OWN VOICE. Princeton harbor resident, Cathy Taylor, reports on the water rescue on Martin Luther King Day, Monday, 1/18/2021, at Ross’ Cove, near Half Moon Bay. Pillar Point Harbor Patrol and Cal Fire from Half Moon Bay and Pacifica participated. ~ Michelle Dragony
Don’t Make Me Cry
Because if I’m choking up over sirens and rescue reports on my radio, someone else is likely heartbroken, unless they are lucky.
We live next to the mighty Pacific Ocean. It is powerful, awesome, intimidating and magnificent. In the Bay Area, you often hear reports on the news – kids swept out by a sneaker wave and a father drowns trying to save them. There were several reports of people swept out just in the past week in Pescadero and the Marin Headlands all while pro-level big wave surfers were testing their talents on the mighty faces at Mavericks with a full rescue crew in attendance watching over them. The worst incidents at Mavericks were some boards broken in half. Riders in the pit were swiftly swooped up by jet-skis and ferried to safety.
Beach-goers must use their own judgement when it comes to spending a day on the shores as there is no rescue crew on hand watching over them. Despite the recurring news reports, the incidents continue. There have been high surf advisories for nearly the past two weeks straight, in conjunction with king tides. While photographing Mavericks from the bluff, I witnessed harvesters on the reef get swept by a wave during a negative low tide that proved to not be so negative.
They say “never turn your back on the ocean”, but I’ll take it a step further and say pick your beach carefully and check marine warnings before going. Know the tide schedule. The ocean swells and retreats throughout the day. Surprisingly, some people don’t know that.
Events of today made me cry. Since I had the day off, I sat on my balcony monitoring the marine radio — one of my guilty pleasures — while soaking in the warm sun sheltered from the wind. Since I live on the harbor, I like to be aware of goings-on, thus the radio. I scan through the normal emergency channel, US Coast Guard channels, as well as the Pillar Point Harbor channel, 74.
There is a secluded beach on the other side of Pillar Point bluff, Ross’ Cove. To access the beach, you have to climb the hill and then descend a winding steep dirt trail down the bluff to the beach. In other words, no rescue vehicles can access that beach. The nearest road ends at the Air Force station with no room for large vehicles to turn around. Even from the water, rescue would be difficult given the reef and rocks.
I heard the call come in right after the peak of high tide for a water rescue at Ross’ Cove of a dad who went in to save his child and was having difficulty. Oh no. I grabbed my scanner (yep, another guilty radio pleasure) and turned it on to hear the land-based reports. The wails of multiple sirens began to fill the air as fire engines and other emergency vehicles made their way to the narrow road in Princeton that ends at the Air Force station.
Witness Rob Cala, an off duty San Mateo Count Ranger, described what happened:
“I was down there looking at the elephant seal, I noticed people and kids in an area that I perceived as obviously dangerous. I was walking that direction, to warn them to get their kids further back. At that moment the Mayhem started and the little girl was pulled into the water the dad ran in and then I was running that direction and calling 911. A man was part of the group and he ran to help her dad. He was able to secure the girl, the guy was in trouble when I ran and try to help remove the dad from the water, who was exhausted and so we were trying to drag them up as waves built and on we got them out. During this trying to advise County of what was actually happening during the action in progress. I notified rangers of what was happening to assist EMS. Thankfully they were alive, EMS arrived to transport for observation. “
Choking back tears, I listened in terrified horror as the condition of the family was relayed, however relieved that everyone was out of the water. Particularly concerning was the condition of a small young girl. As a mother myself, all my empathy vibes reached out after hearing the mom was adamant she ride in the ambulance with her daughter.
It took some time for the rescue to be complete given the geographic logistics. A Polaris was employed to get victims up the narrow dirt trail and I watched as the ambulance drove away. All I can do is hope that little girl and family are ok.
As a community, there have been frequent conversations about what can be done to warn visitors about the dangers of the ocean. We’ve all witnessed events like people being swept by waves breaching the space between Mavericks Beach and the harbor, completely caught unawares and not paying attention to the signs Mother Nature gives, such as wet sand and a trickle of water running through there when they come upon it. The weather has been unseasonably warm the past few days, but the ocean water is cold and a swimsuit won’t keep an unsuspecting beachgoer warm enough to survive long in the water.
Can we post docents on high surf advisory days? Volunteers? What about changing the LED sign coming into town on 92 to post high surf warnings?
I don’t know the answer, but I hope the guilty pleasure of listening to the radio brings more joy than sorrow in the future as people become more aware of the dangers this beautiful beast harbors if they don’t heed its power.
Immediately after the fire trucks backed down the road to turn around at the parking lot and the ambulance slid past them with its precious cargo, another call came in. “Water rescue at Cowell Beach…” And the sirens wailed off in the other direction…. A 12 year old boy is still missing.
~ Cathy Taylor
VIDEO. Watch for sneaker waves like the 2010 Mavericks Contest wave. Share these Rip Current videos with your friends who like to go to the Beach.
Local CERT trainer, Michelle Dragony, has curated 3 videos that will bring you up to speed.
If you see someone who is not paying attention, or does not seem to understand the danger, do take the time, to gently nudge them with the fact that at least one person dies every year at our beaches. Sneaker waves are an unanticipated coastal wave that is much greater in force and height than the waves preceding it.