Miracle Rescue in Mexico
David Wright, a top Canadian Laser sailor, who is training at the International Sailing Academy in La Cruz, Mexico, rescued a downed kiteboarder at 2:30 am today after a three and a half hour water search in Academy's coach boat. The kiteboarder had been in the water for seven hours when David found him.
Like all of us, David is only here in Mexico this week because the of the air travel shambles resulting from Iceland’s runaway Eyjafjallajokull volcano. He’s part of a group of top North American competitors who couldn't get flights to the French Olympic Regatta in Hyeres
Those of us who know David know he is one of the most determined and focused individuals you will ever meet. He just never gives up. Whether it's during an upwind heavy air grind and he is tight on your hip, or if it is a sail back to the harbor after a long day on the water, he will always be sailing his hardest. After training with him on and off for the last five months, I found out he purposely puts himself in the most disadvantage position in our speed tests and drills just to test his abilities to their fullest. It's that tenacity and his Merchant Marine training that combined to save a life last night.
At 10:30 pm yesterday, David along with Rob Crane and Clay Johnson, were awakened by frantic knocking on the door of their villa. A man wearing a kiteboarding harness, board shorts and a rash guard excitedly told David that his friend was lost out in the bay. He knew there was a powerboat at the villa. Could they help go search for him. The man had been kiteboarding with his friend after the wind died in Banderas Bay. He lost sight of his friend and decided to swim for shore. The guys jumped to action. While David tried to ascertain exactly what the situation was, Rob immediately went to the other villa to get the keys to the coach boat. Within minutes David and the kiteboarder were headed out in the 25-hp 14' RIB to search for the lost sailor.
Dave recounts the events of the rescue: "I didn't know what to make of this guy pounding on the door so late at night. Once I determined there was a legitimate emergency we immediately acted." The kiteboarder who had made a swim for it was picked up by local fisherman. They ignored his plea to go search for his buddy and was brought to the Riviera Nayarit Marina. The guy had passed out from exhaustion and shock after being picked up by the fisherman but had recovered enough by the time they docked to go find help for his friend.
Dave was formulating a plan on how to find the lost sailor from the get-go. His training as a graduate from Kings Point Merchant Marine Academy and as a 3rd Class Merchant Marine officer was put to good use. Dave goes on: "The first thing we needed was the key to the boat and to get an idea what the current was doing over the past three to four hours this guy was in the water." Dave was in the inflatable within minutes with the exhausted kiteboarder heading out into Banderas Bay, the second largest bay in North America, on a search and rescue mission.
Dave continued: "We first motored fives miles up the beach to where they launched, to make sure their car was still there. I brought him (the kiteboarder who was rescued by the fisherman) in close and he waded ashore to check the car. He flagged down a police officer and gave him a report on his missing friend. After that we motored to the last spot he saw his friend out in the bay. That's the spot where I started to run a search grid."
Because the 3/4 moon provided better visibility looking back into shore and based on the prevailing winds, Dave motored southwest offshore for another five miles and started his grid search first heading southeast. This was based on his best estimate of current and drift of the stricken sailor. As it turns out it was a smart move. "I motored as far out as I felt comfortable for my own safety in such a small boat and then started the grid pattern. I planned on running a five-mile square grid. I motored for two minutes at a time and then turned off the engine to listen and look. We had a big flashlight and it was amazing how much marine life was out there. I saw dolphins and all sorts of fish and you could hear the whales spouting. I didn't see any sharks but you know they were somewhere out there."
It was on his second pass that Dave found the lost sailor. "He was laying on his sail which has an inflatable section that kept him afloat, but he was mostly submerged." "We got him and his board and sail in the boat and put a jacket on him. He was pretty cold at that point." Dave arrived safely back at the marina at 3:00 am with the two kiteboarders.
On reflection Dave had this to say: "It was neat how all my Merchant Marine training was so naturally retrieved. There was good visibility because of the clear skies and good moonlight, and relatively smooth seas. I was supposed to be in France this week racing but because of the volcano, I ended up in Mexico instead."
I happen to agree with his next statement. "I think the guy is extremely lucky."