We were on our way down Johnstone Strait. We left Alert Bay at 5am hoping to make some miles before the afternoon high winds roared up. Johnstone Strait is a long relatively narrow passage and has few available anchorages. It also has notorious afternoon winds which have potential to pile up against any apposing currents. A good weather window is essential but just as important is to research all the possible anchorages so if weather comes up unexpectedly you will have a plan for getting the heck out of dodge.
About 1030 we picked up a call to the Coast Guard on our VHF which we keep on and open to emergency channel 16. "Mayday, mayday, mayday." Instantly alert we listened to the obviously distressed male caller as the CG replied asking for his exact location. We grabbed a pen and began to work the coordinates our self to see if they were anywhere near.
The man sounded frantic when he answered and gave his location and then boat name "Maria Lee." When asked what was the nature of his emergency he stated his wife had fallen over board! With patient questioning he said he thought she had been forward doing something to the davits as they transited a passage that was ahead of us that splits around an island. The passage funnels all the wind, wave and current of Johnstone Strait into the two small passages around a small island and creates an area that is almost rapids. (Take whatever weather you have and add 5knots of current.) He said he had been yelling for her all over the boat and couldn't find her. His voice sounded like that of an old man and he was desperate and frantic. When asked he said he thought it could have been 20 minutes ago and when questioned more it became evident that he had not even stopped the boat or turned it around to back track.
Panic induces some very odd behavior in people and again it was obvious that he was beyond panic. The CG continued very professionally asking questions and instructed him to throw somethings over board to mark his position and to immediately turn the boat around and back track his course. By this time I was pretty much holding my breath and near tears while Bill was focusing on calculating how long it would take us to reach his position. After another moment or two more of panic his voice broke and he radioed that he had found her! Aboard the boat, safe and confused. We could hear him telling her he had been yelling for her all over the boat.
I wanted to cheer but I could still feel my adrenaline rolling over my own distress. Why hadn't he already stopped the boat, thrown things over, put a MOB mark on his GPS? Why hadn't he begun to use his chart platter to follow his course back like a bread crumb trail? What the hell was he doing out here if he couldn't do at least that? My mind easily slipping into anger with the adrenalin and still awash with panic and dis pare.
The CG confirmed that she was in fact on board and they signed off. That was it. Emergency over. We would never hear another word. I had to take a few minutes quietly thinking and then said aloud to Bill, " I may not be the best sailor in the world but I promise you...... that if you are every missing from the boat I will first turn the boat around and or stop it, throw over any one of our MOB markers before I stop to get on the radio and call out a mayday."
The mayday is of course important but stopping the boat is always paramount. Always. No matter how scared I am. If that woman had really gone over at that location she would be dead now and he would be heart broken. While everyone within that mornings VHF range would be going over their own safety routines and inwardly wondering if they too would sound old and panicked and filled with dispare or would they in fact be able to do what seems so easy and simple sitting in a classroom or talking bout over dinner with friends on a warm summer evening.
Just had to share.....Love you, kat