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Saturday, October 2, 2010

9/30 A rescue at sea

Cherry Cove, Catalina Island

This morning we left Avalon on Catalina Island headed north towards the Isthmus. The plan was to go to one of the outer coves for a few days and maybe hook up with Liz and Chris who had plans to hop over to Catalina from San Pedro to grab another taste of this lovely late fall weather. We did not plan on coming to the Isthmus because this weekend is Buccaneer Days which is a huge annual three day festival that we had already been “warned” about. Though we are two whole days early for the party all the boats within sight are flying their pirate colors and coves are already filling with cannon fire and the sound of “aaaaargghhhhh.”

We were about an hour out of Avalon and the wind had flaked out and our sail had turned into a motor trip. We had just finished our daily “instruciones en espanol” when we saw a jet ski in the water off our port bow. We slowed and moved in closer but couldn’t see anyone with the ski. As we got closer we were both keeping one eye on the ski and scanning the waves for a rider. When we about 30 feet away we saw movement and then could see a man hanging on to the seat just his head above water. The ski itself was on its side and seemed to be pretty low in the water.

Everything then started happening in fast forward. We stopped the boat and began working to bring our rescuee aboard IB. He kept saying he was fine as we got a line on the ski and tethered it to our boat. But by the time we got him to the boat it was obvious that he was in worse shape than he thought. Together we managed to drag him safely aboard.

He had come alone, by jet ski from Dana Point on his way to Buccaneer Days. He did have friends who were coming along behind on a sailboat and he was planning on meeting up with them in Cherry Cove but they wern't in visual or radio contact once he jetted out of Dana Point. His name was Eric, an ex marine and after running out of fuel he had been in the water for more than two hours. All that time He had been struggling with the ski and the tide trying to get closer to shore but instead was being pushed farther and farther offshore and down island. He had seen lots of boats but no one had seen his waving arms or heard his shouting voice or the flash of his signal mirror.

He was actually pretty well prepared when he left Dana Point. He had worked out how much gas he needed, carried a brand new water proof VHF, a chem light, flares and the signal mirror along with a camel pack of water. Unfortunately the radio didn’t work within minutes of leaving, the double flare was a dud and since the chemical light is useless in daylight he had wisely decided to save it to signal after dark if he was still needed rescue. Apparently his calculations for fuel didn’t include the increased consumption in the mid channel heavy seas and he ran out of gas about 5 miles from Cherry Cove.

Bill actually had seen the flash but thought it was from fishermen somewhere close in to shore and paid it little mind. Eric told us he had considered letting the ski go in his attempt make it in but when he saw a blue shark nearby he decided to stick with the ski. After the shark he was beginning to consider tying himself to the ski since “at least someone would probably eventually find the ski.” Had the wind not died on us we would have been on another tack entirely and considering we were nearly on top of him when we spotted the ski it is a lucky thing that we found him at all

By now the once non existent winds had begun to build. I began a series of calls to the USCG to report our find in case his friends were looking for him (they weren’t.) He insisted he was fine but as we worked to secure the Jet Ski for a tow he was pretty shaky. I gave him a banana, a Cliff Bar and then some hot chocolate and we got him out of half of his wet suit and into a warm dry coat to try and stop the shaking while we continued to try and get the Jet Ski secured for the tow in. The Ski was taking on more and more water and we were hoping to not have to leave it behind as a hazard to navigation.

We tried several things to bring the ski in. If we towed it too far behind its nose dug in deep so we tried tying it close in off our outboard lift mount. Keeping the nose up helped us a bit but then we decide to try and get some fuel in so we could start it up and hopefully use the bilge switch to pump out the water that was bogging it down. That required mixing up some 100:1 fuel and then lowering our dingy in the rising wind and sea. There was no way the fueling could be a one man job in the waves so both Eric and Bill had to get into the dingy. They got the gas in and the ski sputtered and tried to catch but the ski has no neutral so Eric ended up back in the water hoping to be able to ride it in a few circles in order to get the water out. At which point the ski died completely and Eric was no adrift in the chop -again. I quickly untied the dink and Bill went after him as I yelled at Eric that if we had to rescue him twice in one day the price was definitely going to go up!

Eventually we got everyone was back aboard but the seas had continued to build so it seemed better now to tow our dink rather than trying to raise it on the davits again. So in the end though Eric kept insisting we just cut her loose we kept the ski tied close , the dink on a long painter and slowly motored in. . By the time we hooked up with the Harbor Patrol boat in Isthmus the ski was laying about 75% underwater .

Erics friends caught up with us just as we entered isthmus cove and we began following them to their mooring in Cherry Cove. At the mouth of Cherry cove the Harbor Patrol took hold of the Jet Ski and Eric transferred to their boat and we were able to cinch in our dink and with our new found proficiency with the So. Ca. mooring system we settled like pros onto a mooring.

Erics' grateful friends invited us over for Gumbo so we boarded La Dulce Vita for a pirate party. It was only Thursday afternoon but already the pirate paraphernalia was coming out in force and it was ummm, interesting to be sucked into the mayhem. The party was in full swing as the bowls were filled with Teresa’s stellar Louisiana Gumbo and the volume slowly increased and the booze flowed around us. We begged off about 6pm as their crew debated a trip out of the cove and around the cliffs to the "big" party at the Isthmus but it was good to know Eric was safe and sound with friends.

~hugs~ kat


  1. Thank you for rescuing my dad I really appreicate it.My dad is always doing crazy stuff like this. Erika Holt

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