After the Mayday
The post-mortem of a sea story with a happy ending addresses the revelations and repercussions of issuing a call for help. "Seamanship" from our June 2012 issue.
When I think back on these events, I’m struck by a tangle of emotions. Of course, I’m hugely relieved that David is safe and with me still. I’m chagrined that the clocking wind and simultaneously shifting tide conspired to lift our anchor and put Wild Hair on the rocks, but I’m proud that we—with a little help and a measure of know-how—got out of the predicament.
I regret having prompted a rescue vessel to launch a futile mission in horrible weather, and I’m sickened by the thought that we put someone else needlessly at risk. I feel horrible about the sleepless night I caused the people I hold most dear. Not least, I feel guilty about the precious U.S. Coast Guard resources spent over the course of three days on our behalf.
But Officer Bouknight allayed those concerns. In stunningly compassionate and deftly professional follow-up emails, Officer Bouknight expressed nothing but relief that we were safe and sound. “It happens too often that our best isn’t enough, no matter what we do,” he wrote. “Too much works against us, be it the ticking clock or the wrath of nature.”
After emphatically reassuring me that I took the appropriate actions and even complimenting me on a carefully articulated, clear, and calm Mayday call, Bouknight insisted that no one should hesitate to send a distress call should the need arise. He said, “All Coast Guardsmen feel only relief when they find that a vessel in distress is safe.”
Eventually I learned that I could’ve resolved our SAR case more quickly by simply phoning the closest U.S. Coast Guard unit and telling them that the situation had been addressed and all was well aboard Wild Hair. The agency is structured on a series of ever-broadening tiers so that a message finds its way swiftly to the right person.
The U.S. Coast Guard urges mariners to phone the agency after shooting a flare, sending a voice distress call, or firing off an EPIRB. Follow-up calls help keep Coast Guardsmen out of harm’s way and free the agency’s finite resources so more individuals receive assistance.
I have a heightened respect for the individuals and organization that makes up the U.S. Coast Guard. Humbly refusing to accept accolades, Bouknight said, “I was trained to search for every boat like I had my own family aboard.” Acknowledging the roles of Officer Harris and others, he added, “Everything was made possible by a chain of individuals who operated with consistency and professionalism.”
As a reflection of his deeply earnest commitment to saving lives, Bouknight ends all of his email correspondences with the Latin phrase Dum spiro spero. The translation: “While I breathe, I hope.”
In the last three years, Heather and David Mann have covered more than 6,000 nautical miles aboard their Hylas 45.5 sloop, Wild Hair, while cruising from Chesapeake Bay and the U.S. East Coast to the Bahamas.