is the direct or indirect cause of all major mishaps at sea is the crew.1 If there is a problem you can rest assured that somewhere down under the pile of sludge in the bilge is a Nautical Nurd. Or maybe two! Someone not pulling their weight...ignoring orders...being obstreperous for no good reason or, for any other purpose, not pulling as a member of the team. If things go routinely (as most of the time they do), the Nurds don’t really cause a major problem. If things get a little hairy at sea, though, the weakest kink soon becomes evident. Such was the case the first time the SIBLING stuck her prissy prow out into the ocean proper on her way southward on a course set for San Francisco. It was another example of little things mean a lot when it comes to open ocean cruising.
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Before hauling anchor out of the harbor of refuge at Neah Bay, all systems in the yacht were given a through going over. Before topping out with fuel, the fuel sumps were checked for contamination and possible water intrusion because of the amount of sea water which had come aboard during our transit out of the strait. Everything looked good.
The anchor came up at 1330 and sail was set under conditions of very light winds and a glassy sea. An enigma for the area! Our planned course was to lead us about 80 miles off the coast before making a turn and heading due south.
Unbeknownst to me, Morrie (not wanting to take any undue chances with mal de mer) took not one but three Marazine before the hook came up. He got into the medicine chest without permission. Not because he wouldn’t have been given one, I suspect, but more because he had grown quite fond of the relaxed mode they left him in. (Big lesson learned here: always keep the medicines under lock and key.)
The normal swell off the Washington/Oregon coast is about 10 feet even with no wind blowing. To the sailing buff, this gives a rock-a-bye feeling which is tantamount to a natural sedative. Sometimes it is hard to stay awake.
80 miles out would place us beyond the 100 fathom line and, therefore, we would have less surface chop or sea confusion just in case the wind started to come up again. (Which it always did thereabouts!) Shortly after leaving the confines of the straits entrance, the wind freshened to about 15 knots and we were moving comfortably under mains’l and Genoa. With this goodly wind we were soon out of landsight. Everyone seemed happy and in fine spirits.
The open ocean sailor knows well that safety lies in deep water whereas, when land is no longer visible, the novice soon conjures that the skipper or navigator just might not know where he is. This phenomena is probably due to the fact that the white lines and distance markers the landlubber is most familiar with are not at all practical as normal navigation aids in the open ocean. Along these lines some unusual circumstances reared their ugly heads during the first 24 hours out of Neah Bay which caused me to start doubting my own navigational prowess.
The basic navigation technique of dead reckoning combined with visual and celestial navigation had always served me well while logging some 1700 hours in single engine light planes. A good portion of that had been island hopping out of sight of land. Never once had I been lost. Air navigation is much more precise than that required for normal sea navigation. The result of missing a destination because of a slight error is a bit more traumatic when flying. Running out of fuel at sea in a sailing boat leaves one with options that running out of fuel in an airplane doesn’t. (It is not at all practical to throw a hook and wait until the wind comes up or the fog lifts when several thousand feet in the air!) So, even giving a little for the lack of precision, my confidence really took a jolt when the readings showed us to be considerably off course.
Offshore coastal navigation in habitable lands involves the use of the Radio Direction Finder (RDF) to verify visual and dead reckoning techniques. Some yachtsmen use exotic devices such as Loran, Omega or even Radar. Those instruments are expensive to start with and even more expensive to keep working. Years spent as an Aerospace Engineer specializing in electronic devices gives me a tendency to mistrust complex electronic devices as a primary tool.2 Conversely, the RDF is relatively inexpensive and, because none claim the accuracy of the other tools, the user will take all readings with a grain of salt. This is good because it forces the navigator to use the RDF as a check on the accuracy of his primary tools: compass and sextant. The problem here was that the readings obtained in the morning and evening, to say nothing of the noon latitude, indicated that we were going nowhere fast! Either the navigation was wrong or we were heading back towards Neah Bay!
The compass had been swung before leaving Seattle and was certified accurate. The pilot charts and locals did not indicate presence of freak currents or magnetic disturbances. The problem had to be elsewhere. The only elsewhere was the helmsman!
The second night out I rose quietly around midnight and went to the cockpit where the incredible hulk, Pietro, was standing watch at the wheel. Somewhat furtively, I sneaked a look at the compass. GREAT BALLS OF FIRE! We were heading bach the way we had come!
