How’s this for a sign of the times: Mariners from the SIU-crewed cable ship Dependable on March 21 rescued a boater in the middle of the Pacific Ocean – and the individual quickly reassured his liberators that he’d recently tested negative for COVID-19.
While the pandemic added a new wrinkle to the rescue, the rest of the operation, though challenging, seemed relatively routine, according to Bosun Ronnie Rodriguez.
The bosun teamed up with Bosun Mate Steven Whiting to hoist boater Andrew Baillie, 71, to safety aboard the SubCom-operated ship. With an assist from Paul Hall Center Apprentice Sarah Wilson, they also managed to salvage some of Baillie’s belongings before he left his sailboat Catamaran 2, which had become unseaworthy.
“He made it safe and sound,” said Rodriguez, who joined the SIU in 2007. “At first it was hard to get to him, but it was a smooth rescue overall.”
The Dependable is crewed by members of the SIU and the Seafarers-affiliated American Maritime Officers (AMO), respectively.
Vessel master Capt. Yann Durieux reported that the ship received a distress call from the boat shortly before 2 a.m., while the Dependable was headed to Hawaii. They reached the disabled craft approximately 40 minutes later.
“It took a bit of time to approach, as the sailor needed to keep making way until the last minute,” Durieux wrote. “He feared the boat would break apart if not heading into the waves. We recovered (some of) his gear and the sole individual on board. Great team effort.”
The captain said notifications were sent “for the navigational safety of others” regarding the abandoned, damaged boat, which had been en route to Ecuador from San Pedro, California. Rodriguez was in his room when he was notified of the distress call. He summoned additional crew members “and went to the port gangway,” he recalled. “We saw what looked like a sailboat. The captain got close to it and we put the gangway down partially, in semi-rough seas. When we got close, I threw a line to tie his luggage, but it was too rough. He had two bags he put into a garbage bag, and threw it to us on the gangway. The ship kept bouncing around, but we finally got him off the sailboat. I held the bosun mate and he grabbed the man. It was a struggle to pull him onto the gangway but easy after that.”
Baillie, an Argentinian who is a U.S. citizen, was predictably thankful, and he spent the next week or so aboard the Dependable while it finished the voyage to Hawaii.
“I felt bad for him because that was a nice sailboat,” Rodriguez recalled, “but those are just material things that can be replaced.”
This was the second rescue Rodriguez experienced. The first, in 2016, also involved the Dependable, which saved 14 Indian fishermen whose vessel sank near Mumbai.
In both cases, he said, the training he and many of his shipmates received at the SIU-affiliated Paul Hall Center (PHC) in Piney Point, Maryland, truly made a difference.
“It definitely helped,” said Rodriguez, a graduate of PHC Apprentice Class 701. “I tell all these guys when they come aboard, it starts at the school. All the drills, all the studies – it’ll haunt you if you don’t complete it. You never know; we may have to abandon ship, for example. You’d better know what you’re doing. Definitely, for sure, the school has a lot to do with how we’re succeeding.”