, Salem, MA

March 15, 2013

Heard Around Town: And now a word from a sailor rescued at sea


---- — SALEM — How was your week?

Well, no matter how bad it was, it couldn’t have been worse than David Polan’s.

On Wednesday morning, while most of us were deciding whether to have a second doughnut with our coffee, the 41-year-old Cambridge man was clinging to his capsized, 10-foot sailboat in Salem Harbor, fighting for his life.

Polan is an experienced sailor who left Winter Island on a “frostbite” sail on the chilly 40-degree waters. Somewhere near the Misery islands, the day sailer flipped over and Polan fell into the water, where he clung to his boat for a reported 20 minutes. He made a mayday call and was rescued by Salem Harbormaster Bill McHugh and Assistant Harbormaster Patrick Mulligan.

Here, let him tell his story.

“I’m the sailor that was rescued from the drink Wednesday morning and, without hesitation or doubt, absolutely owe my life to all the responders and care-providers involved — Thank you all!!! ...” Polan wrote in an email to The Salem News that he also posted online.

“My time in the water was probably actually closer to 30-35 minutes, but that’s just a best guess in hindsight from trying to reconstruct what happened ... the long and short of it, though, is that if it weren’t for their efforts, and if I hadn’t been able to ultimately get to the VHF (portable radio) submerged (but thankfully tethered) under the boat and place the mayday that called them to the scene, I wouldn’t be here writing this now!

“I’ve been sailing small boats my whole life and have never (well, maybe once or twice as a child) capsized ... and so error/lesson-learned. No. 1: Confidence in one’s abilities should never outweigh due prudence. ...

“I should have known better than to court danger by not wearing a drysuit at this time of year! (Thank goodness this lesson learned wasn’t at the expense of life.) ...

“The capsize was a result of a rigging failure (despite a check-out of all systems prior to setting out) at the same time as a significant gust leading to a massive destabilization of the CG-CB balance in an otherwise very stable platform. ... Thus, error/lesson-learned No. 2: No system is infallible, and Murphy will ultimately have his way, so always plan for the worst-case scenario!

“Once immersed, I immediately activated my inflatable PFD (personal flotation device) and proceeded to attempt to right the boat ... error/lesson-learned No. 3: Protocol should have demanded that, given the conditions, attempts at retrieving the VHF and placing the mayday should have been effected first!

“Hypothermic shock and the bulkiness of the inflated PFD with harness system made it impossible to gain sufficient purchase/leverage to return the boat to its upright position but, somewhat delirious and being given to an unfortunately overdeveloped sense of self-reliance, I sure expended way too much time, energy and body heat (upon arrival at hospital, body temp was measured at 87 F) in the attempt.

“At the end of the day, I’m at fault, of course, for not having exercised sufficient prudence in my personal preparations and having overly relied on my own sense of accomplishment. I hope, though, that this can be a lesson as well to other mariners. But if one does get into trouble, then VHF and Salem harbormaster, police, fire, ambulance and hospital are simply indispensable and the very best! Thank you again all for saving my life. Stay safe on the water, and remember the adage that ‘though you may love the sea, she does not love you!’ “

Papal Paula

Since we don’t plan on doing any work in this week’s column, let’s hear from correspondent No. 2 in Vatican City.

Paula Graziani and her husband, Giovanni, who own Caffe Graziani, were in Rome on Wednesday, leading a tour of their Salem restaurant customers, when the new pope was elected.

OK, Paula, take it from here.

“Well, I told you electing the pope was high on our agenda and we did it,” she wrote in an email that arrived around 2 a.m. yesterday morning. “Giovanni and I, with several of our group, found ourselves in Piazza San Pietro (Wednesday) afternoon at about 4:45 p.m.

“Rumor had it that there would be a vote at 5 p.m. So we found a strategic spot in the rain from which we could observe the famous chimney amidst all the umbrellas. Well, 5 p.m. turned to 5:30 p.m., 6 p.m. and then the new rumor was anytime between 5-7 p.m.

“As the rain came and went, many of our group grew discouraged and quit. I wasn’t going anywhere. Myself and three others of our North Shore group remained amidst the hundreds of thousands who now filled the piazza.

“When that white smoke emerged, the crowd burst out in tears, songs, prayer and chants of ‘Viva il Papa!’ It was well worth the wait. Then to pray with Pope Francis and receive his first blessing made a day we will never forget ...”

Tom Dalton can be reached at