Guy Wilding has been out for a paddle in his 18-foot kayak every day for months, since moving to Honolulu from Sydney, Australia. Today seemed like any other day under the blue skies of the tradewinds until, as luck would have it, his paddle broke. He was dumped into the drink. This wasn't good, but Wilding swam to the kayak and grabbed on. He tried to get in, to rescue, in kayak-speak. It didn't happen. And there he was. Minutes went by. The tide was outbound, carrying him away from the beach, away from the lovely island of Oahu, upwind against the oncoming waves, toward oblivion. Without a paddle, he really couldn't do anything about it. His first thought: “I'm in trouble.”
An hour went by.
By hour number four, with the afternoon deepening, you know this was feeling desperate. Guy's wife, Shelley, would surely be worried by now. He really couldn't do anything about that, either.
A sail appeared on the horizon.
As luck would have it, the sail was coming his way.
More time went by. The sail was still coming his way. Guy Wilding did what he could to make himself conspicuous, but it is easy in a seaway to be blocked from view by a wave at what could be the critical moment. Would the people on the sailboat be alert? Would they be looking around them at all?
As luck would have it, yes. They were more than alert, they were keen. The boat was a Swan 441, coming in to finish the 2,225-mile Transpacific Yacht Race, Los Angeles to Honolulu. They had been at sea since July 4. Mary Howard, one of nine in the crew, put it well: “It's a good thing he was wearing red. We were looking for a red buoy.”
The Transpac has been finishing at Diamond Head since the 1906 inaugural. The Diamond Head Buoy is red. Randy Alcorn, an ocean kayaker himself, saw something red, but not a buoy. What he saw was “this fellow trying to get into a kayak, and it just wasn't going to work. He was waving. I knew we had a rescue on our hands.”
With Transpac sailors required to practice recovering overboards before they start the race, Philip Sauer's team was ready. They dropped the sails - it takes time - and cranked up the motor, with one crew member assigned to the job of never taking an eye off the man in the water. The man who was growing steadily more-distant. When the crew was able to turn back, under power, it still seemed like forever before they were able to reach their man. Then they deployed a Life Sling - SOP - and ran a circle around Guy Wilding, which brought the Sling right to him. “It went by the book,” Mary Howard said. Then the crew was able to haul Wilding aboard, only slightly hypothermic and probably, as he assessed it, not needing medical attention. He should know. As luck would have it, Guy Wilding is the kayak coach of the Sprint National Team, which aspires to compete in the 2012 Olympics. He's a big, strong athlete and savvy when it comes to the physio side of the game.
With any other rescue, Wilding could have come quietly ashore, as he would have preferred, thanked his rescuers , and enjoyed a tearful and private reunion with Shelley Wilding, who had missed her husband. She knew he should have returned to his launch point at Hawaii Kai. She had been trying to convince doubting authorities that he must be in danger. But, as luck would have it, Wilding was rescued by a boat racing in a media event, Transpac, the classic race of the Pacific Ocean, and his reunion with Shelley and their young daughter Kali, took place in front of the cameras. Their sobs brought home just how “other” the outcome could have been.
As luck would have it, the boat's name is Second Chance.
And, as luck would have it, the owners of Second Chance, Phil and Sarah Sauer, are joining the Wildings as new residents of Honolulu.
It's a heck of a way to get to know your neighbors.
And as sure as my name is Kimball Livingston, it was one hell of a hug . . .