NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – After zigzagging across the busy shipping lanes, the tall ship Argus was heading back toward its home port. Although the fog was beginning to lift, lookouts scanned the waters for hazards.
Zack Mayberry was enjoying the adventure. The tanned 15-year-old Sea Scout had been taking it in from beside the old ship’s wheel, but he wanted to be more a part of it. He headed to Capt. Fred Bockmiller’s quarters and asked to join in the watch.
Working on the ship’s log at a wooden desk, Bockmiller sensed the kid’s excitement. He set his log book aside, lifted up the desk top, and pulled out the captain’s heavy black binoculars.
“Don’t lose them,” he barked.
It was shortly after 12:30 p.m. Other Boy Scouts were scattered about the ship.
In the galley, Tyler Underwood, 14, was on cleanup duty from lunch. Christian Clemesha and Stefan Pigorsch, both 16, were taking a nap. The two, like the rest of the Scouts, were tired after having been awakened in the middle of the night to take their turn at an hourly watch.
On the quarter deck, Philip Beckman was learning to tie monkey knots. At 13, he was among the youngest on the Argus. Toward the front of the ship, Mike Cooke, 17, was “just hanging out,” enjoying the warm sun that was finally burning through the fog.
At his post and peering through the binoculars, Zack called out sightings to Craig McNeill, the crew member manning the wheel. It helped McNeill keep a safe distance from other craft.
Boat to starboard, Zack called out. Boat to port. Between spottings, he and McNeill talked about the trip and the once-blinding fog.
Then, with the binoculars lowered for a moment, something caught Zack’s eye off the ship’s port side. Something was waving in the ocean.
A yellow balloon? Trash? He had seen both in the water earlier.
He quickly lifted the binoculars to his eyes. He blinked. Then he looked again.
Is that a person?
“Hey, Craig,” he said, almost too quietly, “I think it’s a man overboard.”
He wanted to make sure he wasn’t seeing things.
McNeill took the binoculars, gave a quick look and turned back toward Zack. Together, the two began to yell:
“Man overboard! Man overboard! Man overboard!”
From his cabin, Bockmiller heard the yelling.
“Why is Al pulling another drill,” he thought as he climbed onto the deck. Over the years, Bockmiller had become accustomed to first mate Al Sorkin surprising the Scouts with drills. But why now?
On the other side of the ship, Sorkin was wondering why Bockmiller was conducting a drill.
In the bunks below, the awakened teenagers had the same reaction and hustled on deck to find out what was going on. Other Scouts came running. Soon, following Zack’s lead, they began to point, most unsure what they were pointing at in the port side waves.
Then Cooke shouted: “There really is somebody out there!”
Bockmiller followed the pointing fingers – the boys’ lesson from the day earlier – scanning with the binoculars.
“It’s a dead man,” he thought. “We’re going to have to bring a corpse on board.”
And yet when he looked again, the body moved.
Bockmiller grabbed the radio next to the ship’s wheel and called out an Urgent Marine Broadcast:
“We have a person in the water!”
The tall ship is real
The ship in the distance, slowly coming into view, was the first Dan Carlock had seen in about four hours that he’d been bobbing in the chilly Pacific.
And yet, this was a ship from a storybook, or a dream. It had tall masts and billowing sails.
Is that real? he asked himself. Am I seeing things? He had been trying to keep himself focused and rational, but … .
No, the tall ship was real and it was coming toward him.
Then it turned.
Out loud, he said: “Is it coming toward me or not?”
It turned back in his direction. He started blowing his whistle, waving a yellow-green neon tube and flailing his arms. He hadn’t realized how weak he had become. His legs were like jelly.
“Do they see me? Please, see me.”
Coast Guard puzzled
Over the loudspeaker at the Coast Guard operations center in Long Beach, Bockmiller’s call puzzled Sandy Needle.
The Argus’ captain gave a latitude and longitude that put him 10.5 miles south of the search at the shipwreck where a Coast Guard cutter was circling. This call was off the coast of Newport Beach.
Another lost diver, Needle thought.
Safe at last
Speeding over the waves toward Carlock, McNeill and trainee Jace Hanavan looked back from the Argus’ tender to get directions from the pointing fingers of the crew and Scouts standing on the deck.
“Boy, am I glad to see you,” Carlock blurted as they eased up beside him, then pulled him into the tender. Within minutes he was being helped from the tender to the deck of the tall ship, with the piratelike Sorkin barking orders: Get blankets. Warm water. Find dry clothing.
Unsteady on his legs, with a stunned expression on his pale face, Carlock settled down on the galley deck. Suddenly, there were hands helping him remove his diving gear and stripping off his wet suit. Somebody was wrapping him in blankets. Someone gave him a pair of sweat pants.
Carlock was cold, tired and emotionally drained. But, as the Argus advised the Coast Guard, “He’s alive, and he’s talking.”
“What’s the name of the missing diver?” Needle radioed the dive ship Sundiver, from which he’d been lost.
“What’s the name of your diver?” Needle asked Bockmiller on the Argus.
“He says his name is Dan Carlock,” the captain said. “He says he’s been in the water for more than four hours.”
He had been found drifting several miles from the oil rig. So why, Needle wondered, had the Coast Guard been sent to a shipwreck location, more than 10 miles north?
Coast Guard officials eventually pieced together what had happened: The Sundiver had left the diver near the oil rig on its first dive, then proceeded to its second diving spot, the shipwreck.
The owner of Ocean Adventures Dive Co., Steve Ladd, said in a written statement that Carlock’s “dive buddy,” who had only met him that morning and who has not been identified, did not report him missing.
At the end of the first dive, a dive master called roll and heard everyone answer, Ladd’s statement said.
“A visual verification was not done,” the statement added. And the Sundiver moved on.
The Coast Guard cited Sundiver Capt. Ray Arntz with negligence. He received a one-month suspension of the Coast Guard-issued license that allows him to transport passengers, and was ordered to perform 80 hours of community service.
‘Thank you for saving me’
Safe aboard the Argus, Carlock counted his blessings as he wolfed a ham sandwich, a fruit cup and pudding.
After he told how he had been left behind on a scuba outing and had floated for hours unsure if he would live, Capt. Bockmiller told about the tall ship’s roundabout journey in the fog to the point where their paths crossed. He introduced the Sea Scout who’d spotted him, who had just wanted to be part of the adventure.
“Thank you for saving me,” Carlock said.
The lanky teen shook his hand, shyly accepting the accolades. Then he headed back to the galley deck, lay down, closed his tired eyes and dozed under the now sunny sky.