A day in the life of a windsurfer - survival story

From: Carlos Merino (carlos@veritas.com-DeleteThis)
Date: Thu Apr 09 1998 - 09:10:53 PDT

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From: carlos@veritas.com-DeleteThis (Carlos Merino)
Subject: A day in the life of a windsurfer - survival story
To: wind_talk@opus.hpl.hp.com-DeleteThis (Wind talk)
Date: Thu, 9 Apr 1998 09:10:53 -0700 (PDT)
Cc: carlos@veritas.com-DeleteThis (Carlos Merino)
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        I mostly wrote this up for myself because I had to get it out of
        my head. I thought putting it down on paper would help, and I think
        it has. A few close friends have read this story and have asked me to
        share it with our fellow Bay Area windsurfers.

        This is for my 3rd Ave friends and all those sailors that may find
        themselves, from time to time, in desparate situations...

March 28, 1998
3rd Ave, Bay Area, San Francisco

Forecast looks good; the weatherman is calling for 20 to 30 knot trade winds
on the Coast. I can't get the surf info from the Internet, but I've got this
new wave board and the waves are calling. Drove to Santa Cruz, Davenport looks
ok, about a 5.2 would do, the waves are kinda mushy and disorganized, not very
big. One guy is out; waves don't look so good. Kept going to Waddell, the same
thing there. The waves are coming at 5 or 6 second intervals. Not too good.
One guy is out and having trouble in the inside. It is unusually cold this
weekend, and I've been fighting this cold. Not good. The Bay is supposed to
have a strong ebb this afternoon. Small crafts have been posted for the entire
area. I think I'm going to 3rd.

What a great day! It's only about 1:30pm and the weather is already 4.7.
Perfect ebb and wind. Brand new wave board! The swell is big out in the
channel, great for jumping and slashing around. Harry, a friend of ours had
gone down with a broken mast. What a pain? He'll have to paddle his board
all the way back. We helped bring his rig back to shore, then it was time to go
back and look for him, but first, had to go down to my 4.2. The wind was
whipping big time. I love that sail and this was a great opportunity to use it.
I sailed back out and looked for Harry all afternoon. No luck. The Cost Guard
helicopter was above me the whole time. Looking for Harry I thought. Where is
he? He must have made it to shore already. Oh well, I'll keep sailing, this
is too much fun to stop!

Around 4:00pm I decided I had had enough and headed back in to the shallow
area. The wind was very good there; the water was flat. Perfect to practice
some high wind tricks. Great! Did that for about 1/2 hour, until I decided
was time to call it quits. Had invited a couple of friends for dinner and I
was getting tired. This was a good time to stop. Hey! There is Mike! Where
have you been dude!? I've been looking all over for you, he yelled. Looking
for Harry I replied. I was sailing up wind, oh well I'm done. No, no he
says, the swells are big out in the channel, one more run dude? Let's go!
Ok I said, let's go!

We were sailing along, cruising towards the channel marker. When we got there
the swell was big, the wind very strong, great jumps and just all out fun. I
took a big jump and as I approached the landing, nose first, something was
wrong. Wham! Crash. Came out of the water, laughing hard, yelled at Mike and
cheered him on. As he went by, I notice the board was loose! It had separated
from my sail. Shit! For a fraction of a second I thought, ok Mike can get it
for me, then a big swell came from behind and the board took off. Damn, as I
see it accelerate down the swell I find myself, in disbelief, watching it go,
floating in the water holding nothing but my sail. Mike!, Mike!, Mikey, my
board, my board!, get my board! Mike! He realizes what happened and attempts
to go after it. He is way overpowered and can't sail downwind. Slam! Try
another waterstart Slam! The board is far now, cruising along, shit! What am I
going to do? Mike takes off after it, the swells are big. He soon disappears,
can't see him anymore, he is gone, he is gone! My blood is rushing; my heart
is pounding. I'm fucked! What am I going to do? The sail is sinking, ok
I'll try to keep it afloat until Mike comes back. This is hard, very hard.
I'll just float until Mike comes back, Mike, Mike, Oh God Mikey, you have
to come back, where are you Mike, come back, come back...

