Being aware of your environment

Another sea story which is frankly a little bizarre. I assure you this hasn’t been embellished at all, frankly you just can’t make this stuff up.

One of the issues I have with recreational sailors and divers is that they really don’t know what they’re doing. The sea is an easy place to get into trouble, very fast, and in too many cases people end up seriously hurt and often dead. This is a story where the worst was realized. Sailors need to be aware of what parts of the sea they’re going into. Far too often the attitude is that if you’re right near shore in a harbor, there really isn’t anything to worry about. After all I know where I am, I’m right next to such and so, so no need to worry. In this particular case ignorance turned out to be fatal.

Back in the day, people used to dump all their waste right into the ocean. It was right there, it was huge, what difference would my trash barrel make? U.S. Coast Guard Station Pt Allerton is located in Hull, Massachusetts. Hull is an old town even for Massachusetts. The Point Allerton area of Hull is named after the man who founded it who came to America on the Mayflower. So there have been people in this area for about 400 years now and with most of them dumping material into the waters off of Hull for most of that time. These areas are marked on nautical charts, they mark areas that could be shallow, the bottom may have shifted and certainly it’s just a mess for any diver to go down into.

It was a really nice mid-summer day, FAC (sailor for “flat ass calm”). Nothing remarkable about the day, station work was going on and not a day where we would be on any special kind of alert or advisory. I happened to be in the comm center when a call came in from a boat that had brought a diver out to an area to search for their anchor. They had lost their anchor earlier in the week and a friend, who was a diver, had agreed to try to find their anchor. When they called they reported that it had been about half an hour since they had seen any air bubbles! I’m sure I don’t need to add anything to that.

As soon as I heard that i was already on a run to the boat house, the SAR alarm screeched out and three others went out to meet this boat. At the same time a request went in for the Massachusetts State Police Dive Team. Needless to say that was going to take awhile and all we could do at this point was go out, get the information and secure the area for the dive team.

They went right into the water when  they arrived and when one diver surfaced he reported that the water was so junked up that he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face. After groping around for awhile the victim was finally discovered. The diver came back up to get a line to haul the victim up and reported that the victim was so tangled in debris that he had to hack stuff off of him to try and get him free. He took a 2 1/2″ nylon line down with him (a very substantial line) and put it around the victim so that we could haul him into the boat. There were three of us and we were all big guys and quite capable to haul any size adult out of the water. But the victim had been so tangled, the State Police diver had to follow the line back down and hack more junk off of him.

We finally got him free and on board and transported back to the station. In situations where there is an unnatural death the responders have to maintain the victim and adjacent area as close to how they found it as possible and wait for the coroner. Obviously the coroner is not going to examine someone in the water or on a 21 foot boat, so we returned him in the stokes litter to the station and placed him on one of the docks, watched over by our people, They were  to make sure that nothing was touched and no one that had a need to know came into the area.

While we were recovering the victim, a civilian boat had pulled in to the station and tied up to an adjacent dock, not a unusual situation. Since no one was on the boat when we got back we weren’t concerned that it was there. The rest of us went back to work in the boathouse, it was the middle of the summer and a weekend. The coroner was about four towns away, so it was going to take awhile for him to get to the station.

The walkway from the parking lot to the boathouse is about fifty yards, so it’s a walk (or often run) to get out there. Well we became aware of what the civilian boat was waiting for, a group of people in formal dress were walking down to the boat house, escorting a man formally dressed and a woman in a bridal gown. (Like I said, really? You just can’t make this stuff up).

Someone burst into the workshop yelling that these people were on there way down, we look at each other in our “what the heck do we do?” We grab a bunch of stuff in the workshop, blankets, life jackets, whatever else would camouflage the occupied stokes litter to make it look as if it were just a pile of boat gear. We then formed a circle around the litter, leaning on each other, trying as hard as possible to make it look like it was just a bunch of guys huddled up, yapping with each other. I’m sure people were less then impressed seeing a bunch of guys just “hanging out”, but the alternative might have been seeing something that would certainly throw a pall on an otherwise memorable day, we thought we would take the hit. I didn’t even turn to look, so I really don’t know what reaction people had, if any, to what we were doing. But they finally all boarded their boat and got underway,. And shortly thereafter the coroner arrived and took custody and let us get back to our regular routine.

Needless to say this is a definitive lesson in diving in a marine environment. Be aware of where you are diving. If he knew where he was diving, I would hope that he would have decided that because of the centuries of accumulated junk, it would have been pointless to search for something as inconspicuous as an anchor. Next he went down there alone. That is a huge diving mistake. There is just too much that could go wrong and having someone else with you who could assist you or at least go for help is mandatory. Next he did not have a flash light. In any underwater environment the light fades out quickly and a flashlight is a requirement. Finally he didn’t have a knife People expressed concern that boat crew members would always have a substantial knife with them, thinking that it was there as a weapon. I guess it could have been, but in a marine environment, it is so easy to get tangled in things that a substantial knife is required in order to cut your way out of something you might have been tangled in. A good knife might have been enough for him to cut his way out when he realized he was in trouble and make his way to the surface. This is not an isolated incident, I relate it because of the events surrounding it and as a graphic example of how easy it is to get into serious trouble.

2 thoughts on “Being aware of your environment

  1. Paige Hamilton

    That is a wild story! I don’t have much experience with marine-type situations, but the part about the diver going down alone reminds me of the verse in Ecclesiastes 4: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (verse 9-10)



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