Honolulu Star Bulletin 04/05/03
By Ray Pendleton
When does a weatherman do more than forecast weather? When he's Rick Shema -- aka the "Weatherguy."
Readers may remember a column I wrote when he was named the official weather forecaster for last year's Pacific Cup yacht race.
Shema's company, http://weatherguy.com, is a worldwide marine forecast service that analyzes weather maps and other data to provide sailors with the information they need to steer the fastest and safest course between two points.
The company's stated mission is, "to provide accurate and personalized marine weather, ocean forecasts and routing services to those operating vessels offshore or in coastal waters anytime or anywhere in the world."
But what's not stated is that by maintaining contact with vessels with his weather updates, Shema can also become a vessel's only contact in an emergency.
Such was the case last month when Shema received e-mail via high frequency radio (called "sailmail") from a client double-handing his Valiant 40 about 60 miles off the coast of Baja California, headed for San Diego.
"My crewman has fallen seriously ill and is in great pain ... possibly from last night's work in the gale conditions you so accurately forecast," the message read.
"I was hoping you might have a Coast Guard e-mail contact that I could use via sailmail, if I can't raise anyone on the radio."
Shema immediately contacted the Coast Guard's Rescue and Coordination Center (RCC) in Alameda, Calif., regarding the possible medical emergency. He also gave them the vessel's last known position, course and speed.
In return, the RCC requested additional information regarding the patient, the medical training of those aboard the vessel and the medical provisions on hand, which Shema promptly forwarded, along with a grim forecast of 22- to 28-knot winds and 9- to 11-foot seas.
Just over an hour and a half after the first message, the vessel's skipper once again contacted Shema.
"Seems like this is the real thing for sure. (Crewman) is in much pain. Can you get the Coast Guard? We sent out a Mayday and got no response."
After another call to the RCC, Shema was able to notify the vessel that a CG C-130 aircraft would be airborne from Sacramento in about 15 minutes, with a 3- to 4-hour flight time. Additionally, a helicopter rescue was also possible if refueling in Mexico could be arranged.
About four and a half hours after the first message - as Shema was being told that the CG's chopper was having trouble locating the vessel - another e-mail came in saying the skipper had changed course for a nearby ship.
Shema quickly informed the RCC and requested the vessel's skipper to broadcast his position on VHF Channel 16.
Eight hours into the incident, Shema finally received the message he was waiting for, "God bless you Rick, the helicopter made a successful evacuation."
On the following day a final pair of messages read, in part, "(My crewman) is resting comfortably in a hospital in La Paz, Mexico. There is no doubt in my mind that you saved his life."
"Glad everything turned out OK," Shema replied. And, getting back to business, "When would you like the next weather update?"
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