As “The Rescue of the Minnie V. pt 1″ ended, Criss Wolcott was still struggling in the cold
waters of the Chesapeake Bay. He was too scared to let go of his keg and grab the rescue lines we had thrown across his arms. Time was running out. Criss was drifting down the port side back into the dark sea.
The chief was right. Wolcott was never going to let go of that keg. I needed to make another pass.
I yelled my orders over the port wing to the deck crew: “Keep that light on him, chief, and keep everyone pointing at him as we come about. If we lose him now, he’s done for.”
The violent pitch in the high speed turn flooded the deck with a soaking spray. I slowed the ship as I completed the turn. The approach looked good. I came to a stop with the ship twenty feet abeam from Wolcott and his keg. We were dead-in-the-water, but rolling dangerously as we drifted down on him. “He’s right alongside now, Captain, but he’s still too afraid to let go of the keg.”
Suddenly, our most experienced deck hand, Seaman Casey, leaped over the rail and onto the landing net. Leaning out as far as he could, he grabbed Wolcott’s thick woolen shoulder.
Wolcott barely clung to his keg now. His strength was giving out in the cold, and he was gasping to expel the swallowed putrid seawater. Casey, Wolcott precariously in his grasp, was forced two feet under the water with every roll to port.
“He’s too heavy!” Casey struggled as he gasped a big breath and shook stinging salt water from his eyes when our starboard roll lifted them both above the surface.
The Chief had plan Bravo. “Someone get that mooring line on the forward deck. Now! Move!”
Seaman Guthrie, a skinny little guy not long out of boot camp, jumped at the chief’s
As soon as he stepped out of the lee of the pilot house, he was caught by a gust from the north that I thought was going to sweep him off his feet. He faced into the wet wind, curling his upper body into a spoon shape, defying nature at a Charlie Chaplin angle to the deck. He inched sideways in crab-like steps until he could snatch the mooring line. Wide eyed with his first seagoing adventure, he handed the mooring line to the chief.
The Chief directed Casey,“We need to make a horse-collar sling. Get the eye over his
head and under both arms.”
With the little strength Casey had left, he got the sling in place and somehow convinced Wolcott to let go of the keg.
“OK,. Great!” the Chief said. “Give a hand and let’s pull this hulk aboard.”
Three other deck force guys grabbed the line. I tried to hold the ship on a steady heading and prayed for slow shallow rolls. Nothing moved. Everyone was fatigued and struggling on the wet deck to keep their own footing.
“Get Kirsh up here—quick!” The Chief screamed the order.
Kirsh, our electrician, was at his SAR station in the engine room He was big enough to make any NFL defensive line coach drool. He looked like a Kodiak bear crawling out of the warm engine room den. He didn’t need to be briefed on his function. He jumped onto the frontof the line.
His size and strength gave everyone hope again. The Chief wasted no time now. “Every time we roll to port, and the line goes slack, heave around and hold what we got while I take a stopping turn around the bit. We’ve just got to inch him in.”
Roll by roll, slack by taut, they inched the giant up the cargo net until Kirsh could reach him. Between Kirsh and Casey they managed to roll him over the gunwale and onto the deck.
Kirsh, gasping like a runaway steam engine, dripping wet, knelt over the coughing, sputtering fisherman who looked like a beached whale with a smile on his face.
Kirsh choked out, “God damned man, I’m big, but just for the record—how much do you weigh?”
The fisherman tried to raise a hand to shake Kirsh’s and smiled. “Three hundred twenty four pounds…if you don’t count all my wet foul weather gear.”
Clifford Wescott was a lucky man, as was the rest of the crew of the Minnie V. who were rescued by the Cherokee. They were now all safe and together in the Norfolk Public Health Hospital. They had all struggled but survived in the cold and stormy Chesapeake Bay for thirty-five minutes.
I’m sure to fish again another day.