“Break, Break. We have a
pet emergency and need help,” came the call over the Single Side Band
Radio. It was early morning
on March 16th during the Cruiseheimer’s Radio net – a daily
net that operates between 0830-0900 on 8152 Upper Side Band (USB) – when
John and Cynthia, aboard Utopia, made their emergency call.
They said that Mattie, their 5 year-old canine cruising crew, had
become lethargic, stopped being able to urinate over the previous 24 hours
and was now vomiting clear bile. Utopia
was currently anchored off Conception Island in the Bahamas – a remote,
uninhabited island. Could
anyone help them?
There was a
suggestion that they might be able to reach a veterinarian on Rum Cay,
some thirty miles away, but the people who offered the suggestion didn’t
know how to reach him, or if he was still there at all.
With nobody on Conception Island, and obviously no phones, Utopia
tried reaching any other boat in the Rum Cay area that might have
information regarding this vet. No response. No
luck. Utopia called back into
the Cruiseheimer’s Net, a little more concern in their voices.
Sandy Coleman, who sail aboard WindWalker with their dog, Buck, answered
Utopia’s call. Sandy
checked the time and realized that another radio net – the Waterway
Cruiser’s Net – was still in progress. The Waterway net is run by HAM operators and requires a HAM
license to participate, which Ann and Sandy have (KD5PSO).
an emergency break into the Waterway net requesting vet assistance for
Utopia. Another cruiser, Ron
Knaggs aboard Latitude (N1GYX), came back immediately.
We, along with WindWalker, were anchored in the Jumento Cays – an
even more remote spot than Conception Island.
Ron, however, was anchored in George Town, home to a great
veterinarian, Dr. DeYoung (who, by the way, happens to have the only x-ray
machine on the island, but I digress).
Ron agreed to try and reach Dr. DeYoung via his cell phone, and all
three boats – Utopia, WindWalker, and Latitude – moved their
conversation off the net frequencies to 8170 USB.
their dog troubles, Utopia’s SSB radio started having problems.
Fortuitously, another boat, Mistral, was anchored beside them and
had been monitoring the conversations.
Mistral quickly invited Utopia to come aboard and borrow their
radio. While all this
shuffling was going on, Ron was still desperately trying to reach the
George Town vet. But it was
still before 9:00 a.m., and he wasn’t in.
Ron left a message on Dr. DeYoung’s answering machine and
reported back to the group on the radio.
another member of the HAM Waterway net, located in Melbourne, Florida, had
followed the conversation to 8170 – the SSB radio is like a party-line
phone, nothing’s ever a private affair.
His daughter was a vet in Dallas, TX whom he offered to call,
something none of us could have done from our locations.
He couldn’t reach his daughter, but he did reach another vet in
her office. Given the
symptoms, the vet believed that Mattie may have had a bladder stone and
would need to be seen by a vet immediately.
That meant a trip to George Town – and right away.
Have I mentioned that the weather was very unsettled with huge seas
between Conception and George Town? Well,
let’s say that it wasn’t the best of times to be making the forty-mile
In the time
it took for the person in Melbourne to call Texas and relay the
information back to Utopia, Ron had reached the Dr. DeYoung in George
Town. Dr. DeYoung agreed with
the prognosis and recommended that Mattie be brought to George Town to
have a catheter inserted. Ann
and Sandy acted as middlemen, passing information along as Ron made
arrangements for a 6 p.m. appointment – well after normal office hours.
Ron even went so far as to pre-schedule a taxi to take them to the
vet as soon as they arrived. Utopia
was picking up anchor and heading for George Town. All of us thought about our own dogs and what we’d do
in similar circumstances, holding our breath and praying that Mattie would
Now, as Paul
Harvey would say, is the rest of the story.
After making the vet and taxi arrangements, Ron quickly got off the
radio, reporting a 37-knot squall in George Town.
Ann and Sandy signed off and climbed into their cockpit just in
time to face a 40-knot storm in the Jumento Cays.
Anchored beside them, we watched Ann inch her way up to the bow to
let out more anchor rode as the boat pitched into the five-foot seas.
Charbonneau, anchored over a scoured bottom, began dragging
backwards towards the rocky shoreline.
Suddenly, we were concerned more about our own dogs – and our
boats – than poor Mattie.
passed quickly with no damage to boats or their crews.
We motored Charbonneau into the wind, and away from the rocks,
until the winds allowed us to pick up our anchor.
We have no idea if Utopia encountered those same storms on their
way to George Town. We assume
they did, which could only have made their misery worse.
We heard later that Utopia made it to George Town and was relieved
to learn that Mattie did not have a bladder stone.
Two days after their original emergency call, Utopia came back on
the radio to thank everyone who helped and reported that Mattie was doing
interesting about this story is the way cruisers came together to help
transfer information – and quickly. Everyone took the emergency very seriously.
It may have been a sick dog, but folks acted like it was their
sick dog, spending money on phone calls and going out of their way to help
Mattie and her owners.
reminded us that Janet and I needed to sit for our own HAM exams.
HAM nets often have many shore-based stations that have access to
phones, directories, Internet searches, and so forth.
Those services and HAM operators’ willingness to help could
easily make the difference between help or no help in our own emergencies
– pet or otherwise.
okay, Max & Bailey are doing fine, and Buck – WindWalker’s dog –
can be extremely proud of his owners and the way they came to another
dog’s aid in her time of need. Also,
Ron doesn’t have a dog of his own aboard Latitude, but surely deserves a
tail wag or two for all his efforts. Without their help that day, Mattie’s health might have had
a completely different outcome. Happily,
we’ll never have to know. Cruisers
are good people, just ask Mattie.