Forty-five passengers clutched their tickets for an “Adventure Sail" at the mouth of the Columbia River, one of the major events during the
Photo taken by Bruce Smith
Thirty-two-year-old Lukas knew ships. He built them. As a child, he glued together plastic models and then later historic wooden ship models, accurate in detail to the tall ships of old. His love of sailing spanned back as far as he could remember when he drew pirate boats in kindergarten. His love of sailing continued until girls became slightly more fascinating. A fan of nautical fiction, as well as studying masting and rigging, Lukas longed to experience, first hand, the life on a square-rigger. In 2004, when he boarded the HMS Victory in
Coming all the way from
Lukas had been up in the rigging many times in his first week. How hard could it be to go those last few feet to the top of the mast? Eager to gain yet another experience of sailing life, he decided to do it. He sought permission from the captain. On that fine spring afternoon, just after loosing the sails, with a full compliment of crew and passengers, they headed out of the
Pin Rail Photo taken by Bruce Smith
The passengers scurried for the best vantage points on the crowded decks. The crew below and aloft continued their chores, the captain continued his watch, J.B., the relief captain who would be taking over the next day, continued his commands to haul in sheets and man the braces and the Lady Washington continued toward the ocean. Lukas was committed. He was filled with excitement as well as nervous trepidation. This was it. Conditions were perfect. Dozens of eyes gazed upwards. Already aloft, he climbed up to the crosstrees. At that point, the shrouds have no horizontal ratlines. To climb the topgallant mast, he’d have to wrap his limbs around it and shinny up. He hooked his safety harness line to the after starboard t’gallant shroud and climbed. Halfway up the t’gallant, the shrouds end and it becomes like climbing a flag pole. He continued his ascent up that most difficult portion. His muscles shook from fatigue and he took short, quick breaths. Lukas had grit. He could do this. Sixty-five feet up, he reached the end of his safety line. He unhooked it and rehooked it to the next line up and with quivering arms, continued toward the truck. He inched one more foot. Two.
View from the Crosstrees (not yet up to the truck) taken by Bott
Below, Monica Buchstatter and Joe Freitas had a perfect view of the exciting event. Monica lifted her camera and pushed the zoom button, focusing in on Lukas. He hesitated, inched up, hesitated, inched up and just as he lurched the last few inches and kissed the truck, her camera clicked and whirred and then Monica paused. What she saw in the little window sent her heart rocketing. She followed the line from his lanyard down where it anchored to the pin rail right behind her. She whirled around. “Joe,” she whispered, nodding to the stay, “Joe, he’s tethered to this line. If he falls--”
Photo provided by Monica Buchstatter
Joe’s eyes shot to Lukas and followed the Royal backstay down to the deck. They both instinctively jumped back about four feet. Monica swallowed, her heart slamming and returned her eyes to Lukas, just as he slipped.
Lukas doesn’t remember his sixty-seven foot fall, but Monica does. She remembers every detail. She sucked in her breath and watched his body hurtle from the top of the mast. Halfway down, he hit the edge of the top platform. Nick, an experienced seaman still in the rigging, made a frantic grab for Lukas, catching him for only moments, slowing the death drop, redirecting it from the end of life. While Lukas continued his plummet, Monica ducked behind Joe, to block her view. She heard the sickening thud, but didn't see him hit the pin rail, didn't see his face break off a sturdy belaying pin. His head hit the deck, while his pelvis snapped to a stop in midair, dangling by the lanyard caught on the stay.
Pin rail shows lines coiled around belaying pins
Air, sound, and motion were sucked into a void for the next few seconds. No one moved. No one breathed. Faces reflected the horror of seeing death claim a man so vibrant and young. And then his moan filled the brig, reverberating off every line, every halyard, every seaman and passenger. Broken, damaged, possibly with injuries beyond comprehension, he lived.
The brig burst into action, and the 21st century replaced the 18th. One of the ship’s officers, J.B., whispered the order to cut the lanyard and lower Lukas to the deck very carefully, to prevent further damage. Two passengers jumped forward. “We are nurses,” they said. Passengers backed away, giving them room.
The captain snatched up the brig’s radio, calling the Coast Guard. More orders to furl sails barked out into the silence broken only by Lukas’ heart-wrenching groans. The brig’s crew--professional, experienced, reliable even when filled with the horror of their shipmate’s fall--scattered across the deck and into the rigging; hauling in sails, adjusting lines, preparing to come about. The captain fired the big diesel engine and the Lady Washington made her slow turn, heading toward Ilwaco. Within minutes a U.S. Coast Guard 23 foot utility craft and a 25 foot response boat from
Photo provided by Monica Buchstatter
Lukas remembers only snapshots, eerie and unreal. He remembers someone telling him he would be all right. He remembers the coppery stench of blood and the stringent smell of antiseptic in the ambulance. He remembers the thumping whirl of the helicopter blades two hours later, as it airlifted him to
He doesn’t really remember the emergency room at an Ilwaco hospital, but Bob Kennedy, marine operations manager for the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority, said, “I was in the emergency room with him. He was asking when he could get back on board.”
Please check in for part two to follow
Part Two: Fortitude and Triumph