“Uhhh, Pietro. What’s with the compass course you were given to steer?”
He looked down at the instrument glowing red in the dark and then continued staring straight ahead...still maintaining the same errant course.
“Wal, shipper, I just figured that we had headed too far out to sea so I kinda changed it back a little.” I kinda considered that for a moment.
“You, ahhh, did all this on your own?”
“Yup! Figured that if we kept going the way we were, we’d never see land again. This way we stick close to the coast.”
Quick visions danced through my mind about what Captain Bligh would have done under similar circumstances. As Blighs methods of disciplining such a form of mutiny were a little drastic in this day and age (tempting as it was), my choices were limited. He was undoubtedly suffering from an acute case of that seagoing malady Nautical Nurdosis. There was no point in making an issue out the thing just at that moment. After all, it might not be the malignant kind! Pietro might have been the greatest defensive end Kansas City ever had but he wasnt all that bright. Considering the size of him, gentle handling was certainly in order. I took the wheel from him for a moment, corrected the course and handed it back to him.
“Now, Pietro, you just have to trust me. I really do know what I am doing. I put my arm around his massive shoulders to reassure him...just as his coach might have done. He was really just a big kid. A DAMNED BIG KID!
“You must keep the course I’ve set for you. It’ll work out...believe me. if you ever feel like exercising your imagination again, come and talk it over with me. Or, at least, tell me what you did.”
I sat down next to him in the quiet of the night and contemplated what had happened. All of the rest of us were going according to plan but, during his watch, 25% of the time, he had retraced our steps. No wonder, given the fact that his course was always near downwind, it looked as if we were standing still!
The wind rustled the sails. The set was wrong now that the course was right so it was necessary to adjust the angle of both the main and the jib. SIBLING eagerly leaped forward as if her bustle had just been loosened and she was able to breath freely again. One could almost hear her sigh in relief as she moved forward under proper trim.
You must be losing your grip, Jason, came the thought. None of the books on sailing which had been consulted nor any of the numerous BS sessions with other skippers had prepared me for anything such as this. My thoughts were interrupted.
“Yeah, go ahead.”
“I’ve decided.” (long pause) “I’m not going to stay out here alone anymore on these watches at night.”
Oh, great! Now what? It’s best to keep patience and peace until this phase plays out, came the thoughts. I pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt, lit one and placed it in his mouth. He tooh a long drag.
“No sir,” he continued. “You can’t get me out here again at night.” There was great resolve in his manner and voice.
“What seems to be the problem, buddy?”
By this time curiosity was getting to me. He leaned forward, wide eyed, and looked out into the night. His eyes glowed an eerie red from the reflection of the compass light.
“Listen to that, Skip,” he wheezed, red eyes rolling. I cocked my ear and listened.
“Don’t hear anything unusual,” Pietro. Noticably I turned my head back and forth in an effort to either impress him with my sincerity or possibly pick up anything unusual. Really weird!
“Don’t hear anything ’cept maybe the sound of the wind through the riggin’ and the water slidin’ past the hull.” I waited, listening perceptively, then added, “Normal sounds at sea when underway.”
He paused for a moment then looked around in a most surreptitious manner into the darkness as if each and every word were being monitored by someone else than the two of us. Then, in barely audible voice, a whisper if you will, he spoke.
“Cap, when I’m here by myself at night,” (long pause as he looked around) “the dead talk to me.” Involuntarily my eyebrows raised at the thought. He continued. “You know, all the guys who have lost their lives at sea!”
Oh, my God! Now I’ve heard it all! Considering his massive size, it was hard to reconcile his fear with all that bulk. This was the man who had made born-again believers out of more than one professional quarterback! Ghosts indeed! Perhaps some of those he had maimed were plaguing his conscience!
To placate him, he had to be given his very own living and breathing security blanket. There was no point in trying to use reason to change his mind...he was beyond that!
“OK, Pietro. Ill have someone stay with you when you’re on watch at night. It is not possible to relieve you of your night watch altogether because we need everyone standing their place. One of us will, at least, sleep on deck where you can touch him or call on him if you continue to have problems with the dead.
In dealing with a lot of oddball fetishes, I’d never run up against anything quite like this. A little more time had to be spent thinking it over! This shift meant that it would be necessary for me to stand a regular watch and eliminate the proper rest needed so badly. One more contingency gone which could eventually become a problem if it got further out of hand. And, that it did!
