Day 135 – Fisherman overboard!

Day 135  29th November 2010

Finisterre MOB

 42°54.59’N  09°15.36’ W

At 3am, I heard the god damn anchor drag on the rocks below.  I called John and he checked the alarms.  He said all was ok and I went back to sleep.  In the morning, it was obvious we had dragged but thankfully, all was ok.  John put out extra chain and a second anchor and the sentinel as there was a little wind forecast.

I washed, got dressed in my ‘shore clothes’ and we rowed ashore for the day.  I had my pink thermal long johns on under my jeans, as they were ripped between the thighs and at the front pocket, so my modesty needed protected – as if?

We went to the internet café then wandered around town 3 times as the internet café shut down for siesta.  This is the end of the El Camino walk and there were some hardy walkers completing it, even at this late time of year! We went for lunch in a lovely place at the port where 6 locals were playing a raucous game of cards before returning to the internet café.  A quick shop for dinner and a bottle of wine for €1.40 and it was back to the boat.

As we neared the port, the wind was blowing and John started mumbling about the conditions.  The harbour was choppy and we had a headwind to the boat.  I was feeling apprehensive with John’s grumbling and muttering and started to get really nervous as we untied little ‘Nearby’.  Needless to say, the row was very tough for John, but he refused my offer to swap over.  It was really choppy and I was afraid we would capsize.  It had been calm when we left so I was really concerned at this stage.  Suddenly, despite my terrorising experience in the Bay of Biscay, I started crying and shaking.  John realised I was frightened and said “Don’t worry, we’re fine.”

The thing was, I felt nervous because he seemed worried, after all, he didn’t hardly raise his brow in the immediate moments before we were pooped by the wave which he described as ‘That was a BIG wave’.  We made it to the boat, but she had dragged again, but was still ok. John fired up the engine to warm it up in case we needed to get going later and I put the dinner on.  We sat down and as I was having the second glass of wine, I heard a voice.

“What was that?” I said.

“What?”

“Listen, I hear someone calling.”

“Oh, it’s just some one calling their friend.”

“No John, it sounds distressed.”

“He’s calling Cedro, Cedro.”

After a few more times hearing the call, I said

“John, go out and listen to what he’s saying, he sounds like he’s in trouble, maybe he’s stuck in his skiff or something!”

He seemed reluctant, but I sort of made him go out.  I was right on his tail as the cries were really tugging at my gut.  I had a sinking feeling that something was badly wrong.

“Secorro! Secorro!” cried the voice from the dark.

“Get the spotlight out John”

I switched on my torch but could see nothing resembling a person.  I could see a float and thought it might be something but there were no reflective patches lighting up.

“Ayuda, ayuda!”

John turned on the spotlight, handed it up to me and I systematically swept the water trying to spot someone.

“We gotta get going” said John.  This time John realised Cedro was Secorro meaning HELP! Ayuda, reinforced it and we were on a mission.

“He’s on that float, grab a life preserver!”

“Meraid, hand me a knife, I need to cut the ties to our life preserver”

John was getting Nearby untied and I turned on the VHF channel 16 and called

“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! This is SV Faraway”

There was silence

“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday! This is SV Faraway SV Faraway SV Faraway we need assistance. We are in Finisterre Bay, there is a man in the water”

A lady responded so I knew I’d been heard.

I dropped the mike, and ran to get my float jacket and my own life jacket too.  I remembered my lifesaving classes from my teens and was told that keeping myself safe was of the utmost importance and that a drowning person would do anything to try and save themselves, including the possible capsize of Nearby.

I heard the lady on the VHF request my position.  I raced back down and called out the latitude and longitude, told her I had to go, dropped the mike and hopped straight into the skiff with John.  The water was really choppy and there was a swell where we were anchored at the limits of the breakwater.  We had not put the boarding ladder out and getting on and off Faraway required the agility of a gymnast in fair weather!

