SAR: The Forrest of Nicene Marks, Santa Cruz, CA

SF Sailboat Delivery

Driving a Sydney 38 into the Golden Gate on a beautiful clear day © Hilary Waleka - 2013

Howdy PopaBob,

Yesterday I sailed from Santa Cruz to San Francisco. Hilary, friend of mine asked if I’d help her and her dad move their boat, a Sydney 38 race boat. It’s regularly in a slip here in Santa Cruz, but they’re participating in the Spinnaker Cup next weekend, which goes from San Francisco down to Monterey. I enthusiastically agreed, then she said we’d be leaving Monday morning, 2 AM, which only made me shutter a little.

Being on the water in the morning is some of my favorite time, but is often no good for putting sails up, so we motored out of the harbor and up the coast. Unfortunately, when the wind did pick up it was at our bow the entirety of the ride. The ride is a slow and steady one with views of plenty of open water (sans Channel Islands) and a look back on shore with The One along side us the whole way. Still, a view from the sea is kind of like from the air with it’s spectacular scale and intricate detail.

Throughout the day we traded the helm off, while each of us grabbed a few minutes of sleep. By the early afternoon we’d arrived at The Golden Gate and began navigating the “Potato Patch,” the portion of water that is in constant turmoil between ocean swell, wind fetch, and tidal ebb or flood. Fortunately the swell wasn’t too large (2-3). Even so, we were surprised a few times while surfing the swell in by the sudden impact of waves on their way out. There wasn’t much in the way of traffic, but there were a few cargo vessels and we had to be mindful of their impending arrival.

Driving a Sydney 38 into the Golden Gate on a beautiful clear day © Hilary Waleka - 2013
© Hilary Waleka – 2013

Unfortunately, just before we were to cross under the bridge, we were detoured when Hilary saw a man jump from the bridge. It only took a minute or two for a CHP helicopter to arrive and an announcement to come across CH 16. “PAN PAN US Coast Guard US Coast Guard. Reports of Person in the water near Golden Gate Bridge. All vessels lend assistance.” With our eyes where Hilary pointed us we then saw signal smoke and I turned the boat toward it. I quickly gave the helm to Scott, Hilary’s father and owner of the boat and set to work with Hilary managing the search and rescue. Hilary quickly had eyes on the person and I hustled back to the ‘life-ring.’ Scott drove us up along side the individual who was silent, motionless, but head above water and conscious. My first throw was taken by the wind, but a second go allowed me to get it above him and he grabbed the line. Mean while the boat was in the middle of some of the worst section of sea, directly under the south span of the bridge. Scott handled the boat nicely while Hilary communicated over the VHF the patient’s condition. With good driving, we had enough stability for me to grab “Ben” and pull his head and chest onto the boat. I struggled immensely with the life lines and know now in the future that I need to understand the quickest way to remove the safety wire. As I pulled his legs onboard, my hands had trouble holding the putty that had been his femur. With his pants to his ankles, I struggled awkwardly.  Eventually we got him eighty-percent onboard and wrapped in a blanket at which point I was able understand he was Alert and Oriented x 1, knowing his name, birthday, and home state, but not his current orientation. Shortly after a US Coast Guard boat pulled along side to deliver Will, a man dressed in a Tyvec suit and mask ready for a far worse outcome than he’d found. Will managed the patient as we put the throttle to full (sans sails) and headed, escorted by Marin Fire & Rescue and USCG, North to the Coast Guard Station Golden Gate in Salsulito. We were greeted by about 30 folks from various agencies. With efficiency they docked us removed the life-lines, stabilized the patient, transported, and even cleaned off the boat. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves transiting the bay without our passenger thinking, ‘did that really just happen?

We arrived shortly at the St. Francis Yacht Club and docked the boat, grabbed a quick ginger ale, rented a car, and then headed back to Santa Cruz.

It was a long day even without the excitement, but it’s nice that we could participate in a rescue instead of a recovery. We’re hoping “Ben” recovers well.

2013-05-20 SF Delivery of Animal

Download the KMZ Track


SAR Cave Rescue

Entrance to Crystal CaveHowdy PoppaBob! (and family)

I’ve been watching Fishermans Cove’s Geocaching Logs – lots of visitors, some less adept at the skill than others, but all seem to be enjoying the challenge. Plus, word seems to have spread about the everpresent ‘GrandPa’ who’s looking out for wayward searchers. The disappointment of those who don’t get a visit is like any of us who miss a good Laguna Visit on a sunny day.

Speaking about searching, Kira and I have been pleased, but a bit bored with the few number of search assignments our Alameda County Search and Rescue team has received in the last few months. However, this has provided us with extra hours to spend on training.

Last weekend Kira, I, and 8 of our team-mates converged on Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park to train within the realm of Cave Rescue. We met about 35 other folks from around the state for two days of subterranean rescue exercises.

Cave rescue, as it turns out, is quite different from an above ground search; locating the subject is about 25% of the effort, where it’s about 90% in ground searches.

Crystal Cave has been comfortably widened and ‘heightened’ for tourists to walk easily throughout the main corridors. However, even so, many of the passage ways were only wide enough for one person to walk through. It is a very nice living cave, where deposits are continually creating fantastic specimen of stalactites and stalagmites and columns. Kira was kind enough to lend some extra education to our group, pulling from her experience working both as a geologist with the USGS and with her time spent educating elementary students (i.e. SAR folk) about Kartchner Caverns in Southern Arizona.

Saturday was spent mostly orienting ourselves to the cave environment, its 45˚ temperature, and a number of special rescue techniques. We spent the night in a parking lot about 1/2 a mile away from the cave and then returned on Sunday to participate in a full scale exercise.

