M/V DESERT VENTURE
Why We Go – Boat Angels
May 21, 2008
We spent five days in Port Angeles, WA. We have yet to find a really special place to put on the list of favorite restaurants, though we have been in town on several occasions. There is a seafood store a block from the top of the dock, and with their seafood and our endeavors we think D/V is the best dining in town!
As I noted previously, we had intended to pull into Neah Bay, drop anchor and just let the world go by for a day or two. Compelling reasons, including big swells that could have kept us longer than we wanted, friends we really want to see, and the desire to put another 70 miles behind us drove us on to Port Angeles. All of these were good enough reasons on their own, but now I wonder if we were driven on by something more powerful than our human plans.
We were awakened about 2230, on our second night, to the cries for help coming in our open head porthole. The first cries sort of seemed a part of our dreams, but then we both woke and rolled out immediately, grabbing clothes, and running out to the dock. The sound of the cries drew Bruce to a dock perpendicular to our boat. It was there that he found a man barely hanging onto the dock, unable to get himself out of the water. (The water was very cold – most likely 48 degrees or less.) The man had one hand on a cleat, and one trying to hang on to the flat dock. It was that hand that just as it gave up, Bruce grabbed. It became quickly obvious that Bruce was not going to be able to pull him out on his own. These are new docks and are fairly high off the water – as much as a couple feet. Very high when trying to leverage out of the water. I ran a line to Bruce, to get around the man and secure him, then ran to a Canadian sailboat that was tied after our stern. It took some pounding and yelling, but I roused a man on the sailboat. He asked “What is it?”, and I responded, “A man is in the water and my husband needs help to get him out.” He wanted to know where and I told him, and he said he would be right there. At that point I ran topside on our boat to get a rope/plastic ladder, that can be attached to a cleat. We thought if nothing else, we could get that down to him, he could get a foot in and maybe get purchase to help save himself. While all this is happening Bruce is calling to the man, as he was getting weak and hypothermic and Bruce was afraid he was loosing consciousness. The sailor arrived, and between him and Bruce heaved the man up out of the water to his waist, and then they were able to get the rest of him out of the water. The poor man was very sick, shivering terribly, and extremely distraught. (Who wasn’t or wouldn’t be??) Once we had him on the dock we got dry towels on him, and Bruce helped him get some dry clothes from his boat. We then put him in our guest shower with nice warm water. By the time he came topside, he was feeling better. We got some hot cocoa into him, wrapped him in a blanket as he was continuing to shiver, and spent time talking while the shock of it all faded. We were all quite shaken and emotional.
Apparently, he had just come home to the boat for the night. The boat is an older, low freeboard, sailboat. He had just opened the gate on the lifeline, bent to pick up a bag of groceries, and somehow caught his foot on the cleat, twisting his ankle in the process. The next thing he knew, his knee collapsed, he went down and rolled right into the water! He fell in on his boat’s side of the dock. When he came up the first time he was under the dock. He then dove down again and came up on the other side of his dock, but was blocked by big round fenders of the commercial fishing boat tied to the dock. It was dark outside and black in the water and very hard for him to find which way was up! It took him a fourth try to come up, without being blocked by fenders and manage to find a cleat to hang on to. We think it was at this time that he started calling for help.
Though there were other people on boats around, we are the only ones that heard his cries for help. Our activity, calling back and forth to each other, and Bruce calling to the man, roused a couple on a dock opposite of the water way. They heard “ladder”, and called to find out what was going on, then asked if we needed a ladder. Bruce yelled back that, yes, we needed a ladder. I don’t even know where in the world they found it, but they came running with a 12 foot ladder! How they got to it, and ran basically from one side of the marina to the other so fast is a tribute to adrenalin! By the time they got there, though, the men had the man out of the water.
Once it was obvious we would take care of the saved man, the others sort of just disappeared. We are very grateful for their quick assistance. Though this happened over a week ago, I am still quite shaken by the event. I shudder at the thought of what if we had not been there. The man was beyond grateful for our help, but we, too were grateful to have been there.
There are many stories of boaters helping each other in times of need. I think of them as “ boat angels”. We have had our own boat angels (and are very grateful for them), but I never expected to play such a role in the life of another boater/person. It is a humbling and emotional experience. I still go back to the thought of being at anchor in Neah Bay – what if. Well, I know you can’t look back at the “what ifs”, but now I am humbled and wonder if we will always be in the right place at the right time. We can’t quite plan our voyages with the idea of saving life, but we will go with the knowledge that life happens, and if we can help along the way, it is a reason for –Why We Go.