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"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
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Author:  Larry Simoneaux
Bio: Larry Simoneaux
Date:  November 15, 2009
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A Reason For Thanks.

I’m tired of bad news.Tired of the daily menu of crime, politics (I know, a redundancy) health care, taxes, deficits, the environment, and what have you.So it’s time for another sea story. My editor says that it’s all right as long as it’s on an occasional basis. I’m saying that this week is “occasional.”

Anyway, as far as rescues go, it wasn’t much. Compared with what the Coast Guard does on a daily basis, it’s minor league. Still, it’s worth a mention.

About twelve miles east of Cape Henry, Virginia, stands Chesapeake light - an unmanned lighthouse set atop a tall platform in about 40’ of water.

It was an early October evening and we’d finished our work and were headed for our anchorage. Our course would take us past the light at about a mile distant.

         That evening a cold front had passed through. The winds were up and the temperature had dropped into the lower 40’s. Though not severe, it wasn’t weather you’d want to be in if you didn’t have to be out there.

While passing the light, a lookout called down to say that he thought he could see a small light flashing on the lower part of the structure, so we altered course to take a better look.

As we got closer, we could see that there was a faint light blinking at us and, when we got close enough to use our searchlight, we saw four people - three men and a small boy - waving frantically.

         We notified the Coast Guard and they asked if we could get them off safely. We assured them that we could and proceeded to launch one of our small boats.

         When we got them on board, we took them below and started warming them up with soup and hot drinks. Our medical technician checked them out and said that they were all in the early stages of hypothermia but none were in any danger.

         As it turned out, they’d been fishing in Chesapeake Bay. Somewhere along the way, however, the decision had been made to head out to the light where the fishing was supposed to be good. Unfortunately, their boat was a 14’ aluminum skiff with a small outboard motor and none of them had brought any foul weather gear.

         They made it to the light at just about the time the weather changed for the worse, found that they couldn’t make it back to shore, went back to the lighthouse, and reached the ladder just as the boat swamped and sank.

This left them on a platform 12 miles from shore, with no one knowing they were there, with no means of contacting anyone, without protective clothing, with dark coming on and the temperature dropping.

         A bit later, they saw our lights in the distance. One of the men had a small pen light and he began blinking an SOS in our direction. It was that pen light that we saw from over a mile away.

         We notified the Coast Guard that we had them on board and then contacted some very relieved families.

         About this time, one of the men asked if he could use a private room for a few minutes. I figured he had to use the head, so I showed him to my cabin.

         As soon as he got through the door, he sat down and started shaking uncontrollably.

         I asked if he was all right.

         He looked up and said, “I am now but, for a while there, I wasn’t so sure.”

         He told me that it kept getting colder and colder, that they had that small boy with them, and that he knew there was a chance they’d be out there all night. It wasn’t something he hadn’t wanted to think about. When he saw our ship, he started blinking that little light and, when we turned, he said it was the greatest feeling in the world.

         I asked him how he came to have a penlight in his pocket when he was short of just about everything else.

         “I really don’t know. I just saw it on the kitchen counter on my way out and decided to take it. No real reason to it.”

        I nodded and left the room to let him be by himself.

         I remember walking away and thinking that, sometimes, angels really do ride on our shoulders.

It’s a thought that I’ve had more than once over the years.

Larry Simoneaux

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Biography - Larry Simoneaux

Larry Simoneaux is a regular columnist for The Everett Herald in Washington state. He is a retired ship driver for the US Navy and NOAA.

Read other commentaries by Larry Simoneaux.

Copyright © 2009 by Larry Simoneaux
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