Cop Tales: Boy am I glad to see you

By Brian Smith
Special to the Sun

During the 1980s, I worked as a law enforcement ranger in a National Park. I patrolled 500,000 acres of mangrove islands (keys), waterways, basins, and creeks by boat. You might consider it a “dream job” and, for the most part, I would agree. Rescuing disabled vessels in lightning storms and chasing drug smugglers occasionally got the adrenalin going.

The Keys are very popular in the winter and there was a lot for me to do. One sunny day, I was near the center of my patrol area when I developed a sudden craving for a brownie and milk that I knew was available at a marina some twenty miles closer to my station.

I patrolled through the park driven, I must admit, by my hunger. Sometime later, I tied our 18-foot Boston Whaler to a pier at the marina. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man running toward me from a palm-lined beach adjacent to the marina. I recognized his stride as a “run to the ranger” moment and waited for his arrival. He approached with binoculars in hand and pointed toward a group of islands about one mile away. Breathless, he said, “Do you see that white spot over there? I think it’s an overturned sailboat.”

I piloted my boat across the Intercoastal Waterway, around a spoil bank (coral rock from dredging the waterway), and onward to the “white spot.” There was definitely a big white thing, but it looked like debris. A voice spoke to me inside my mind, “You better take a look. There could be someone clinging to the wreckage.” I moved my boat very slowly to the side of what turned out to be the bottom of a small sailboat. I looked over the edge. An elderly man looked up at me from the water and said, “Boy, am I glad to see you!” He had tied himself to the overturned boat after being unable to right it and became exhausted.

I carefully helped the man aboard and called dispatch for an ambulance. He was weak and very cold. The ambulance arrived soon after we returned to the marina. The paramedics later told me the man had become hypothermic. He did make a swift recovery. Oh, and I did return for that brownie and milk. -ER