In her own words: Bad (to worse) decisions at Norton Point
Andrea Nusbaum of Los Angeles and her sister-in-law Anne Henley of Chicago return to Chappaquiddick each year with their families for a Vineyard vacation. But both agreed there was a little too much adventure last Thursday morning, when a sailing trip in Katama Bay turned into a very dangerous situation. Both women were carried out into the Atlantic Ocean by the strong current.
Ms. Nusbaum was aboard a Sunfish, a very small, open sailboat, whose cockpit is just big enough to fit the sailor's feet. "My brother insisted I put on a life jacket," Ms. Nusbaum told The Times in a phone conversation yesterday. But later, Ms. Nusbaum said, she made a bad decision. After Ms. Henley rowed out to help, the two women were trying to get the Sunfish secured to the dinghy to be towed back. "When I was trying to drop the sail, I took the life jacket off, because it was getting tangled in the lines. I don't think I could have made a worse decision."
Eventually, Ms. Nusbaum transferred from the Sunfish to the dinghy. Her experience illustrates how a relatively normal predicament can escalate quickly into a life and death level of danger. She said she never realized how much peril she was in.
"I had absolutely no idea I was on the ocean side," Ms. Nusbaum said. "I thought I was in the cove area, I figured, no problem. I didn't realize I had been carried out. Luckily, I wasn't scared because I didn't know how much danger I was in. I'm a strong swimmer, and I thought, 'no problem.'"
It was only when she got ashore, and saw her sister-in-law sobbing, that she fully understood the danger. "I realized she was very scared," Ms. Nusbaum said. Emergency medical personnel told Ms. Nusbaum that her body temperature was five degrees below normal, and her heart rate very elevated. "I realized it was a bad situation. My body was overcompensating, that was why my heart rate was elevated."
Ms. Henley, who originally rowed out in the dinghy, didn't put on a life jacket in her haste to help her sister-in-law. Minutes after both were swept through the breach out to sea, Ms. Henley decided to abandon the boats and swim for the beach. As she watched her sister-in-law getting carried out to sea, she was more afraid for herself. "I thought, 'thank God she's in the boat, but what's going to happen to me?' At that point I was more worried about me than her. Within three to four minutes after going through the breach, I crawled ashore," Ms. Henley said. "When she jumped out of the boat, I thought 'oh my God, no.' I was terrified. Once the [rescue] boats came, there was no way to really communicate where she was. You're right there, but you're not. I was worried she was going under any minute."
Both women said there were several points where bad decisions made the quandary worse.
"We just misjudged," Ms. Henley said. "There were lots of points where I kept thinking we could make it back to shore, or we can make to the far side." Long before the situation got out of hand, the two women tried to alert people onshore, but their message of distress was misinterpreted. "We were trying to signal people on the shore that we were in trouble, but they just kept waving back."
Both women were effusive in their praise of the coordinated rescue effort, including how quickly help arrived, and how well medical personnel and police treated them.
"I was really, really impressed," said Ms. Nusbaum. "I live in Los Angeles, and we don't get anything like that. Tell everybody a big 'thank you.'"
Speaking on the phone, days after the frightening experience, both women poked fun at themselves for making the decisions that led to trouble, but in retrospect, they clearly understood how close they came to a disaster.
"I won't take such risks again," Ms. Nusbaum said. "I need to develop a little more accurate sense of danger."