In this spirit of Thanksgiving, we reached out to Coast Guard fan Coady Torio and asked him to share how the Coast Guard has touched his life. This isn’t just any fan, however, he was part of a Coast Guard rescue. Torio’s friend, Andy, was rescued by Great Lakes Coast Guard crews earlier this year. Read on for a story of gratitude for his rescuers.
Written by Coady Torio.
I’ve always admired but never thought I’d need the Coast Guard. That changed on Aug. 9, 2013.
My friend Andy and I have been kayaking on Lake Superior for 13 years. We usually come up twice a year, once in August, once at the end of September. We have always tried to be cautious with my marine radio aboard and survival gear on each kayak. It was a sunny 68-degree day with 5-to-15-knot winds out of the west. Waves were 1 to 2 feet as we leisurely paddled the west coast of the island to the sea arch at the north side of the island.
We were about two miles from our goal when the winds radically changed. It was like the frontal boundary of a thunderstorm. I checked the weather radio to hear winds at Stannard Rock were 31 knots and the wave forecast had changed to 3 to 5 feet! I turned it off in frustration.
We decided to keep the building waves on our bow and go for the closest beach at Gull Point about one and a half miles away. The waves increased rapidly nearing eight feet as we made little progress into the wind. I had never paddled my 13-foot kayak “uphill” on a wave face before and don’t care to again.
Andy is a 6-foot, 8-inch University of Toledo Hall of Fame basketball player, but he disappeared between waves. It was panic inducing how quickly things had changed. We felt very small, and very alone. I focused on one wave at a time, about 2,000 times in a row. I prayed that my two beautiful boys wouldn’t lose their daddy or Uncle Andy.
About three hours later, I hit the narrow beach at Gull Point and waited for Andy. I had a sick feeling. If he dumped along those big cliffs, he was likely in trouble. He never showed. It is the strangest feeling to have your best friend just disappear. He was missing in that maelstrom and I was powerless.
I called for help on the marine radio. Thankfully the Coast Guard Auxiliary members on Grand Island heard me and connected me to the Coast Guard. Without them, the cliffs would have blocked my signal. I was so relieved to hear “This is the Coast Guard” over channel 16.
NOW, I had hope! The Coast Guard was on the case, baby!
The radio communications were very consoling. I listened eagerly for each transmission and shared information for the search. When that Coast Guard boat appeared on scene I was jumping up and down cheering. As time passed however, the situation seemed grim.
The professional questions came in over the radio: “Did he have foul weather gear?” “Is he a strong swimmer?” “Any family?” The water was 61 degrees and I didn’t know how long it had been since Andy capsized. We hoped Andy would be spotted on the cliffs. Unfortunately, he was not so easily found.
Eventually the search was expanded further off shore. By the time the helicopter arrived, I was pretty sure Andy was gone. I couldn’t believe the Coast Guard was searching for MY friend. Not a stranger, but my friend. It felt like the Coast Guard was the only friend left on earth.
Andy had possibly been in the water for four hours now and that is a long time in those conditions. Then, as hope faded, the Coasties found him!
The waves had washed Andy along a small rock shelf after he narrowly missed a large, sheer cliff by a few feet. As the wave broke on the cliff he spilled around the side. Andy was able to grab a boulder and work his way out of the water. Fortunately, he had not lost all of his gear and was able to warm up, eat and rest. Even a 6-foot, 8-inch guy is hard to spot when lying in a sleeping bag tucked behind a cliff.
Much to our collective shock, Andy wanted to finish the journey. I thought I had just entered the Twilight Zone. The waves had definitely subsided by then, but it still wasn’t good. So what did the Coast Guard do? Gave him a radio and followed him to the beach to ensure his safe passage. That is some serious dedication to duty. We camped on the beach and had a nervous paddle home to our loved ones the next day in calm seas.
I give thanks that the Coast Guard is on the ready and willing to help at a moment’s notice. I will vividly remember their efforts in searching for Andy. He is a good guy and a good friend. On that day, you guys had his back. I give thanks for those efforts and for the honorable, dedicated professionals we all know and love: The United States Coast Guard.