Jack Sparrow's pulling his Black Pearl by himself across a desert and Gary Larson's Far Side cartoon of a stranded shipwrecked sailor alone on a desert island reminded me of how to ask for HELP. As exaggerated as the images may be, there are numerous truths in each. It is in their unreality that their messages reveal truths. During Mystique's 2018 Bahamian voyage, Lainie and I faced more than enough rescues and truths during FIVE separate situations. Eventually, we laughed at each incident as each sent us valuable messages about receiving honest and dishonest help. Appears as if helping ourselves is both necessary as well as problematic.
Martin Luther King's quote about the Good Samaritan coupled with Larson's other rescue situations in many ways summed up our three months of sailing misadventures during 2018. Cartoons seem like simple, exaggerated depictions, but each is rich with suggestions. To some they may seem far from reality, but some of us chuckling at Larson's humor may know better. We all may smile at seemingly absurd illustrations, but we laugh when a modicum of truth appears in each. Sometimes a meaningful cartoon depicts humans in less than a favorable light. And what may appear funny is actually really a sad commentary about human nature.
Whenever a Far Side cartoon depicts a familiar reality, they also pour a ounce of truth onto the situation. They often remind me of the the kind of assistance we received. After experiencing the reality of rescue, Lainie and I can now in retrospect can chuckle at it all now. The truth isn't always recognizable. Often reality may confuse when fiction imitates truth. Funny that truth is always stranger than fiction. Maybe that is why we laugh - when we see the ridiculous. Of course, ridiculous is based on one's reality. That is WHY there are few answers to WHY and WHY KNOT questions.
Life as cartoons often remind us that people need help. While cartoons actually help us laugh at ourselves, they also help us examine life's siuations more closely. At first, an initial reaction laughing at ourselves may seem comical. but if examined they frequently illustrate, expose and draw our attention to a human flaws, foible and frailties. Effective illustrations often exaggerate their meaningful message. As diverse as humans are, so too are their responses and reactions to help. And Mystique's distresses this year elicited a range from gift to greed...from comfort to coercion ...from trauma to trust...and from dark to light.
During our 2018 voyage humanity confirmed its split personality - some genuinely wanted helped us while others only wanted to help themselves. I think it would be fair to say HELP definitely showed up in all shapes, sizes and colors. While we never felt desperate enough to write, much less float, a perfectly-spelled message-in-a-bottle, we, based on our situations, had to consider first how to ask for our help. By the end of our nautical adventure, we had enough practice asking for help and without humans taking advantage of us. The seas of humanity can sometimes be as treacherous and fickle as Bahamian winds, waters and islands.
Eventually each time we struggled, help found us. And in many ways many gracious people showed up to contribute faithfully to our rescue requests and return to the states. We had a hotel manager, a groundskeeper, three employee from a dive company, two spear fisherman, a representative for Nassau's rescue association that now no longer rescues boats, an American sports fisherman, two marina hotel main desk staff, two engine mechanics, one hole repair specialist, a marina dock master, an airplane pilot and six captains of an American towing company and their 100-foot rescue vessel.
There were others who expressed their support via phone and email but unfortunately we encountered still others who wanted to profit from our distress. Most were gracious good samaritans who helped us without hoping for any compensation - a pure desire to help. And as they confirmed they wanted to be helpful with the thinking that if our situations had been reversed, they too would have wanted help, the way they offered it. It is these individuals we feel most grateful. We were truly blessed to encounter extraordinary people - Captain Nine Lives and listed below.
Sending our SOS message needed no spell-check, empty wine bottle, flare or flag to find the HELP we needed. in each rescue, we found what we needed to tow us over 150 miles back to Florida. Of course, Mystique's VHF radio was our easiest, most efficient, and most effective means of communicating our distresses. And when the messages found the right people, they helped us.
Another FAR SIDE cartoon suggests that spelling is indeed vital for a potential rescuer. Is the message that HELP has to be spelled out for a rescuer or that rescuers aren't always smart enough? Aren't they trained to recognize human distress signs? Maybe it implies that rescuers won't always recognize more obvious distress signals. Maybe it is commenting on the vagaries of rescue communication. A man's desperate waving on a desert island should have been a helpful clue, but the humor and reality is that rescuers may need D-I-S-T-R-E-S-S spelled out for them. One irony we discovered is that some rescuers may need help as well. Helpers needing help as well as to be helpful. The helper needing rescuing? The helper as hero? We experienced all of these qualities during our seeking HELP.