There were other things which presented even more serious problems than ghosts. For example, Morrie not following orders to get up and be ready to help when we had an emergency. He was becoming so tranquil that it was almost impossible for him to pull his weight. There would have to be a few words gently said about that. Hell, just a few days out and already the crew, which had been so carefully picked and trained, was falling to pieces.
Morrie was acting even more strangely as time went on. His usual good nature seemed to diminish daily and he displayed increasing periods of irrationality. He had become morose and even downright belligerent. After my talk to him about the need to pull together as a crew, his morbid attitude intensified. One could suspect that something else was wrong. We had been friends for some time (people cannot hide their true selves as easily in the small confines of a boat) and he had never exhibited this kind of an attitude. Then the cause was found.
A regular check of the medicine cabinet revealed that the Marazine supply had taken a dramatic turn downward. No wonder he spent most of the time in the sack! Looking further, it was discovered that the Benzedrine supply (legal drugs aboard a cruiser) was also being depleted. Two and two makes four! Apparently the downers were taken for seasickness and the uppers to stay awake. That plus the two drinks allowed in the evening for happy-time, had their effect. A personality change! The effect was cumulative and it effected the entire crew.
Three days out of Cape Flattery the wind started to freshen considerably and the sea came up accordingly. By that time the situations with the crew had deteriorated to the point where both errant crew members spent ALL of their time in the sack. Morrie was in some stage of reverie and, as the sea became more rough and confused, Pietro stayed prone in the V berth during his waking hours...literally shaking with fear.
Neither Mark or I had thought that the ocean state was all that bad to this point but it is true that what constitutes a fearful sea is different with each person and relates directly to the amount of open ocean experience each has had. The real problem was that their incapacitation caused Mark and I to serve all of the watches and I started having the inevitable resulting chest pains. Too much stress and strain with too little time to recover.
Pietro and Morrie managed to come out of it long enough to insist that they be put ashore. Morrie assured us that he was dying and Pietro said that he was now able to SEE the ghosts on a regular basis! We were some 80 miles at sea just north of the inlet to the Columbia River.
“Mark, something has to be done. It is better to have a short crew than one which cannot be counted on.”
“Yeah, and they still manage to take up space and eat the food,” he agreed.
The Coast Guard was appraised of the situation (the drug problem was not discussed) and we were given the standard answer: Unless death were truly imminent, they would not put out to sea. Particularly a sea which was now rapidly getting out of hand.
One more day went by. Morrie and Pietro were so involved with their fear that they were unaware that the skipper was, by this time, doubling over with angina and having a hard time breathing. Signs of an impending cardiac attack. It was time to have a serious talk with Mark.
He agreed that we had to get the both of them off the boat. The course was changed to make for Astoria, the closest relatively safe port. We were about 80 miles at sea when we made the turn. The time we had been making was certainly less than spectacular what with the makeshift course correction by Pietro and having to hove to from time to time because of the short effective crew. We were abreast of the entrance to the Columbia River.
Dammit, Mark, this is going to cost us an extra week of sailing time. Here we are the proper distance out and we have to go in for no real reason whatsoever. But, more important, we are putting both the boat and crew in jeopardy by approaching the coast in this weather. Inner fury was starting to get the best of me. I spat over the side at the thought of the situation. And, my chest hurtt
Stupid, stupid STUPID! came the words from sheer frustration as I brooded over the alternatives still open to us.
Everyone has a fatigue point. Mine had been broached. Soon, it would be only Mark left to bring the boat in. Preparations had to be made so that when we reached that very dangerous Columbia River bar both the boat and remaining crew were ready. To facilitate single handing in an increasing sea, all sail was lowered and the engine started. Assuming I would be in condition to help when we came in, my last resort, Dilauded, was taken and it was off to the bunk to get the required rest. Sleep came quickly under the influence of the drug which had been provided by the cardiologist to be used to delay a fatal heart attack. Rest was mandatory but, at best, it was fitful.
Sometime later Mark left the wheel, came below and shook me awake (He had managed to get Pietro out of the sack long enough to relieve the helm.) It was apparent even in my stupified condition that the engine was silent and we were dead in the water. SIBLING was furiously wallowing in a confused sea.
“Jas, the engine has just quit.” I looked at him with half seeing blurred eyes. Now what?
