The wind seemed heartless and indifferent this morning at around 2. I woke knowing that beyond the walls of my house, past the spruce trees and fields, the rocks and outer barrier ledges, across 30 miles of pitch black December-style Atlantic ocean, the Coast Guard was searching for a man who went overboard 14 hours earlier. The boat was a 77 footer out of Rhode Island, working 50 or so miles offshore.
The marine forecast called for 20 to 30 foot seas as I turned in last night. I'd not seen such a prediction in the 5 years we've been here. The tv news weather graphic showed a boiling swath of precipitation stretching from off the west coast of Florida all the way up to New England.
It doesn't make sense to impute cruelty to the wind or the sea, but that was how I felt when I woke up thinking of that man, his mates and captain, family and the coast guard men and women out there trying to find him. It's cruel misfortune to work a lifetime on the water, get into one tangle with the wrong trap line, and get pulled overboard. After that, according to the Bangor Daily News, David fought back. He cut himself loose successfully in the midst of the mayhem and got a hold of a life ring. Then he let go and sank.
I'm still a newcomer to deck work, and not a newbie in any way other than that. I came to this work figuring that if a hand goes overboard, he can just tread water for a couple of minutes, even if it's cold, until the boat turns around and comes back to scoop him up. All the reports I read and things I hear say otherwise. Much of the time, falling overboard is quick and final.
I don't really know what to make of it when these tragedies occur. David was obviously out there out of necessity, but probably also because that is what he loved doing. I'm old and lazy enough to think that a lot of boats and crews are under too much pressure to go out and stay out in poor conditions. I'll probably always be a lubber. I can't see myself compulsively going out or staying out when the conditions are rotten. I'd rather make a little less money. This attitude would get me flogged in a real fishing operation. Then again, I understand that once you're out, you want to make a trip of it. There is also the primal truth that a rotten day on a boat is still better than a nice day in other work situations.
I'm also timid enough that I don't worry about flotation compromising my manhood. New vests that inflate when the sensor is more than 4" under water and closed cell foam work gear could save lives or at least provide some relief to families.
When I was a kid, I'd never seen a color tv or a bike helmet. Now they're everywhere. Fishing will always be the wildest, most fun, most real occupation, even with a vest on. And it will still be plenty dangerous. And make great color tv entertainment.
Let us pray.