I woke up to rain today. A Nor’ Easter was coming through and the forecast was for rain all day here.
A rainy day for a Dock Master can be miserable and boring or exciting and busy. In my profession, you hope for the boring because the other means there is a crisis going on. You know, little things like boats sinking, or docks floating away. Yeah, little things!
I get to work and put on my full rain suit and walk the docks in the pouring rain. Everything normal… it’s going to be a boring day. WRONG!
I get back to the dock shack and I hear a Dock Master at a marina near here talking on the VHF radio with the Coast Guard and a boat out at sea. The Dock Master is relaying communications between the two. The boat can’t hear the Coast Guard, but can pick up the signal from the other marina, so they are helping by relaying messages back and forth.
It turns out that the boat in trouble can’t hear either the marina or the Coast Guard and a boat near them is sending their messages to the Dock Master who is passing them on to the Coast Guard.
The boat is in trouble. The seas are really rough and there are three people on board. The Captain, 64 years old, has suffered a back injury in the rough conditions and needs help. The name of the boat is the "Carol Lee" and the messages are being relayed by the "Crystal Sea."
The "Carol Lee" is a thirty- five-foot sailboat. There are three persons aboard. The Captain is out of commission with his back injuries and the other two passengers, ages 62 and 63, are very, very seasick.
I know all the Coast Guard radio frequencies, so I get out all my radios and switch them to the different channels and sit back to listen in.
The "Crystal Lee" is a 130’ motor yacht. She can’t get close enough to the sailboat to help because the rough seas would slam the boats together and cause even more problems. Her captain continues to relay messages until the "Carol Lee" is finally heard by the marina and can signal without the go between.
The Coast Guard now picks up an EPIRB signal from the area and immediately launches a rescue helicopter. EPIRB stands for: Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. No boat should ever go offshore without one of these gadgets aboard.
After a while, it is becoming clear to the Coast Guard that the EPIRB is not coming from any of the boats mentioned above. The ‘Crystal Lee" is out of the area now and out of the picture. A NOAA research vessel named "Nancy Foster" is nearby and takes up radio communications for the Coast Guard relaying messages back and forth. The other Dock Master is also out of the picture and, I’ll bet, listening in just like me.
The helicopter finds no other vessels in the area, abandons the search for the EPIRB, and heads for the "Carol Lee." Once on scene, the pilot reports the seas are 8 to 12 feet high and the pitch and roll of the sailboat is too great to safely drop the EMT swimmer to board the sailboat.
The plan now is for the "Nancy Foster" to launch her small boat and send a NOAA EMT over to the sailboat, but the "Nancy Foster" is five miles away. Suddenly the helicopter pilot radios that his EMT is onboard and they are returning to base for fuel. They had successfully dropped the EMT to the sailboat!
The Coast Guard has a forty-one footer speeding to the scene. The plan is for the 41Ft. boat to take the "Carol Lee" in tow and head for the nearest calm water. That would be St. Catherine’s Sound on the Georgia Coast. This situation is being handled jointly by Coast Guard Station Charleston, (South Carolina), and Coast Guard Station Tybee, (Savannah, Georgia).
Once they reach the calmer waters of the Sound they plan on either airlifting the Captain off the boat, or, towing the boat to a dock to get the Captain off. Because of the nature of the back injury, they decide to tow to a dock.
What an admirable display of professionalism was shown by everyone involved with this rescue from the Dock Master, to the boats that relayed information, to the coordination of effort by the two Coast Guard Stations, to the courage and bravery of the EMT dropped to administer aid to the injured Captain. I love it when a plan comes together!
Boring day? Not today!
After the Coast Guard Helicopter refueled, it returned to the area and continued to search for the EPIRB. I want these guys on duty if I ever get into trouble out there!