March 12, 2018
South of Berry Islands, near Chub Cay
As she tentatively pushed the call button on the hand-held for the first time, Lainie emphatically pleaded into the VHF -
"May Day, May Day, May Day.
This is Mystique, we need immediate assistance."
Moments earlier, she had asked me, "Henry, is this a good time to call May Day?" Finally accepting our dire situation, I could do little else than recognize we needed help to save both my boat and us...."YES", I exclaimed."
If having no rudders, no engines, no steerage and Mystique's drifting toward a jagged coral reef less than a mile away, wasn't enough lurking danger and excitement, a twilight northern squall with 30-knot winds and 3-4' waves surrounded before our vessel a mile south of our protective anchorage destination. An advanced nautical degree wasn't necessary for me to know I had to jump overboard when our dinghy bridle wrapped around our starboard engine. recognize Mystique was indeed in more distress than we two could handle by ourselves. My 40' catamaran needed outside help immediately or we would soon find ourselves in more drastic trouble. For 30 minutes Lainie repeated our May Day message (on March 24th) and no soul answered our distress call.
A week before we sailed rudderless, we witnessed Mystique's punishment. The wind and waves and beach spanked her; not for anything she had down wrong. She sustained some damage for my poor seamanship aka my misjudgement. , we faced another challenge - convincing some people to help us. It was indeed disheartening and frustrating to learn there wasn’t much help available. So the next part of our overwhelming hours Lainie was spent contacting people who might assist us. Eventually lead to Chris Lloyd from BASRA (Bahamas Air and Sea Rescue). While he was very helpful, he told us not to expect much help as the Bahamas has no real rescue force. Then he got word to us that Stuart Cove Divers a few miles away was willing to send a boat with two 60 hp outboard engines to pull Mystique off the sand flats at West End, New Providence. When they appeared, I knew our getting my 40 foot catamaran off the beach was just the beginning of our rescue. We had no way to steer Mystique. Repairing or replacing rudders was not an easy fix; certainly not one that could happen in the Bahamas. At the time the United States less than 150 miles away seemed light years away.
They reassured us that once we were in their hands, we would be safe. Thing was, even though we still felt some side-effects from our recent harrowing adventures, we already felt safe. Their professionalism and experience was indeed reassuring.
Truth be told we had saved ourselves. We had struggled against Nature’s powers. We had fended off our boat against a looming stone wall the best we could. Without setting our two spare anchors bow and stern our vessel might have been even more damaged. We had also steered and sailed Mystique nearly 40 miles rudderless across a wide open sea. We had reefed our two sails and made progress without engines as winds gusting 25-30 knots. When the wind direction changed more northerly and directly from our supposed safe harbor. Then when I had to save our dinghy and vessel by jumping overboard to unwrap a bridle line fouled around the starboard propellor, I had to face the distinct reality that we were drifting towards jagged Diamond Cay. After I untangled the line, I discovered the engine would not restart. So as I attempted to sail away from the dangerous coral outcropping, we radioed a distress call to the local marina without answer. Thirty minutes later and a mile or so from our destination, local fishermen contacted us and announced they would rescue us and tow us into the nearby harbor.
We all need help in life. Recognizing we need others is important especially if you have been traumatized. Knowing how to ask, what to ask, when to ask and who to ask are all important aspects for getting helped. Wanting help is one thing; asking for it is quite another.
I listed and learned the following steps as a reminder about the many facets of helping:
- Helping oneself
- Feeling helpless
- Recognizing help
- Calling for help
- Asking for help
- Accepting help
- Receiving help
- Rejecting help
- Helping helper
Laine and I also found the extremes of human help. Some said they could help, then decide not to because it isn't profitable enough for them; some charge an excessive amount to profit from the distress after they have helped. We discovered people who help and them those who help themselves. Distress brings out the givers or takers - the doves and the vultures. Those who profit by someone's distress and those you give unconditionally. When a community of seafarers help each other unconditionally, life becomes even more beautiful.
