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Monitoring marine radio traffic on Grand Island, part 2

Loren Graham monitored marine radio on Grand Island and has recounted stories of his experience to Ann Fisher. (Courtesy photo.)

MARQUETTE – The first part of the story about monitoring marine radio on Grand Island talked about the ribbons Loren Graham received for his assistance with Coast Guard operations and the fun encounter he had with a gentleman wearing a different sort of award at a prestigious event in London. But there were some stories that were indeed life-or-death situations, including one for which he received a special award. Let Loren tell it.

“There was a couple from the Twin Cities who’d always wanted to have a sailboat on Lake Superior. After they retired they heard that there was a sailboat–the type they wanted–for sale down in Lake Michigan. So they went down there and they bought it. They didn’t know how to sail, but it had a motor on it–a diesel motor–and their thought was that they would motor their way up through the locks at the Soo, and then along the southern shore of Lake Superior to a place near Ashland where they were going to keep it. And then they would study books on sailing and they would learn how to sail.

Well, they got through the locks and they came along until they were opposite the Pictured Rocks. The lake was absolutely flat. But they’d had trouble with their motor. The water pump broke down and the engine was overheating. They didn’t want to ruin the engine so they’d shut it down. And so they threw out an anchor thinking they were going to spend the night there–a very dangerous thing to do. But of course, as you know, the bottom there was rock, not sand, so they really weren’t anchored at all. And that night, the wind shifted to the north.

And so they started being driven toward the rocks — the vertical cliffs of the Pictured Rocks with the anchor dragging on the rocky bottom. They sent out a distress call and the waves were really coming in heavily. They were both seasick and they had a dog on board and the dog was seasick and it was a miserable situation.

Then the wind came up. A north wind with big waves. I was sitting there at my computer, writing something. I heard the distress call and answered it. So I relayed the distress call to the Marquette Coast Guard. And the Coast Guard recognized this immediately as a very serious situation. And so early in the morning they sent out their heaviest very seaworthy boat. But it took two hours for the boat to get from Marquette to where they were along the Pictured Rocks.

By the time the Coast Guard boat arrived, the sailboat had been driven so close to the cliffs that the Marquette boat couldn’t get in there. There was not enough water for them.

And so the Marquette Coast Guard boat — I was listening to all this — got on the radio and advised them to abandon ship. I recognized that was a terrible situation because if they abandoned ship, there was no place for them to go. They would be washed by these enormous waves immediately up against the rocks.

And so I got on the radio and I said, ‘You know, in life, there come moments when you have to make decisions for yourself. No one else can do it for you. But this is my recommendation. And you decide whether or not you think this is a good idea. Don’t abandon the ship. Start that diesel engine. Yes, I know the water cooling system doesn’t work. You’ll overheat. But, you’ll probably be able with that overheating engine to get out close enough to the Coast Guard boat that they can get you. And if you want to throw cups of water on the engine to keep it a little cooler, do that.’

So they started the engine. This sounds so easy, to start the engine, but that boat was going up and down like a cork. You had to hang on to something in order to be able to stay on board; the dog was barfing all over the boat. It was an awful, awful situation, but the man got the engine going and he headed for the Coast Guard boat. And the Coast Guard boat had on it a really good man–an experienced man with a hook on a rope. And he threw the hook and caught their boat and pulled it the rest of the way out and then brought them into Munising.

And it was for that, that I got a special award.”

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