“Are you sure you’re OK? You look like death warmed over, he said, noting my condition.
Swinging numb feet over the side of the bunk, I shakily moved forward as the buffeted yacht bounced me off both sides of the cabin. I stood by Morries bunk.
“Move out of there, fella,” I said, shaking him. “Gotta get under there and take a look at the fuel tank.”
The only thing which would cause a diesel to stop was lack of fuel. It was the first logical place to look. Morrie turned over, muttered something unintelligible, stood up and moved aside. Reaching down to open the low point drain, the problem was immediately discovered.
When in Neah Bay and Morrie was asked to drain the water from the low point petcock, he neglected to close it off. All of our fuel had drained into the bilge and was automatically pumped overboard. (Another lesson learned. Never leave the bilge pump to run routinely in the automatic mode when under sail.) The valve was closed off and the bunk boards replaced. Morrie immediately resumed his supine position, to our disgust.
“All of the fuel has been pumped overboard, Mark. This time Murphy had an assistant.”
Thus far none of the problems experienced had been the fault of the boat or equipment. Nor could it be blamed on poor seamanship. It was all just human failure...carelessness! The nemesis of the offshore sailor!
“We still have 2 1/2 gallons in the jerry can, Mark noted.
“Don’t use that until we are within range of the bar. We’re in the shipping lanes and we’ll just sit here for a while until someone comes along and loans us some fuel.”
It was the only decision feasible at the time. With only one crewman available it was not the time to set even minimal sail. That could come later if it came to that. The Columbia River bar is dangerous enough in any weather. Crossing it in marginal weather without power is tantamount to just asking for it! The numerous visible wrecks at the bar would testify to that. In spite of the increasingly critical condition, we would wait. Our position was far enough to sea that shore dangers were not present and the boat itself was in good shape.
“Mark, I’m going back to my bunk and take some more medicine. Keep an eye out for someone coming within signaling distance. This is freighter country. If you see someone, get out the searchlight and send them the letter V. (The internationally understood code for ‘we need assistance.') Ask them to put a few gallons of fuel oil overboard for us to pick up.”
“Can’t we call the Coast Guard?”
“No. They’d rightfully just tell us to sail in. We’re not yet in that critical a shape.” The only thing I was considering at that point was the boat. My personal condition was being ignored.
Laying there waiting for the Dilauded to take effect, several things came to mind. First of all, the doctor had said to take the stuff and stay down. It had been necessary to be up but if help wasn’t forthcoming right away, chances of my survival were pretty slim. Another thought plagued me. Three other men depended on me to get them safely through and I had failed them! In my wildest assumptions, I did not plan for the contingency of three out of four crew members being indisposed at the same time.
Sure enough, Mark spotted a large freighter approaching. It was heading up the coast...not in our direction. The signal V caused them to turn in and head towards us. It was Monrovian registered Mare Australis, a relatively new freighter carrying a load of bananas. A communication problem existed in that all aboard were Italians and not much English was understood or spoken. Mark soon found out that the term diesel is not internationally understood. After some experimentation, he discovered the word oil. The captain dropped 5 gallons of heavy number 3 diesel overboard for us to recover. Mark had wisely already put half the jerry can fuel in the tank, bled and cranked up the diesel. (A nice thing about an MD-2 is that it can be hand cranked.) I woke when the engine fired and came on deck, as did the rest of the crew.
“This is a good exercise in ‘man overboard’ techniques, men. I’ll take the wheel. Mark, you supervise the recovery.”
Our practice in the sound paid off. The barrel was recovered on but one pass in a relatively nasty sea. The exercise done, the Mare started up and began circling us again. We signaled a thanks on the light but for some reason or another, she continued to stay with us. What I didn’t know was that Mark, after noting my condition, had advised the Coast Guard that a heart attack was in progress. The CG had asked the Australis to stand by.
“Mark, take over. I gotta get back to the bunk.”
“You OK?” It was time to level with him.
“No. Im in real trouble. You have to take over. I just can’t help any more. The course is set for the Columbia. Pull into Astoria. Get me up just before we cross the bar. I can advise you. Gotta be damned careful in surfing over that bar. It’s a killer!”
The sea state was increasing steadily as the weather deteriorated and Mark immediately put in a call to the Coast Guard. This time with a MAYDAY!