- Reason(s) for help
- Qualified to help
- Prepared to help
- Offering Help
- Recognizing the need
- Providing the right help
- Helping without hurting
- Taking responsibility
- Helping the helper
- Gus and Isabel and family - friends
- Maikel and Monica - friends
- Chris Lloyd - BASRA representative who informed us about the limited rescue operation in the Bahamas and warned us about unscrupulous people who. Thought it best we get to Bimini only 50 miles away from Florida. Said to us that TowboatUS has a reputation for helping if your boat is in Florida.
- SPEAR (Dave and TJ) - responded to our MAYDAY rescue call near Chub Cay and towed us about 2 miles into the harbor. A few days later Dave stopped by and gave us fish and lobster
- John B. - American sports fisherman - walked by our vessel at the fish dock, a total stranger and offered us assistance by purchasing some essential items in Nassau
- Britaninia and Ally - Two Chub Cay Hotel staff members volunteered to help us when we were needed supplies.
- Gil - fellow sailor of Stella Maris, helped us near Miami when Mystique's port engine flooded
- Austrians Bernhardt and Roland - - helped me retrieve my anchor in Nassau Harbor
- Clint W. - friend - Piece of Work; The Motor boater and the Sailor; Left Open
- Brief Nassau Meets
- Ben - fellow sailor - owner and skipper of B-True Girl and helped Mystique at Bimbo's at Virginia Key after returning to the States in 2018.
Helped Mystique for profit:
- Stuart Divers - came to our rescue at West End with a 30' boat with two 60 horsepower outboards; after 6 tries, they pulled Mystique off the beach at high tide then returned later in the day with a bill and an estimate. Without mentioning anything about price, their bill asked for $1800. I rejected their $10,750 estimate to tow Mystique to Spanish Wells 50 miles to the west.
- TowboatUS operator - After confirming I was a Gold Member with Towboat US which entitled to free towing, she asks me "Did your vessel have pre-existing condition?". I explained "Lady, as I just told you, we lost our rudders!"
- TowboatUS Director
During my 8 or 9 phone calls to TownboatUS, talking to Capts. Adrian, Orlando, 2 operators and Kevin C, each time I asked "How can you help us?" Each time I heard a different answer. Unfortunately, when I spoke with the director, he felt he needed to threaten me with a $250 per hour towing cost despite the fact I am a Gold member in his international towing company out of Fort Lauderdale. When he returned my call with "Good News" , it was as if he was doing us a favor by granting us my gold membership privileges of free towing which I had paid for. A Gold Unlimited Membership entitles me to limited mileage coverage. Instead of accepting my membership, he began to question my competence and choices. I stayed consistent steady with my membership claim and holding him accountable. So he gratuitously and condescendingly gave us his "good News" - "We will tow you 130 miles to Fort Lauderdale." I reminded him "I wanted to return to my home port of Miami...finally he acquiesced. And I thanked him for his assistance returning to our US port.
My sailing experiences have given me a slew of HELPFUL lessons I thought worth sharing:
- Recognizing one's need for help can be difficult.
- Burying ego and pride are essential.
- Timing is essential in getting rescued.
- Asking for help can be challenging.
- The nearest people don't always answer the call.
- Rescuers only arrive after a call for help.
- No one will arrive if you don't call.
- Sometimes help arrives without recognizing distress.
- The rescuers who show up are your best option at the time.
- Receiving help isn't any assurance an individual will receive the help he or she wants or needs.
- It is incumbent for the rescued to clearly express what they do and don't need.
- Some rescuers don't see the rescued as competent.
- Some rescuers are only helping for their benefit.
- Asking for help isn't a matter of spelling or proper grammar.
- Using a note-in-a-bottle for rescue only spells D-E-S-P-E-R-A-T-I-O-N.
The Good Samaritan – Safety of Life at Sea
The Good Samaritan at Sea
Good Samaritan law
Law, Ethics, and the Good Samaritan: Should There be a Duty to Rescue?
What to do in a nautical emergency
How to call for help in an emergency at sea
Mayday: How to Call for Help During a Boating Emergency