Luck on the Transpac

Guy Wilding had been out in his kayak every day for months—ever since moving to Honolulu from Australia—and July 20 seemed like any other day until his paddle broke and he was dumped into the drink. This wasn’t good, but Wilding swam to his 18-foot kayak and grabbed on. He then 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, you know he was feeling desperate. Guy knew his wife, Shelley, would 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’s hard to get noticed in a seaway. Would the people on the sailboat be alert? Would they even be looking around 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.”

Transpac sailors are required to practice MOB drills before they start the race, so skipper Philip Sauer and the rest of his crew were ready. They dropped the sails and cranked up the motor, while a crewmember kept an eye on the man in the water—a man who was growing steadily more distant.

When the crew was finally able to turn back under power, it still seemed like forever before they were able to reach their target. But when they did, they immediately deployed a Lifesling and ran a circle around Wilding, which brought a line right to him. “It went by the book,” Howard said of the crew’s efforts to bring aboard.

With any other rescue, Wilding—who moved to Hawaii to coach the U.S. sprint kayak team in preparation for the 2012 Olympics—could have come quietly ashore, thanked his rescuers and enjoyed a tearful reunion with Shelley, who had been trying to convince doubting authorities that her husband must be in danger. But as luck would have it, because Wilding was rescued by a boat racing in the Transpac, his reunion with Shelley and their young daughter, Kali, took place in front of 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.

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