It only took a few moments to reach the man.  He seemed to be holding on to a polystyrene float for a mooring buoy and I threw the life ring upwind of him.  Bad throw, I pulled it back and threw it again.  I told John not to get too close in the first instance.  Strangely, I felt ok doing that even though I knew the man was in extreme peril. This time the ring was on target and the man grabbed it.  John got closer and I reached out to the MOB (Man Overboard).  I have no idea what I said, because I was so intent on getting the ring behind his head.  He seemed to be dressed in fishing gear and was wearing a hat.  His face was barely above the water so I reached down his front and grabbed his clothes to keep him out of the water.  His hat was coming off so I put it back on.  The hat was drenched, and the man was balding with very short hair.  He had a kind look on his gentle face, masking a will of steel. His hat fell off for the last time so I stroked his head and told him it would be alright.  He was freezing and I knew we needed to get him out of the water and soon. He was saying cut the line in Spanish according to John, but I hadn’t a clue what he was on about.  John attempted to row to the boat where we hoped to use the radio again, but we seemed stuck fast.  There was a rope around my quarry and he was telling me to cut the line! 

“Where’s the knife John?”

“It’s on the boat.”

I looked at the thick rope and in my mind I saw it disappear, unbelievably, I held my man’s hand and he had his penknife in it.  Immediately, I took it from him, cut the line, reached into the water to free him and John attempted to row to the nearest landfall.  In the efforts to open the knife with one hand holding the man, I cut my finger across the knuckles, but it was only minor and I didn’t even notice it at the time.

At this stage John and I were calling Seccuro! Ayuda! Aqui!  As loud as we both could shout.  A man came to the rocky shore but we could not land and he could not help.  I told John to row away quickly from this treacherous place immediately.  We were in danger of bashing our survivor on the head with the rocks and I was fearful he might try to swim and let go of ‘Nearby’.  We were barely 3 metres from the rocks. So close but yet so far.  I knew he would go under wearing all that gear and we might never find him again. I tightened my grip and kept telling him we were nearly there.

“John, tell him to call for help” which John did.  A few moments later we heard an engine and the rescue launch was pointing right for Faraway.

“Aqui! Aqui!” we yelled. 

I turned on my torch and flashed it on and off making circular motions and we kept on yelling “Aqui!”

A searchlight shone towards us and within seconds, three strong rescue men were hauling the man on deck.  They struggled to lift him and I thought, what chance would we have had to try and lift him aboard?  I think at that moment I wet myself.  It was such a relief to know he was in properly safe hands.  I yelled “Gracias” as the launch roared off to the shore and for the second time that evening, I was in tears. . This time I was so glad I was able to help I was totally overwhelmed with emotion.

As we turned towards the boat, I noticed a small group of people had gathered at the rocky shore.  They too turned towards the safety of their homes, possibly thinking the night could have turned out very differently. Back aboard Faraway, I turned on the VHF radio to thank them for their help and I was instructed by Finisterre rescue to go to Channel 11 where I gave them the spelling of our yacht as requested

Foxtrot

Alpha

Romeo

Alpha

Whisky

Alpha

Yankee

They thanked me a lot, said he was in the ambulance and on his way to the hospital.  I returned to important things like stripping out of my wet clothes and attending to my half finished glass of wine. 

I hadn’t actually wet myself on further inspection, but I was wet through.  The worst part – I had to wear Fuzzies belonging to John.  It’s ok, I had washed them and had not seen him ever wear them.  I asked John for a hug, which he duly gave, but I needed a different kind of hug.

Next we had visitors, Pablo and Manuel two of the rescues were sent out to get a look at our ship’s papers and our crew list. I hugged both of them in gratitude for the rescue.  They were just so handsome. Obviously I was cured of my shock to notice such a thing, but wouldn’t you know it,  there I was, in red fleece trousers, and a grey zip fleece about a million sizes too big with black UGGS.  Every man’s dream! 

I called my mum and asked her to say a little blessing for the man, whose name I discovered later was Jose Ramón Montera Papin.  He was not yet out of the woods as he was extremely cold, most likely hypothermic.  I said my own prayers too.

After hot tea and a biscuit, it was time to unwind and get some well needed sleep.

Menu today

Breakfast –Porridge with apple, raisins and brazil nuts and toast

Lunch – Ham and cheese bocadillo, cheesecake and café con leche

Dinner – Pizza, salad and a portion of apple cake with red wine

Snacks – oatmeal cookies

Meraid Griffin

Freelance writer, adventurer and public speaker. Descibed in the Sunday Times as a 'modest explorer'. Nothing modest about me.

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