Rescue Us

Dan Rattiner and son David Lion Rattiner
Courtesy Dan Rattiner

One spring, I came into possession of a grand old Chris Craft cabin cruiser. It was 34 feet from stem to stern, had a flying bridge, a rear deck with fighting chairs, a cabin with a kitchen, a head and a v-shaped bunk in the bow that slept two.

The v-bunk gave away its age. It was lined in shag, had a small chest of drawers filled with disco 8-tracks, and if you were so inclined you could shove one into a slot for a romantic evening of song and dance. Yes, it had been last remodeled when headbands, miniskirts, sideburns and shag rugs were the order of the day. The 1970s. The people just before us. Its registration said it was built in 1962.

One sunny afternoon, my wife and I packed a picnic, walked across the street to where the boat was docked in Three Mile Harbor, motored up the harbor until we were just out of sight of our home and then dropped anchor. A checkered table cloth appeared, we set out our dinner and popped some champagne. We put in a disco tape. All was peaceful. We were in calm waters, still in the harbor, not far from the Shagwong Marina. This was just the third time we’d taken out the boat. What could possibly go wrong?

It started with a breeze. An instant later, the sky darkened and it began to rain. We’d started taking our dinner down the three steps into the cabin when, suddenly, we were out of time. A tremendous wind swept everything onto the deck. A clap of thunder echoed up and down the harbor, everything went dark, lightning flashed, huge hailstones crashed down and great waves slammed into the side of the ship, causing it to jerk mightily against its anchor, then pull it loose. Visibility was zero. We were being pushed toward the marina. We were in serious danger.

It only occurred to me to use the marine radio when I saw the microphone leap off its cradle as the seas washed across the deck. I grabbed it. We huddled against an interior wall.

Channel 16 is the emergency channel. I gave our location, and a voice on the other end said somebody was coming. I said nobody should come. But they’d hung up. And then everything got much, much worse and we were thrown across the floor.

Ten minutes later, help arrived in the form of a bare-chested young local man, leaping out of the storm from a boat now adjacent to ours, carrying a coiled rope and telling us to stay where we were below. I watched. As the ships pitched around, he tied them side-by-side, then leaped back into his boat and, with the downpour pounding down on him, started the engine—something with at least 200 horsepower to judge by the sound—and began to fight the two boats lashed together through the storm, back toward land.

Thirty minutes later, with the storm still in full fury, I saw something I will never forget. Parked in the darkness on the pier by our house were more than 20 automobiles with their headlight beams aimed through the rain and out to sea toward us, thus guiding our rescuer in. As we arrived, people got out of their cars and rushed to tie the ships up, then climb aboard our ship with blankets to escort us out.

I see this scene in my mind to this day. We were put in a car and driven the 50 or so yards home. (We’d walked across to the slip.) We thanked them over and over. I wished I could thank the young man who’d rescued us and all those who showed up to light the way. But with the storm still raging, most everybody had left as quickly as they had come.

The next day, I made a donation to the Springs Fire Department. I never did find out who those people were.

All I know is that when I’m driving down the Montauk Highway these days and see those signs reading EMT NEEDED, CONTACT THE VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT, I think of what happened. And what it all meant. People on a moment’s notice dropping what they were doing to come to the scene. It is unbelievable.

God bless our local volunteers.

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