The exercise involved four missing persons who were in unknown locations throughout the cave. Our teams were mobilized to do search, medical, and extraction on the subjects, two of whom easily walked out.

A third had an ‘injured’ arm and took some maneuvering while the fourth was the most challenging, as she was ‘unconscious’ and required us to implement our litter packaging and handling skills (think those poor folks getting a ride down the ski-slope). However our patient wasn’t within the wide open corridors or in the magnificently open interior rooms, but instead in a hole about 10 meters below the cave floor through a series of winding passageways, 2-4 feet in diameter.


Once we had our patient all bundled up on a backboard and in a litter it took about 15 rescuers and almost 2 hours to move a 5’5 120# female the 10 meters into the ‘open space’ above us. And this was a BIG cave! Once we had her in the open, another team of 8 arrived and mucked up the movement even more ;) – but about 45 minutes later we had our patient back into the sunshine, shivering from the extensive time she had spend laying on cold limestone.

Kira and I (and our team) are not necessarily ready to go head first on a rescue mission, but our appreciation for the art has certainly been heightened and we’re much more appreciative that there are no known caves in Alameda County :) (though we’ve got a few here in Santa Cruz we’re gonna go check out soon.)


Hope all is well. Looking forward to our next visit.

[The training was filmed and being professionally edited. I’ll pass along a copy if we ever get access to it and it’s at all interesting.]

Practicing Cave Rescue with ALCo SAR
Practicing Cave Rescue with ALCo SAR at ToughMudder 2012

Pinnacles National Monument

Sunday we set out to hike 14 miles with a 20 lb pack in Pinnacles National Monument, California, USA.

We ended up in a bit ‘deeper’ than anticipated. Here are the technical logs. Photos and writeup to come.

Download 2012-02-19 Elevation Map (PDF)

Off trail elevation & distance estimate (Above)

Our total route (Below) & Some Numbers:

  • 24.48 Km;
  • Moving Average: 2.9 kph;
  • 8:33 moving, 17:04 total.
  • GPS on: 0852;
  • GPS off: 0150;

2012-02-19 Pinnacles NM KML file or GPS file also available.

First Official Business

The phone rings at 4:30 AM. Or did it?

This time is reserved for John, Kira knows that and she has to scratch my head or sing me songs to warm me up to opening my eyes. Kira’s in Santa Cruz until Friday, so there’s no one to warm me up this morning. My phone is down the ladder. I’m up the ladder. I have Not been vigilant in keeping the room spick and span. I’m aware that I’m about to learn a very good lesson with respect to clutter and cleanliness. Belt buckles are sharp and step ladders are sturdy. I get to satans glowing noise machine in time to see a 510 number just before it goes black. Now I’m curious and instinctively double tap the call button to redial. The phone is locked and I angrily smash the key pad to achieve normalcy, then repeat my double-tap forgetting that I’m about to interrupt someone at 4:30 AM. I’m a jerk.

The voice on the other end answers me by name before I say anything and I answer questions about my employment before understanding why and who I’m talking to. The engine begins to warm up and my cognitive abilities begin to sharpen (albit far from sharp). I repeat a couple of actions I’m to preform before the voice asks if I’m writing anything down. I fumble for something flat and something pointy and then proceed to request the information again, hang up, and run into the wall face first.

Now awake, I slip on my new blue pants, a toxic-orange shirt, and blue ball cap. Unaware of my assigned task beyond transporting myself down the hill, I collect my helmet & headlamp, GPS, first aid kit, jacket, and compass. As it turns out, all I needed was a ClifBar, fortunately I had two. I then activate my SAR-Scooter and race down the hill to meet the unknown 5 minutes away in Berkeley. My navigation is confirmed accurate by 10 police officers standing around and a SAR dog handler preparing her pal.

I’m not at an assisted living facility in Berkeley and I’m feeling good. Berkeley PD size me up based on, what I assume to be, the size of my mustache. They greet me as the SAR boss-man. I respond,

“My team should be here shortly, anyone else here?”

“Yes. Lt. ____ from your team with her K-9”

“Great. She’s the best at what she does.”

Fearing I may be found out for a rookie, I make small talk and then look busy fiddling with my scooter and pack. My scheme is found out once the real SAR Boss-man shows up. I am relieved.

We are giving a quick rundown on the situation, background, and our task. The story goes, an 86 y/o woman with dementia had escaped her maximum security senior facility sometime between an eight o’clock dinner and now, 5:00 AM. Holding a flier complete with a terrible DMV photograph and general description we set out.  The objective of the search this time around was a little more direct in that based on the subjects known last point of contact and some personal effects, we could set our k-9 team to the task of sniffing her out.

We set out following the highly trained 2-year old around Berkeley. About an hour in, with several miles under out belt, we consider the mileage one could achieve with an eight-hour handicap and ask our lead the probability of success at this rate. She winks at us, spins in a circle, and sits down. It was clear, to some, we’d be hard pressed to make any more effort useful. Fortunately, our hired driver was on the block with us running interference when we need to zig-zag across the boulevard. We signaled and piled into the truck, making our way back to ‘Command.’ Returning to the group we reconnoitered our findings and did one last evaluation of the building for information or signs. Nada.

As the day begins, our team debriefs and demobilizes. In all my haste I hadn’t bothered to lawfully secure parking and was relieved to find my scooter infraction free. I am up the hill and back in bed before any of the team is to the 580.  I fall back to sleep promising myself to clean the clutter and prepare my ‘SAR-ready pack.’

The subject was found healthy at 9:30 AM in North Oakland and I woke up at 2 PM to do as promised.