The coast guard helicopter has been flying around searching for Harry and
other sailors, I see it! It is coming, it's coming, wave damn it, wave,
here!, here!, over here! I'm over here! Shit the helicopter is about 200
yards away, it can't see me, wave, wave. I'm here! Over here! Nothing,
it's gone! it's gone! I see the helicopter fly by, I'm thinking it
will come back, but this time it does not, it is gone! There, way over there,
almost by Cayote Point. God, it is gone, it is not coming back!

Kick hard, keep kicking, hold the sail, keep it afloat. The swell is pounding,
the wind is ripping. Fuck, this is not easy. This is a great sail; I don't
want to go let go of it yet. Mike will get the coast guard and come after me.
I'll just wait a while and he'll be back. God is cold, keep kicking,
stay afloat God Damn it! Panic settles in, I'm fucked, I'm really fucked.
Oh God help me, help me please. I don't want to die today, not today, not
like this! Mike, somebody, Mikey, where are you? Maybe another sailor, nobody
is around. The swell is pounding, keep afloat. Shit! I'm taking too much
water... I have to relax, calm down. I'm not going to die today, I can't
die today. Mike went down wind after my board, the tide is changing. I was
looking for Harry all day and couldn't find him. How in the world is he
going to find me? Oh shit, I'm alone, he is not coming back, he is not going
to find me, how could he? There is no way, I'm fucked! I'm cold, Ok calm
down, calm down. I got to go for it, I got to swim. Land is far, very far,
about 4 miles, but what can I do? I'm alone, Mike is not going to find me.
I got to go for it.

I said my good-byes to the sail and let it go. Start swimming; paddle nice and
easy, conserve energy as much as I can. This is going to be a long day! The
swell is pounding, can't freestyle, I'm taking too much water, I'm
getting trashed by the swell and the wind. Splashed around, man handled.
I'm tired already, I'm cold, my legs are starting to cramp! Ok, let's
try backstroke, this is better, but can't kick anymore, my calves are
cramping bad, no matter, kick anyway, long easy backstrokes. I'm cold;
I'm taking too much water. I'm going to die! Keep going, keep going!

At least one hour has passed since I lost the board, I'm making little
progress, Mike, Mikey where are you? I can't go anymore, my arms are
cramping bad, my legs can't move, I'm going to sink, I'm going to
sink to the bottom of the Bay! My baby, I can't leave her, I can't loose
her, she needs me! She is going to cry, I'll miss her. What's going to
happen now? Oh baby I don't want to leave you, not yet. You'll be so sad,
Oh God, No, No, oh God, don't let me die. Oh men, there is no hope.
I AM GOING TO DIE! Can't swim anymore, just try to stay afloat and wait,
wait for the inevitable. Silence, complete silence. Can't feel my body
anymore, can't move anymore, I'm going under... Silence... Complete Silence...

Could this be possible! There is someone coming, a sailor, a red sail, Oh God,
is Mike, Mike, Mikey! Over here! Oh God, over here, over here! I'm here,
please God, over here, I'm here, I'm here, I'm here! I can't
believe it; Mike sailed right up to me! how did he find me? This is not
possible, how did he find me? Mike, over here, over here. Are you ok? He asked.
No dude! Come over, help me, help me, help! I grabbed his board and breathed a
sigh of relief, I could finally stay afloat without working so hard, I was
saved, I put my head down on the board and I thought to myself "I am not
going to die today, not today", Sigh.

Mike said he handed my board over to another sailor, he also told the coast
guard boat to come over right away. Let's just paddle to stay warm he said,
until the coast guard gets here. Keep paddling, keep paddling. Oh Mike thank
god you are here! That was close, that was very close. I'm not going to die
today. You came dude! You came! Keep paddling, keep paddling.

Another hour past, and nothing! No coast guard in sight. The sun is starting
to set. Mike is worried now. The coast guard is not coming! Where are those
fuckers? He is yelling out of the top of his lungs. I told them you were
swimming with no board, with nothing! Where are they? Where are they? It is
going to get dark soon. We've got to make it to shore. Mike says, he'll
swim. I'm supposed to sail the thing and keep an eye on each other. Mike
starts swimming. I'm trying to waterstart. The wind is still strong, the
swell is pounding. I put my foot up on the board and my whole body cramps! Oh
shit! Can't waterstart like this? No matter, keep trying, keep trying. I get
up, I sail a few yards, I fall, I waterstart again, cramps everywhere, sail a
few yards, fall. Mike is swimming, the sun is setting. I'm cold; I'm very
cold! This is not good. This is going to take a long time. A very long time.
Land is still more than a couple of miles away. I'm very cold, I'm
starting to shiver, I can't control it very well. Take a break, calm down,
calm down. Ok, waterstar again and keep going. It's getting dark, I can see
rain coming, the weather is changing. Oh shit the wind shifts. It's blowing
offshore now! Fuck! It's cold, it's cold. Maybe "I'm going to die
after all!" Mike is yelling, keep going he says, I'll swim, you paddle.
I can't Mike, I can't, I can't move, I'm cold. It is getting dark;
it's getting dark. We are fucked! Silence, complete silence...

