Things Loom Big During an Emergency
by Tom Rau
July 17, 2005 On Watch: Muskegon, Lake
Michigan, July 1, 2005. A beachside resident called
Coast Guard Station Muskegon on Friday afternoon
reporting a sailboat floundering off the beach
north of Muskegon Harbor. Jay Mieras, the reporting
source, reported that a woman on the sailboat
was waving her hands in the air.
35-foot sailboat Bluewater, sits peacefully at
its moorings at Torresen Marina, Muskegon. Several
days earlier its captain experienced a harrowing
overboard plunge into Lake Michigan near Muskegon
in four to five foot seas.
minutes, the Station Muskegon’s 30-foot
rescue boat broke the pier head at Muskegon Harbor.
Four to five foot seas driven by 20 knot winds
greeted the Coast Guard crew as they pounded north
towards the sailboat’s reported position.
“When we approached
the sailboat, I noticed a horseshoe flotation
device trailing off the stern attached to a tether
line,” said Mike Tapp, Executive Officer,
Station Muskegon. He added: “This was not
good, you had that feeling that someone had gone
Chief Beatty, coxswain
aboard the 30-foot rescue boat approached the
sailboat. “A female was hollering that her
husband had fallen overboard but she didn’t
know where,” said Chief Beatty.
Chief Beatty conducted several
quick shoreline searches of the area that yielded
negative sightings. The situation was not good:
a person in the water and sailboat being quickly
driven towards shore, and its sole operator unable
to control the craft.
Now what? Do you look for the
husband or do you save the woman and the sailboat.
Fortunately the situation resolved itself. A “Good
Sam” Jim Homan, 61, had spotted the floundering
craft from shore and he and a buddy grabbed a
two-person kayak and reached the sailboat just
as the Coast Guard finished its second search
of the shoreline.
Being an experienced sailor,
Homan took control of the sailboat allowing the
Coast Guard crew to continue the search
Locating a man in seas glazed
over by white wind whipped spray did not look
promising for the poor soul in the water. Tapp
discovered from Homan that the sailboat carried
a hand-held GPS. Homan passed the GPS to Tapp.
Chief Beatty commenced searching while Tapp worked
the handheld device. After two minutes of punching
keys and being bounced about he tapped into the
track line the sailboat had followed. “I
could see where the straight track line ran askew.”
Tapp figured that is where the man went overboard
as his wife began tacking to recover him. Tapp
placed a cursor marker where the track line ended
and bingo the GPS offer the latitude and longitude
of where the man had gone overboard.
Beatty passed the coordinates to a Coast Guard
helicopter aircrew who had joined the search.
Within minutes, the aircrew spotted the man in
the water, wearing a bright international-orange
life jacket. Meanwhile Chief Beatty had transferred
Tapp and Seaman Benjamin Cuddeback over to a Muskegon
Sheriff’s boat that had picked up the man
along with a Good Sam. Tapp said, “The man
was shivering uncontrollably. His lips were blue.”
Tapp and Seaman Cuddeback removed
his wet clothing and applied their own body warmth
by direct body-to-body contact with the man as
the sheriff boat raced to the Coast Guard moorings
and an awaiting ambulance.
Boat Smart Brief: Richard Coan,
age 67, was released the following afternoon from
Muskegon’s Hackley Hospital. His core body
temperature when admitted was 86 degrees. There
is no doubt that the life jacket saved his life.
He had been in the 61 degree water for nearly
two hours. He later told me the reason he wore
the life jacket is because his wife, Robin, insisted
on it. God bless her.
He told me he had moved forward
on the deck to adjust the main sail and the boom
swung over and bumped him backwards and over the
handrails. His wife started the engine, but its
gears wouldn’t engage. Mr. Coan said that
when he departed White Lake Harbor, a turnbuckle
device on the gear linkage had fallen off and
thus he couldn’t engage the gears.
Mrs. Coan made several attempts
to recover her husband, but the sailboat drifted
away. She had tossed over the horseshoe life ring
but failed to untie it from the boat. She couldn’t
luff the main sail to take out the wind because
it would require leaving the tiller and going
forward to the foot of the mast to release the
sail. It’s the same reason she didn’t
call for help over the marine radio, again fearful
of leaving the tiller and placing the 35-foot,
six-ton Erickson sailboat broadside to the wind
and a possible knockdown. In dire straights, she
sailed for shore hoping to attract attention,
which she did.
Mr. Coan admitted it was the
little things that nailed them: when the gear
linkage device fell off he should’ve returned
to White Lake and repaired it in calm water. He
had recently switched the boom sheets on the main
from control from the tiller to the foot of the
main, which required leaving the tiller to luff
the main sail. “Had I thought this through,
I would not have changed the boom sheets,”
said Mr. Coan.
As for the life jacket, I advised
him to purchase a signal mirror and whistle, a
day and night flare, and a strobe light. Twice
the helicopter had passed nearby but failed to
see him in the wind swept sea. Mr. Coan admits
that it’s the little things that loomed
big when the unexpected visited. Thanks to a life
jacket the little things didn’t add up to
the final tally.
In another matter that relates indirectly
to the above case, the Coast Guard along
the eastern shore of Lake Michigan has experienced
a rash of unmanned boats adrift. During
one case, the Coast Guard spent seven hours
tracking down the owner. Coast Guard officials
urge boaters to place permanent I.D. markings
on these small watercraft and secure them
to a fixed object. How does this relate
indirectly to the life-saving case? Coast
Guard resources could’ve been elsewhere
tracking down an adrift derelict and not
immediately available when time was of the
essence searching for Mr. Coan. As stated:
it’s the little things.
recognition to Rescue Responders during
this life-saving rescue:
CG304445 Crew (initial response for PIW)
BMC Michael Beatty
BM1 Michael Tapp
BM1 Scott Lenz
BM3 Salvador Nunez
SN Benjamin Cuddeback
**(BM1 Tapp & SN Cuddeback later transferred
to MC-872 and assisted Mr. Coan as a team)
Muskegon County Boat 872 (first county boat
Officer Dave Vanderlaan
Muskegon County Boat 875 (second County
Officer Raymond Lundeen
Officer Dan Stout Jr.
CG304445 Crew (second sortie to escort sailing
vsl with Mrs. Coan and Mr. Homan)
BMC Michael Beatty
BM1 Scott Lenz
BM3 Salvador Nunez
EM3 Chance Rupe
SN Christopher Rickett
Crewmembers I recommend for inclusion: They
made ready CG49412 and CG234393 to assist
if needed and stood by the unit. They also
acted as line handlers and or helped transfer
the PIW from the County boat to shore.
BM1 William Hosford
MK1 Robin Yoder
BM2 Brian Fiscus
EM3 Chance Rupe: Mbr. recalled off liberty
MK3 Zachary Michaud: Mbr. recalled off liberty
The crew of CG Rescue 6508
The Group Grand Haven Comms Watch.
Tom Rau is a long-time Coast Guard rescue responder
and syndicated boating safety columnist.
Look for his book, Boat Smart
Chronicles, a shocking expose on recreational
boating — reads like a great ship’s
log spanning over two decades. It’s available
to order at: www.boatsmart.net,
www.amazon.com, or through local bookstores.