Honolulu Star Bulletin 08/03/02)
By Ray Pendleton
I hope everyone in Hawaii who goes offshore --whether to fish, sail or paddle -- has read about John Stockton, who was rescued last week after being lost at sea for nearly five days.
Then I hope everyone gives some very serious thought about where Stockton went wrong and how they might have done things differently.
After all, it's from experiences like Stockton's that the rest of us can learn lessons without actually enduring the hardships ourselves.
To begin with, there's the geographic realities of the islands.
Strung as they are, from northwest to southeast, but with a prevailing wind from the northeast, it should surprise no one that a boat adrift off our lee shores is in for a long voyage without landfall.
Yet Stockton -- aboard his new 17-foot sailing kayak -- set out Friday morning near the Kona airport, bound for North Kohala, unescorted and without any emergency signaling devises.
According to news reports, he first capsized Saturday afternoon, just a quarter mile offshore.
"It was just real big swells, 10- to 15-foot swells, wind just howling," Stockton related to the press. "I capsized the boat maybe 30 times the first two days."
On Sunday, before its batteries gave out, he used his cellular phone to contact the fire department and the Coast Guard.
Nevertheless, by Tuesday --the day of his rescue -- Stockton had drifted some 80 miles downwind from the Big Island.
A Navy aircraft that had been a part of the search spotted him waving his yellow jacket "out in the middle of nowhere."
"He was so extremely lucky that he was spotted," a Coast Guard spokeswoman said.
How much sooner Stockton might have been found had he had a better attention-getter is just conjecture.
But I'd bet my Enron stock that a simple device developed locally called a RescueStreamer would have caught a searcher's eye a day earlier. And that could have meant the difference between life and death.
The RescueStreamer is really more than one product, but the simplest and most convenient type is a roll of plastic about the size of a small flashlight that is carried in a web holster.
When emergency attention is needed, a bright orange, 6-inch-wide streamer can be unfurled to a length of 25 feet, where it will float indefinitely on the surface of the water.
It also works on land and in snow, meaning it is useful in nearly every dangerous situation.
Unlike smoke flares or dye markers, the streamer never dissipates, and unlike radios and cellphones, it doesn't require batteries.
The RescueStreamer technology has been thoroughly tested by the U.S. military and has been approved for procurement and use by all branches.
Those tests have shown that the streamer is quite visible from over a mile away, at an altitude of 1,500 feet.
Best yet, it is reasonably priced at about $25 (how much is your life worth?) and it's available via the Internet at http://www.rescuestreamer.com, or by phone at (808) 483-3255.
As for me, I can't imagine taking my one-man Naia offshore without it and the canoe is bright orange to begin with.
HoloHolo Hawai`i Ocean Sports News