|CRABBERS PREPARE FOR ROUGH SEAS|
|November 22, 2002 11:00 pm|
As crab season draws near, fishermen are busy preparing their crab pots, boats and equipment.
They are also preparing for another important issue their own personal safety. Crab fishing is considered one of the most dangerous occupations as men pit their skills against the often brutal onslaught of the ocean.
Men are often lost at sea by being washed overboard or their boats succumb to bad weather.
It is sometimes discovered later that men die because of their lack of knowledge on the use of safety gear and how to summon help in emergency situations.
Bernie Lindley wants to make sure that nothing like that happens to his crew.
"You are responsible for your own safety," Lindley told a group of men gathered around the swimming pool at the Best Western Beachfront Inn on Thursday.
Lindley, president of the Brookings Fisherman's Marketing Association, is a fisherman and captain of his own fishing vessel, Ginny and Jill.
Lindley's crew and crew members of two other boats, the Panda and Miss Phyllis showed up to practice safety maneuvers that might save their lives one day.
Lindley stressed the importance of knowing where all safety equipment was kept on a boat.
To get his point across, he shared a story about the ill-fated El Pescador that sunk near Brookings several years ago with three crew members aboard.
"There were two crew members asleep in their bunks and a young novice was at the wheel. You would think that the one awake would be the one that survived. Not so.
"It's usually the kids that get killed," Lindley continued.
"Because they're the ones that don't have the experience. You know why the kid got killed? He didn't know where the lifeboat was.
"I show my crew where the gear is, but not all skippers are like me. When you head out on a boat, it's up to you to find out where everything is."
Lindley brought along three brightly colored survival suits. The suits resemble extra-thick, oversized wetsuits that can be pulled on over clothing. The full-body suits are designed to a keep a person afloat in the sea and ward off hypothermia.
The suits are lined with reflective strips and have a waterproof light attached which can be spotted up to a mile away on a clear night.
Michael Kraynak, Joseph Speir, Kipp Reynolds and Scott Dairy were ready to take the plunge.
Lindley had the crew practice pulling on the suits by the side of the pool, simulating suiting up on the boat.
"Don't try to pull on the suit standing up," he said.
"Remember, you'll be on the boat rocking back and forth. If you lose your balance, that's not good. Sit down and put the suit on."
Lindley timed the crew's endeavors with a watch.
"If you can suit up in one minute, you're in good shape. The most important thing is not to panic. Just stay cool."
Struggling into the thick, heavy suits fully clothed was not an easy task.
"Keep one arm out until you put on your hood," Lindley said. "It will be awfully hard to get the hood on once both your arms are inside."
The crewmen then plunged into the pool wearing the suits. Lindley instructed them to jump in with their legs crossed.
This is to prevent straddling any debris that might be floating in the ocean during an actual evacuation.
The next task was to try to pull the survival suits on in the pool.
The heavy, cumbersome suits posed a different challenge in the water. The crew had to try to wedge their arms and legs into the suits without touching the bottom or the sides of the pool.
"You'll only have a few minutes to put these suits on in the ocean," Lindley said. "With hypothermia setting in, you'll be dead in 15 minutes."
"It's not as easy as it looks," said Dairy.
The men bobbed about, struggling with their oversized adversary. They tried to keep the survivor suit's legs underwater, stepping into them like a pair of pants.
But the suits, designed to stay afloat, would spring to the surface before the frustrated fishermen could push themselves inside.
Kraynak soon discovered that the easiest way was to lay the suit out on top of the water face up and straddle it like a surfboard. Then he could use the suit's own buoyancy to his advantage, lie back on top of it, then slip his legs in and pull the rest over his upper body.
After a few tries, all the men were able to nail it within the two-minute time limit.
The fishermen then practiced swimming in tandem. By wrapping their legs around each other's waist, facing the same direction, they could stay together and move as a unit.
"You're a little slow, but you're doing it," Lindley coached from the side of the pool.
"It's the guy who gets separated that dies."
As the crew practiced their maneuvers in the pool, Lindley continued to share his knowledge.
"If your boat starts to sink, you can get on your cell phone and call 911," he said.
"I carry a cell phone with me in a zip-lock bag at all times, so even if I'm floating in the ocean, I can still make a call.
"But if you call 911, you never know where it's going to go. If you can, it's better to call on channel 16 on the radio; you want to be talking to the Coast Guard yourself.
"Give them the most important information first. Tell them the name of the boat, the number of people on board and the nature of the distress.
"The name of the boat is important. A lot of times, other fishermen will be in the area and will be able to get to you before the coast guard.
"Tell them how many crew members there are. They want to know when they've got the three guys, they can stop looking."
Lindley also stressed activating the boat's Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs). EPIRBs are electronic signals that can be tracked by emergency crews to locate a vessel in distress.
The captain was adamant about one point, backing it up with another true-life sea faring story.
"Stay with your boat," he said emphatically.
"If it capsizes, crawl on top of it. Emergency teams will be able to find you easier if you stay with the boat.
"They say when a boat sinks it creates a vacuum that will suck you down. I don't know if that's true. The greatest danger is getting caught up in lines attached to the boat and getting dragged down with it.
"There was an Alaskan fishing boat named the St. Patrick that was in trouble with 12 guys aboard. They abandoned ship.
"Some of them didn't have survival suits, or their suits leaked. Only two guys survived.
"They later found the boat drifting around the ocean. It never even sunk. Ten people died for no reason."
At the end of Lindley's lesson, it was obvious that the crew's swimming pool practice did them a world of good.
That one hour of hands-on practice may one day prove to be the most well-spent hour of their existence.
Each member was able to negotiate the survival suits in the water, beating Lindley's hand-held watch.
The watch did not give away one second in its relentless mechanical ticking.
The ocean does not give away a single second either.