Unintentional heroes win Canadian rescue award

2010 Rescue of the Year award for Chris Busch, Nick Crooks, Lindie Rudover, Carol Crooks, Alan Johnson and Alex Baker - photo by Scott Webster
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Whenever you step onto a yacht to go sailing, there's a possibility that you will face a life threatening situation, if not yours, then someone else's. How will you fare? The recipients of the Canadian Safe Boating Council's 2010 Rescue of the Year were tested and not found wanting.

The six crew members of the yacht Private Idaho, who were honoured in Toronto last month at a ritzy function at the Sheraton Centre, admitted that they had previously done 'man overboard' practice in daylight, and had done a debriefing of 'safety stuff' just before they left, which stood them in good stead.

In a fifty knot storm, close to midnight, the Private Idaho, with crew members Chris Busch, Nick Crooks, Lindie Rudover, Carol Crooks, skipper Alan Johnson and Alex Baker on board, passed a strobe light floating in the water. Strobe lights are often attached to life jackets.

'I had that sinking feeling,' Carol Crooks told the local news outlet www.windsorstar.com!The_Windsor_Star, though there was nobody in the water.

Not long after that, the crew heard someone shout, 'Help!'

'All of us just turned our heads to the right and boom, there he was,' said Crooks, who said she illuminated the man's head with a cheap flashlight she'd stuck in her pocket by chance. 'The water was so black and the sky was so black it was unbelievable we found him.'

That man was Branden Brickles of Fenton, Michigan, who had been hurled off his 36-foot catamaran by the stiff winds. The storm had blown the boat away from him, and he didn't have a life-jacket on when he hit the water.

'Luckily I got blown back into the path of another boat,' he said. 'I was really thinking, 'I didn't want to die this way.'

Soon, Crooks said, the crew had unpacked a large spotlight and trained it on Brickles. But even getting close enough to pick him up was difficult, Crooks said.

'In three-to five-foot waves we couldn't approach him the way you're supposed to approach him. We had to do a special spin and approach him at a different angle.'

Through it all, Johnson, who was at the helm, said he and the crew kept their cool. But as he turned the boat around, they lost sight of Brickles and his heart sank.

'Worst three seconds of my life,' he said.

The crew, though, quickly located Brickles with the spotlight, and got the boat in the right position for the roaring waves to carry him to the hull.

'It seemed like an hour but it had probably been three or four minutes,' Johnson said. 'His face was barely above water at all.'

Crooks said it took two tries for Brickles to catch a tossed life preserver, at which point he simply gave up and began floating on the device. The crew managed to reel him in to the rear of the sloop, where Johnson said they dragged him up a ladder.

'They did a great job,' Brickles said. 'They got me right next to the boat.'

When Brickles came aboard, Crooks said, he was bloated, vomiting water and unable to remember his own name.

'I'm proud,' Johnson told The Windsor Star. 'I'm proud our crew handled it so professionally.'

As for Brickles, he told The Star he's fine today, but he'll be wearing his life-jacket when he sails from now on.

Good thinking!