In which the combined efforts of the men on the yacht, the crew of a commercial freighter, a Coast Guard launch, a helicopter pilot and a doctor combine to save SIBLlNG and its skipper.
Dire thoughts plagued a drug fogged mind now helpless and in the throes of a heart attack while the boat was being flailed, hissed at and inundated by a furious Pacific Ocean. Knowledge that the entire boat was sometimes underwater as a now very confused sea broke at will from all four directions at the same time did nothing to enhance the situation. It was some comfort to feel the gentle throb of the engine.
Over and over the thought came, you prepared properly, you trained properly, you picked the right boat and equipment. Take it easy...everything will be all right. In my condition, I was the weakest link of all.
In the distance haze of consciousness came the sound of a chopper. Time seemed to lose its significance and order. Then came the awful sound and feeling of a collision at sea. A glance out of the porthole revealed that the freighter which should have rightfully been long gone on its way to Seattle was right up against us. Crashing time and time again to the fragile skin of the yacht. My God! What’s happening! I ran through the cabin, out of the hatchway and, stumbling, fell into the cockpit.
The words MAYDAY from a ship puts into motion a whole series of events. When the call is within the general vicinity of a coastline, the controlling agency is the nearest Coast Guard station. In the case of extended voyages in the Pacific, the agency which controls is the one in San Francisco. The nearest facility to SIBLING’s position was on the Washington state side of the Columbia River inlet at the port of Ilwaco. On the south side and a ways further up river is the much larger Oregon port of Astoria. In order to better understand the series of events, it is best to get those involved in the unfolding drama to describe their part of the action. (Besides, memory of these events is a bit hazy even to this day.)
COAST GUARD: On the 24th day of April at 0605 hours, we received a call on the emergency SSB frequency that there were problems with the crew aboard the sloop SIBLING. The owner/captain, one Jason Scott, informed us that they were just three days out of Neah Bay and two of the crew wanted to be put ashore. One was scared to death and the other had a bad case of sea sickness. Their position was given as parallel to our latitude and some 80 miles at sea. He also verified the other reports which had been coming in concerning increasingly bad weather. Meteorology had given us a forecast of 25 to 30 knot winds increasing by late afternoon to light gale force. There was a possibility that winds of full gale force would be experienced as this front passed us. The captain was appraised of that situation. Considering the class of boat he was sailing and the fact that he was a considerable distance off the coast and away from coastline dangers, there didn’t seem to be any cause for undue worry for the safety of the craft. I advised that, unless there was imminent fear for loss of life, we would not launch a boat and instigate a rescue operation. It was further suggested that his best alternative was to put in to Astoria if the situation aboard became truly critical. It was also brought to his attention that by the time he arrived, chances were that the bar crossing would be very dangerous. We didn’t hear from them again until we received the MAYDAY.
At approximately 1158 hours the same day, we received a transmission from the Liberian registered freighter MARE AUSTRALIS that they had answered a call for assistance from a small yacht and were proceeding to them. After considerable maneuvering in heavy seas they passed some fuel to the yacht. They were in constant contact with us during the operation. We asked them to stand by and report when the operation was complete. We also tried to raise the SIBLING via radiotelephone to no avail.
Just when it looked as if everything was going OK, a very weak transmission came in from SIBLING involving a MAYDAY. The MARE repeated the call. It seems that the captain of the yacht was in the throes of a heart attack. We initiated rescue operations. As it happened, a headquarters MD was aboard instructing the Pharmacist Mates and, when advised of the situation, volunteered his services.
FREIGHTER MARE AUSTRALIS: We were proceeding some 50 miles off the coast of Oregon bound for Seattle with a cargo hold full of bananas. The weather had been deteriorating for some time and the seas were up to 20 feet and breaking. Spray was over the bow. A light rain had started. At 1108 hours the bridge advised me (the captain) that a small sailing vessel had just signaled by light that they were in difficulty and needed assistance. I gave the order to alter course and comply. The boat did not look as if it were in any trouble structurally. After some difficulty with the language, we managed to determine that they had run out of oil. We noted through the glasses that they were pouring such reserves they had into the fuel tank. We waited until they were underway and in condition to maneuver for pickup before launching a can of fuel into a leeward slick. The pickup was professionally executed under most trying circumstances. We had advised the US Coast Guard of the operation and, conforming to their request, stood by awaiting their permission to leave the scene. A few moments later, the yacht approached us within hailing distance. We were able to make out their desire for VHF contact. They advised us that their captain was suffering a heart attack and their batteries were too low to transmit directly to the Coast Guard and would we forward the MAYDAY. The information was passed on and we were asked to stand by. A motor launch and a helicopter with a doctor aboard was dispatched. We relayed the information via bullhorn to the yacht. By the time the helicopter arrived the wind was blowing at full gale force making a rescue off the yacht impossible and one of our ship exceedingly dangerous. To assist the helicopter in navigating to the scene in the decreasing visibility, the usual constant radio signal was transmitted.
