USS Carl Vinson aids in rescue of boater in Pacific
NORTH MASON, Wash. (Tribune News Service) — A Washington state man’s appreciation for the Navy’s humanitarian mission swelled after the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson plucked him from the Pacific Ocean.
Bob Lemmon built backups on top of backups into his 35-foot sailboat in preparation for a solo trip to Hawaii. Just two weeks after departing Neah Bay, however, the third and final autopilot failed. The 70-year-old hand-steered for a couple of more weeks before sleep deprivation and exhaustion set in. Anxiety and hallucinations followed, further debilitating the retired homebuilder.
“At that point I couldn’t really do anything,” he said. “That’s when my texts started to become confused.”
Lemmon sent wife Kristi messages every day that included longitude and latitude so she could track his progress. They stopped making much sense. He couldn’t think straight. Even if he could, he couldn’t focus on the tiny letters. And even then, his hands shook too much to strike the keys.
“I knew something was really wrong when I started getting strange emails,” said Kristi, Lemmon’s only link to the world.
On May 31, she called the Coast Guard in Honolulu, but Lemmon was still 400 miles from Hawaii.
“We need to get him off that boat,” the surgeon general told her.
The Coast Guard contacted the San Diego-based Carl Vinson, returning from a 10-month deployment to the Middle East, just 75 miles away from the sailboat. The carrier launched a helicopter with a medical team aboard.
The Navy sent Kristi a message. It said: “Sit tight. The Navy’s on the way.”
A swimmer jumped into the ocean, swam to the boat, grabbed Lemmon and helped him to a rescue basket lowered from the chopper. Ninety minutes after the carrier learned of Lemmon’s predicament, he arrived on the flight deck. He was whisked to sick bay for treatment.
“They called me immediately when they had him on board the Vinson so I knew he was in good hands,” Kristi said.
Lemmon said he experienced two feelings.
“One is you’re glad to be rescued. The other one is you’re losing your boat,” he said.
The sailboat was abandoned and wasn’t insured beyond 75 miles from shore.
Lemmon, who doesn’t remember much of the ordeal, said the close call wouldn’t deter him from another solo effort, but he wouldn’t put his wife through it.
“She went through hell on this, too,” he said.
Lemmon, who lost 15 pounds and still is recovering, couldn’t credit the Navy enough.
“They bring an aspect of nobility to the service by pursuing that humanitarian mission,” he said, mentioning responses to natural disasters and rescuing individual sailors. “How many of us think of military service being noble? It’s time we started.”
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