Thursday, December 02, 2010

When Tragedy Strikes

It is easy to think of the cruising life as one of beaches, palm trees, full sails and beautiful days - and it is, some of the time.  Maybe even most of the time.  It is easy to forget just how dangerous what we do is.  Scott and I try very hard to be mindful of the risks we are taking - and take precautions against them.  We always wear our inflatable life vests and harnesses when offshore, we always clip in to our jack-lines when we go forward of the cockpit, we watch weather like a hawk - but this is the 'predictable' stuff.  What about the freak accidents?

Today on the radio Scott and I literally heard a tragedy unfold.  It was a cool morning, but the sun was shining in a blue bird sky and it was a beautiful day in the calm safety of the ICW.  Around 10am we heard musings on the radio from a few boats ahead of us of shoaling and shallow water, and around 10:30 am we finally heard that one of them had run aground.  This happens to the best of us - and no matter what our charts say, these tides are dramatic and the bottom changes.

Around 11:15 am we heard a call to the Coast Guard from s/v Promise (one of a few heros of the day) stating that there was a vessel in distress (s/v Lighten Up) with an injured woman aboard.  I thought, "Huh?" - I mean, you couldn't have created a more calm and peaceful day... and then she clarified, "She has severed her finger while they were trying to get off a shoal".  Her voice was stern and serious, and indicated urgency.

Immediately my heart sank and tears welled up in my eyes.  Severed fingers are among the most common injuries on boats (in fact, my dad's left hand bears this mark) and it is for this reason Scott does not wear a wedding ring when we sail.  I was horrified.  This poor woman - hard aground on a boat that could not go anywhere, her husband (probably) desperately worried about her - with a devastating injury and bleeding badly.  Helpless.

I was behind the wheel quickly realized we were not far behind them - I  called to Scott to get out our offshore medical kit and call them on the radio.  He did, and notified the vessel s/v Promise that while we had an extensive medical kit, we were not medically trained - but would be standing by to help if we were needed.  They thanked us and told us they too were headed that way from the other direction.  We continued to proceed towards them.

As we did, more of the situation unfolded.  Apparently another vessel, m/v Mama's Money had come to their aid and had been working with them to try free them from the shoal when the injury occurred.  I am not sure exactly how it happened, but when dealing with anchors, windlasses, chain, winches, towing...it's easy to see how quickly something can go wrong.  These are serious systems that can have very serious consequences with one small misstep.

More talk on the radio indicated that the m/v Mama's Money was going to take the woman on board, and  bring her to the nearest dock, where the Coast Guard would be waiting with an ambulance.  The situation was dire, but stabilized - she was on her way to shore and would be getting to medical attention as quickly as possible. As both our boat and s/v Promise converged on s/v Lighten Up - my heart sank further as I heard the helpless voice of her husband - alone on his boat, worried sick about his wife and completely helpless.  I honestly could not think of a worse situation to be in and in that moment, I would have done just about anything I could to help that man and his wife.

Again, on the radio we heard s/v Promise call s/v Lighten Up and state that the woman on board would join the lone husband and either wait with him for the tide to come up - or take his boat to a safe harbor while he got picked up by the Coast Guard if he felt so inclined.  She was delivered to his vessel by a passing fishing boat.  I have no idea who this woman is, but I intend to give her a big hug if and when I meet her because she was stellar today.  The husband decided to stay with the vessel, and wait for it to be freed, with the woman from s/v Promise aboard with him.

We circled around s/v Promis and s/v Lighten Up for a while, standing by, when the husband called us on the radio saying that while he was thankful for our willingness to assist, there was nothing we could do.  We knew it, but somehow just being near him felt right and leaving felt wrong. Knowing there was nothing we could do - we left, wishing him well and sending him our deepest condolences.

While this is a horrific reminder that what we do is not without it's risks and that tragedy can strike in the most unlikely of places, I was totally and utterly proud to be part of a community that so selflessly comes to the aid of others.  The boats s/v Promise and m/v Mama's Money went above and beyond - and the Coast Guard as well responded with professionalism, speed and care.  We were all willing to do whatever we could to help and the woman's situation was much better because of this.

I do not know the status of the woman as I write, but I do know from the last update from m/v Mama's Money that she was conscious, thinking clearly, and doing well.  By now she is most certainly in the care of a hospital and nearing the road to recovery.

My thoughts go out to s/v Lighten Up.  And to the vessels s/v Promise and m/v Mama's Money - you have our utmost respect.  We are honored to be on the water with the likes of you.

Love,

Brittany & Scott


Post Script: I got the number for Theresa (the woman who injured herself) and called the next day, just to let her know we were thinking about her and hoping everything was okay.  A couple days later she called me back and a couple days after that we connected.  While she lost the tip of her pinky, she is happy, healthy and with a wonderful positive attitude about the whole thing - as her husband said, it could've been a lot worse.  She was very touched appreciative of our call and we're hoping to one day meet in person as we both make our way South!  Here's hoping!

10 comments:

Neophyte Cruiser said...

Kudos on your proactive response, Scott and Brittany. You're part of what makes the boating community special. Stay safe and enjoy your cruise!

Lisa said...

The community of boaters is generally one of the best groups of people; you and the others are examples of what I hope would be the reaction of just about anyone on the water who hears of another in distress.

In our cruising life, the most serious things that have happened to us (fortunately we escaped with no serious injury) were as a result of a split second of inattention or distraction. Even though that might not have been what happened here, the story is a reminder to me to "keep my eye on the ball".

Junaid said...

That is a disturbing report, jolts you out of any sense of complacency in hurry. Just wondering what's the story about your Dad's sailing accident. Its always good to learn from others experiences.

Susan said...

So proud of the two of you, take care love mum

Brett Anderson said...

On the sea, things can go wrong in an instant, and therefore one must always be on guard against complacency and carelessness. Your life of cruising is a lot like my profession (flying) in that a mistake doesn't mean just re-doing some paperwork or getting out the white-out like an office job. A mistake in our jobs could cause injury or death to ourselves or others. We don't get the luxury of a bad day. The sea and the sky are unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity, or neglect.

Bill said...

Be safe!

Mid-Life Cruising! said...

A good reminder about what can happen out there, and that rings can be a hazard to wear. My husband doesn't wear one for this reason. (We're not cruisers yet, but he's in construction). I'm sure your support helped tremendously.

Bill Fleming said...

Well done.

Laura and Hans said...

Having been in the Intracostal I would have had the same 'Huh?' reaction as you. But you're right, it only takes one moment for things to go wrong and I'm glad you posted about this. We'll be back on the trail after Christmas and this will be in the back of my mind.

Windtraveler said...

@Junaid - my dad severed his finger while buffing his sailboat...he didn't notice a slack line that was hanging over the toe rail...it got wrapped around his finger, then got caught in the buffer and...well, you can imagine the rest. Luckily for him - he knew what to do, got himself to a hospital very quickly and they were able to save the finger. However, he is now known in circles as "Jimmy the finger". Ha! But always be very careful with power tools on boats - especially rotating ones!

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