Carlos! Carlos! The Coast Guard! The Coast Guard! They are coming, they are
coming! Those fuckers, they are coming! The boat nears; they are not close
enough so it looks like they want to circle. I yelled, NO, NO! You have to get
me out of here! Get me out! They see me, they realize I'm in trouble.
Immediately they throw a line, I swim to it and I grab it with all my might, I
ain't letting go of this shit. They drag me quick, I'm bouncing all over
the place, body drag, the water is cold, I don't care, I ain't letting
go, no way I'm not letting go. I get to the boat; they pull me out of the
water. I can't move a muscle. They throw me over the railing, my face goes
flat on the ground, I'm staring at the ground, ropes, life bests, yellow dog
with life preserver jacket! I must be really fucked! I stay there, I can't move.
Three or four guys pull me up. This guy is bad, this guy is bad, they yell.
Take him down, take him down! They drag me inside the boat. Take your wetsuit
off. Got to get you warm, What's your name? How long have you been out
there? What's your name? What's your name? Take the wetsuit off; warm
blankets, warm plastic bags. Don't go to sleep, stay with us! Stay with us!
What's your name? What foot am I touching? What hand? What's your name?
The shivering starts, my whole body, I can't stop, out of control. My mind
wonders off, I feel I'm watching someone else shiver, don't feel
anything, don't see anything? Stay with us! Stay with us! Don't go to
sleep! What's your name? Stay still, we need to get you on an IV. Here it
goes. We are going to the hospital, stay with us sir, stay with us! I'm
shivering, I can't stop. The boat is bouncing, we are cruising now. We are
going, we are going. Shit! "I'm not going to die today!"

They kept me under observation for hours, dry blankets. They shot hot air under
them. Constant flow of nice hot air. Oh men! That was wonderful. I was warming
up; I could feel my body. It took awhile to thaw out, but it was warm, it was
nice cozy warm. I made it. I made it. I will live to see another day! What a
day, what a tough day at the office!

Things I learned:

- Life is precious, every minute counts! Life is not predictable. One day,
  without knowing, we may wake up to see our last day. Enjoy it while you can...

- Sail with a buddy. He may save your life. I would not be writing this story
  if Mike hadn't been there. Thank you buddy. From this moment on, until the
  day I die, beers are on me!

- Hold on to your board. No matter what happens. Your board is your life!

- Check your equipment. I had about $1000 worth of rig, $1300 board, yet a $20
  part may have failed of which we think a pin (probably a couple of dollars
  worth) almost kill me!

- Have a safety/rescue kit. Extra toe line, strobe light, flares, whistle,
  something! They may come in handy

Unbelievably, my sail washed out to shore the next day! The luff sleeve is a bit
torn, but repairable. The rest of it looks in perfect condition!

Two days later I got up on a helicopter looking for my board, which apparently
was left on the water by the "unknown" sailor who took it. We combed the
entire South Bay looking for it. Nothing! Oh Well, the ride was fun. Time to
get another one.

I'm doing ok, my whole body is still very sore, and occasionally I get
cramps in my upper back and thighs. My legs at the back of my knees are
bruised badly from kicking for so long in a wetsuit. My calves are shred to
pieces from all the cramps, I'm sure. I have problems standing up in the
mornings. I believe I have pulled/torn a few muscles, but I will be ok. My
mind seems to drift into intense thought, flashbacks, pictures come and go and
can't seem to stop it. I figured I needed to write all this up hoping I will
put it to rest. I believe I'm having some post-survival mental shock, or
whatever the medical terminology is.

I'll be back on the water soon. I think I'll stick to waves though. They
are much safer...

                                        -- Carlos --

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