Luck in the Pacific

Guy Wilding has been out for a paddle in his 18-foot kayak every day for months, since moving to Honolulu from Sydney, Australia. July 20 seemed like any other day under the blue skies of the tradewinds until, as luck would have it, his paddle broke and 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 – but it didn’t happen. So 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.

Another hour.


By hour number four, with the afternoon deepening, you know this was feeling desperate. Guy knew his wife, Shelley, would surely be worried by now. But 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, from 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 and cranked up the motor, all while keeping one crewmember assigned to the job of never taking an eye off the man in the water—the man who was growing steadily moredistant. When the crew was finally able to turn back, under power, it still seemed like forever before they were able to reach their man. But when they did they immediately 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 of her crew’s efforts to bring Wilding aboard.

Then the crew was able to haul Wilding aboard, only slightly hypothermic and probably, as he assessed it, not needing medical attention. He would know. As luck would have it, Guy Wilding is the kayak coach of the Sprint National Team that will soon be seeking to qualify for 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, thanked his rescuers and enjoyed a tearful reunion with Shelley, who had missed her husband and 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, the 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 the neighbors.

And as sure as my name is Kimball Livingston, it was one hell of a hug…

For more on Transpac 2011, including complete results, click here.

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