MARK (ABOARD SIBLING): When Jason told me that I was in full charge, I knew that the first action to be taken was to get him help. There was no doubt in my mind that he was having a serious heart attack and time was of essence. It was then that I told the crew of his condition. They all pitched in to help. The many attempts to start the engine had drained the battery to the point that my attempts to use the SSB radio met with failure. I sent the MAYDAY anyway in hopes that someone would hear, and then enlisted the help of the freighter. By that time the captain was running the operation personally. He could understand English pretty well and the MAYDAY was relayed. We linked up via the VHF (lower power requirements). I took a look at Jason and he was really out of it. Didn’t look as if he would survive much more than an hour without medical help. We shut down transmitting to conserve battery power, listened to them and answered by light. They advised that the CG was sending both a launch and a chopper. I couldn’t imagine how Jason could be picked off this pitching rolling yacht! Pretty soon the sound of the chopper came through the noise of the ocean. By then, the rain had increased making visibility even worse but it had the effect of flattening out the sea somewhat. The freighter advised that the chopper had a doctor on board. That was great but how in hell was he going to get down here where he could do some good? Things would be tricky on all parts.
THE DOCTOR: It was only coincidence that I was visiting the facility at Ilwaco. When the call came in that a man was having a heart attack some 50 miles at sea, I volunteered my services. I had practiced many times for just this kind of an operation but never under this sea condition. This was to be the real thing and it wasn’t going to be easy considering the briefing we got before piling into the chopper. Even under the best of conditions it is difficult to transfer from a helicopter, sitting and swaying in a kind of boatswains chair, to a pitching rolling target some 300 feet below. Landing on deck would have been impossible even if the freighter had room. As in all conditions of heart attack, time was the greatest factor in his survival. He had to be given first aid and then brought to a proper facility with the least delay if there was to be a chance. We spotted the two boats below us. The yacht looked ridiculously minuscule alongside that freighter. There was no way that I was going to be able to get aboard the yacht. I told the captain of the freighter to have the yacht crew quickly harness the sick man to a line and bring him aboard his ship. It would be ideal to get him aboard quickly. The operation of moving me from the chopper to the deck of the MARE was going to take some time and time we didn’t have. I climbed into the air-chair with my satchel and soon was on my way spinning, twisting and swinging some few hundred feet below. The chopper was having a time maintaining itself in the gusting wind and the downwash was driving the rain into me litte pellets. On the way down I could see activity on the deck of the yacht and, in addition, they were coming alongside the larger boat which had swung around to create as much of a lee slick as they could. Both craft were rolling frantically. We were committed!
MARK (ABOARD SIBLING): By radio they directed me to bring Jason aboard. I was to prepare for the transfer by immediately bringing the yacht alongside. Looking at the size of that ship with its decks some 200 feet above us, I cringed. If it wasn’t done right...the slightest miscue...we’d be crushed. In this sea, we had to have a lot of luck going for us. Jason had always told me that he was lucky. Now, we’d see! The crew took every fender we had and secured them to the port side. Each crewman was told of his part in this split second operation. It was important that when we came alongside two people would harness up the skipper and, that done, one would try to push off the freighter while the other maneuvered the skipper into position where he could be quickly hauled up and away from the yacht’s deck and up the side of the larger ship. I made my run. When we came alongside, there was a resounding crash and a crunch from above. In the rolling, the port side spreaders had struck the side of the freighter and snapped. The boat was Marconi rigged but, even though the stays were slack, the mast held! We sure as hell couldn’t use the sails after that, though. The crash must have awakened Jason and he came out on deck like a shot...groggy eyed. He yelled something about the collision and that we should get the hell out of there before we were crushed. Before anyone could answer, Pietro grabbed him and literally picked him up and placed him in the harness. All this time we were rolling and pitching wildly and the yacht was taking quite a beating. We had to do it fast or we’d all be in the drink! While Pietro held him, Morrie fastened him in and signaled to the crew above that he was ready. As they started to haul him up, the yacht lurched and Pietro fell against the compass post and crushed it. Now, we could neither sail or navigate! Pietro moved forward and, bracing his back side against the cabin, put his feet on the freighters side to try and keep the boats from crushing Jason as the crew above hauled away. As they started Jason swung momentarily between the boats and a violent swell tried to squeeze him between the two. Pietro’s great strength prevented that final disaster from happening and our man was successfully hoisted aboard. I immediately moved SIBLING away from the freighter.
