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In reading a Dec. 28 story in the Empire about Rick Siangco being honored with a State Medal for Heroism by Gov. Tony Knowles for saving two lives during the 1997 Golden North Salmon Derby, I was vividly reminded of the precarious situation that occurred that August evening. I was one of the lives saved, and my fishing friend Jim Griffin was the other fortunate survivor that Rick plucked from the sea.
Here's a brief account of the circumstances that got us in trouble. Jim and I were trying for the "big one" in the North Pass area when a small craft advisory worsened at about 4 p.m. and the weather deteriorated rapidly. At the time, I was just landing a nice king and had turned off the trolling motor. A small length of line had fallen from the transom and became tangled in the prop. The seas were too rough for me to safely reach over the back of the boat and untangle it, so we started back for the North Douglas ramp on the 110HP Johnson. It was tough going and slow as we bucked a strong southeasterly and six-foot seas, but we were making headway as we rounded South Shelter and the north end of Portland Island. l felt some relief as we approached Coghlan Island and I could see our destination not too far away.
Then it happened. The seas were still about six feet and all of a sudden we lost engine power. A fuel problem and no auxiliary motor! We were dead in the water and began taking water over the transom. For every two buckets we tossed out, four came back in. I knew we would go down in a minute or two. That's when I told Jim to hold onto the boat as I was trying to get a Mayday out on a VHF portable radio. And that's when my friend Rick and his family spotted out dilemma. There were no other vessels in our locality. Our 19-footer went under stern first, rolled to port and I got out by swimming through the side curtains. I soon saw that my friend Jim was safe and holding on to the bottom of the boat for dear life. We tried to console each other for awhile and it wasn't long before a beautiful white angel seemed to be hovering almost over our heads.
It was Captain Rick and his party of five in his beautiful, white 32-footer, the KAINOA. Rick did a masterful job of seamanship as he carefully approached us in those rough seas without smashing into us. After a few passes, we were able to catch the life ring thrown to us by his nephew JJ. By then we knew we were going to make it OK.
We had been in the water for about 15 minutes and the early stages of hypothermia were definitely setting in. But Rick and his crew knew exactly what to do and they did it fast. As soon as we were aboard, the women got us out of our wet clothes and into dry warm blankets. By then it was turning into a rather pleasant experience. As Rick was about ready to head for Auke Bay, one of the Coast Guard vessels appeared on the scene and escorted us into port. So, thanks to you and your crew, Rick, it was a narrow escape with a happy ending.
You definitely earned your medal that day.
Bob Janes is safe and dry in Douglas.