“Land Ahoy!” Over centuries of maritime heritage, this phrase was shouted by a ship’s lookout when land was in sight. Traditionally, a lookout’s duty was to watch for vessels and hazards, such as reefs and shoals. The significance of standing a proper lookout aboard today’s ships still remains, and three crewmembers aboard Coast Guard Cutter Venturous proved that a lookout not only spots hazards, but also saves lives.
Venturous was off the coast of southern Jamaica on a counter-narcotics patrol encountering 12-foot seas and sustained winds of 35 knots. It was hours after the sun had set when the ship’s lookouts began routine watch reliefs. As they passed information on the ship’s status, they spotted something unusual in the darkness – a faint white light in the distance.
The three seamen on watch, Charles Gray, Jarrod Reed and Pablo Taborda Jr., reported the light. Unable to correlate it with another contact on the ship’s radar, the Venturous’ course was altered to further investigate.
The 210-foot cutter pressed through the heavy seas and maneuvered closer to the dim light, growing brighter as they neared. Still unsure of what the glow was, the crew used the ship’s infrared camera. Extraordinarily, the crew found five fishermen in the water, clinging to boat wreckage, frantically waving their arms.
The light originally spotted by the lookouts was one of the survivor’s cell phone screens that had miraculously been saved during their ship’s capsizing. Due to the vigilance of the lookouts, the survivors were able to signal the Venturous with just the light of a cell phone at a range of almost two nautical miles.
“When I heard that the light I saw was a person in the water I was really surprised and didn’t know what to think,” said Gray, who had graduated boot camp just two months before getting underway.
“When I saw the survivors in the water, I was shocked, I didn’t know what to think,” added Reed, who also had been aboard for only two short months. “I knew that someday I could make a difference but not this soon out of boot camp.”
Within minutes after spotting the survivors, they were recovered and brought safely aboard the decks of Venturous. They had been grasping to the wreckage of their capsized vessel for 10 hours and were given medical assistance, food and water.
All five survivors suffered chemical burns from clinging to fuel barrels, as well as respiratory injuries from ingesting large amounts of gasoline. One man was in a severe state of hypothermia and was hours from losing his life.
“When I saw the men in the water I never thought that I would be doing something like this my fourth day aboard the cutter. I was still breaking in lookout at the time and was just doing my job,” said Taborda. “It’s surprising how important such a small job like lookout can make such a big difference and save people’s lives.”
Gray, Reed and Taborda were just doing their duty, yes. But it was their alertness and responsiveness that was a true testament to being a lookout, echoing centuries of those who have stood the watch.
“It’s difficult to find people in the water in a known location when you are actually looking for them, let alone people in the water that you don’t know are missing, in the dark, in severe weather,” acknowledged Cmdr. Troy Hosmer, commanding officer of Venturous. “This rescue shows that anyone onboard, even the most junior member, can have a significant impact in saving someone’s life at sea.”
Gray, Reed and Taborda carried out a proud maritime duty that night. Their sharp eyes and quick thinking lived up to Venturous’ motto – Nemo Supra, None Better.