Rendering assistance to other boaters

Rendering assistance to other boaters

By Graham Hunter

Climbing out of the inflatable and over the bulwarks of the 50-foot ketch, I could see the man struggling with some lines around the mooring cleat on the foredeck. His white hair was whipped about by the wind.

Up until now I had only seen him from a distance through binoculars as I watched his boat being pulled off the rocks in Blind Bay, Shaw Island. His back was to me, but his slumped shoulders told of fatigue and stress.

Dawn had revealed a large ketch on the rocks and a large sedan cruiser moving up to give its skipper a line. The cruiser had backed into the 40-knot winds and pulled the ketch to safety. The fellow on the ketch deployed an anchor in the middle of the bay. The cruiser departed. The ketch’s skipper seemed to be the only one aboard. Within a half hour, his anchor began to drag in the 30- to 45-knot winds. In 400 yards he would be back on the rocks.

We had been cruising the San Juan Islands with three other boats for several days. We and our friends had a combined boating experience
approaching 120 years. As soon as the ketch began drifting toward the rocks again, I switched our VHF to the working frequency we’d been using and joined the rescue plan being hatched.

Within 15 minutes, Bill in his 40-foot cruising trawler, with Jeff handling lines, took the ketch in tow and kept it off the rocks and close to some mooring buoys. Ron and I got into Jeff’s fast dinghy with extra lines and equipment and motored over to take the ketch’s bow line and attach it to a mooring buoy. Bill did a superb job of maneuvering his boat and the ketch near enough to the buoys so I could take a line from the ketch, feed it through the mooring ring, and bring it back to the ketch’s skipper, while Ron controlled the inflatable in the gusting winds.

As the ketch swung into the wind on the mooring, I turned to the skipper and introduced myself. Brian, 70-something, was single-handing. I asked him how he felt. I had been watching him for more than two hours while he took rescue lines, handled his anchor, and tried to start his engine, all the while moving painfully slowly.

“I am really tired,” he said. He went on to explain that he was on meds and was attempting to get his new boat from Anacortes to his home at Saltspring Island in British Columbia. The ketch was old, and Brian was in the process of restoring it.

By this time I had released Bill’s tow line, and he was back on his mooring. His wife, Diana, is a retired nurse. I told Brian, “If you’d like, there is a cup of hot coffee waiting for you over there and some medical help, too.” He gladly accepted.

Ron and I put a second, larger line on the mooring, and took Brian over to Bill’s boat, leaving him in their excellent care.


After retiring as an airline pilot, Lt/C Graham Hunter, AP, of Bellingham Sail & Power Squadron/16 started taking USPS courses and cruising Salish Sea waters with his wife. As a squadron educational officer and instructor, he advocates offering students a mixture of seminars, 8-week courses and on-the-water training associated with ABC3 and Piloting.

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