THE DOCTOR: For the life of me, I don’t know how a man experiencing a heart attack could have survived being hauled up the side of that boat in a rough sea and driving rain! But, he did! I checked his vital signs and knew that if we didn’t get him ashore to the proper facilities, he’d be a gonner. Inside sick bay, I saw a relatively new cut right down the middle of his chest and knew that he had just recently undergone open heart. What in hell was he doing out there? I never did find the answer to that one. I gave him a shot of morphine in the main line. Didn’t think he would make it. The Italians packed him on to the helicopter stretcher and transported him to the fan tail. The chopper, still overhead, put out the transport cable which was fastened to the gurney. A couple of blankets from the ship were placed on top to protect him from the sting of the downwash driven rain. I watched as the chopper jerked him up from the deck, rose another 300 feet, reeled him in and headed back towards Astoria. Later the launch showed up and I transferred aboard. Every damned sailor was seasick! They managed to get a line on the now crippled yacht and, through those heavy seas, made for Ilwaco some 50 miles away. It was late. Time seems to compress when you’re busy. Especially when you are trying to hang on to your stomach! I felt good though...everything went our way for a change!
WHAT I REMEMBER: Under the circumstances, much of what went on after that second Dilauded is pretty spotty. Somehow I ended up banging up the sides of that freighter and the next thing someone had a needle in my arm. What happened to me after that seemed to be of little concern. There were lots of faces peering at me and the room on the boat was really beautiful. Or was it the effect of the morphine? The next recollection was of swinging, not unlike a trapeze artist, on a single steel cable a thousand feet above the water. The experience was memorable even when loaded up with happy juice! While being hauled up, swaying and spinning, I looked below at the unfolding drama as if it were somewhere else in the universe. My boat had managed to put some distance between herself and the freighter. For that, I was grateful. The bottom of the chopper was coming up at me. No matter! Hell, I was too happy and contented with the blast the doc had given me to worry if they were going to crush me before hauling aboard. The noise of the jet was deafening. Someone reached out the side and swung me around parallel with the aircraft. Next thing, I was aboard and someone thoughtfully placed ear muffs to deaden the sound. Next thing I was aware of was a hospital room. A doctor was checking me over.
“Well, Captain Cardiac himself! You must have one hell of a desire to live. Looks as though youre going to be all right.” Captain Cardiac? Hah!
“Hell, doc, you can’t shoot a man whos bound to be hung!” My humor didn’t impress him. He turned as he started out the door.
“Your wife is on her way here.”
Chris had been appraised of the problem and flew to Astoria. When she determined that once again I would survive this latest of fiascos, her patience ebbed. She remained just long enough to make arrangements for paid crew to bring the boat the rest of the way without my help. She did not bother to consult with me on this action and I was certainly in no condition to argue with her after the fact.
Mark returned home to an “I told you so” Jody saying that he had just gone through what he considered to be a religious experience.
Pietro swore that he would never again step aboard a boat...not even at Disneyland!
I heard nothing from Morrie since and, considering all the help he gave us along the way, felt that it was just as well. I allowed that the whole thing was a fantastic learning experience...particularly as it applied to the behavior of crews.
*** *** *** *** ***
Returning home to San Diego with a most ambivalent Chris, we awaited the arrival of SIBLING. As the days wore on, the conclusion was reached that I had waited too long and my blue water sailing days, short as they were, were over. In a zeal for following the precepts of Illegitimus non carborundum, Murphy’s most basic laws had not been fully taken into account.
Chris sensed my lack of accomplishment but couldn’t quite understand why I wasn’t content with the status quo. Some people never are! There are many of us who feel that if you do, you are already dead! Little did any of us suspect that this sail and my part in it was not over.
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