Sunday, January 24, 2010

A hero and a tragedy at sea

At 8:30 this morning we were enjoying our morning coffee out side when a "mayday mayday" came over the marine radio. This story ties into our fears about the older couple in our last post. The boat "Infinity" was in the St. Lucie River inlet - waves this morning were 6 feet on the ocean and the inlets gets all churned up with an out going tide and an east wind - very dangerous -waves, current, wind all opposing.  A boat had overturned with 2 persons onboard.
The captain of "Infinity" called the coast guard on channel 16 with  mayday and clear detail of the conditions, the 2 men in the water, his gps position and that he was circling to try to get to the swimmers.  The coast guard called back with a "pan pan". The difference being if life was in danger or not.  The end story is that we weren't 100% impressed with the coast guard on this one.The voices that come over the coast guard radio sound very young and at times with only a script to help them. They continually called the captain asking his position over again and the welfare of the capsize victims. The captain of "Infinity " did an amazing job of getting back on the radio , repeating his position and assessing the entire situation giving the coast guard enough detail so he could get back to the work of holding his boat in the churning water while trying to get a line to the men. It sounded like he had perhaps only one other person on his boat.At a time like this the radio goes silent so the rescue people can communicate.  The Martin County Sheriff's office, Tow Boat US, and the coast guard helicopter and boat all became part of the rescue.  After short bouts of silence the Coast Guard continually broke in with questions.  We could hear the captain at one point say" I am busy trying to get a line to these guys I think I have only one chance at it" and we could hear him shout to someone else to get the line out. Finally he broke in again and said he had them. We couldn't believe it - the waters were very tough and that inlet can have higher waves than the ocean under these rage conditions.  So now more ammunition for the Coast Guard to break in and ask question after question," Are you giving him CPR ?" " No I'm trying to navigate my boat through the inlet" - "Can you tell us his condition ?"- "No I'm trying to navigate my boat through the inlet ; one of the men looks in really bad shape." "How long will it take you to get to Shore?" and on and on - A few times the Martin County Sheriff's office broke in and said " He's busy " the Martin County SO was very professional and apparently came along side once they were into the river and tried to I think get a man on board or it was to get the man who was in real trouble off the fishing boat and onto the rescue boat - at any rate what they tried was not successful as the man was apparently quite large in size.  Even after the fishing boat captain got his boat to shore - the Coast Guard broke in to say "When will you be at the point? We have emergency vehicles standing by" The martin County SO broke in again and said - "We have this all under control - they are on shore and the captain is busy with his boat.  The captain finally came back to the CG and said "I think one of the men is dead. " Now the CG wanted him to remain against the sea wall at the state park so they could come (they had not yet arrived at the scene ) and ask him questions. The captain very clearly and adamantly gave his home slip information so they could come find him. Apparently his boat was being damaged by the wind and waves pushing it against the sea wall.  At this point we found out his name is Charles Burns.  It has taken me several days to finish this story as I had much business work to do and couldn't commit the time and battery power to my blog.  We found out form the newspaper that  the 2 men were 50 & 65 yrs old - they were not wearing life jackets - the 65 year man drowned and the other man was rescued and will be fine. They had been in a 20 foot fishing boat - a very sad and poor decision on that day with the winds so strong.  We had delayed our own travels due to the winds and our boat weighs 11 tons. Mr. burns owns a sport fishing business and had come back in early that day because one of his 3 clients was sea sick.  If he had not been there , had not been so experienced, cool headed and absolutely knew how to use his radio - loud and clear - the exact information needed to get help - both men would most likely had drowned.

It was so ironic to me that the very day before this happened we had the incident with the older couple who did not know how to use the radio to just call the marina - In danger of repeating myself - we do have  a lot of fun out here but it can be serious business as well.  it is not easy moving a boat - this floating thing - it can't stop on a dime - we are vulnerable to the elements. We are often alone, whom ever is aboard and the sea.

Charles Burns put a chill down my spine and gave me an incredible lesson. We pulled down the Chapman's piloting book and reviewed how to do a may-day and a pan pan - we reviewed proper radio speak and we talked about life jackets and decision making.  We find ourselves in Stuart, as much as we love it, longer than we planned. It's ok - it's only recreation. Thank you Charles Burns for the lessons you gave us and thank you for putting yourself out there - all the way- to save a life and those of us who heard you on the radio know you and your crew gave your absolute best effort under lousy circumstances to save 2 lives. It wasn't until the rescued men were off his boat that he even worried about his own property getting damaged. Our hearts go out to the Cozzi family who lost a husband and a father. Mr Cossi had served in the Air Force and was enjoying his retirement from IBM in Florida. So to our fellow boater please do not let Mr Cozzi's death go unnoticed and let's take the lessons learned from this incident forward on our travels whether it's just fishing for a day or cruising for a life time.

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