Jody King couldn’t imagine what he was looking at when he went to cast in hopes of catching a bluefish or maybe a striper. It looked like a mop hardly 20 feet off the stern. It was moving. It was alive. King, who is a shellfisherman and on the bay daily, knew it wasn’t a fish.
Fishing isn’t usually part of racing sailboats. But then King was aboard Quing Long (Blue Dragon), the 42-foot Sabre belonging to Jack Early. They and 11 others – racing can be a social affair with Jack Early – were on the downwind leg of last Monday’s East Greenwich Yacht Club race midway in Greenwich Bay not far from Can 3.
It was a calm evening, they were moving along at about four knots, a good speed for trolling. The spinnaker boats were ahead of them. At least 12 boats must have sailed the same course in the past 10 minutes. Somebody must have also seen this animal, yet if they had they didn’t stop.
A regular crewmember aboard Quing Long, King had fished while racing before. This wouldn’t be out of the ordinary, but then everything changed.
As soon as King cast he spotted the animal. The “mop” turned. Two eyes “as big as saucers” were focused on King. He knew the look of distress and he knew what he had to do quickly. King yelled to Early to turn around, “There’s a dog in the water.”
Early went into rescue mode, instructing one of those aboard to keep their eyes on the dog. He turned the boat. Meanwhile, King shed his shoes and socks and unclipped the lifeline, lying down on deck so he could reach the dog. The boat came within inches of the animal. King stretched out. It “was fingertips away.”
He’s uncertain what happened next, whether he consciously made the decision to go into the water or he just went in.
The dog was in King’s arms. It wasn’t fighting to get out of the water. It knew it was safe.
But King wondered otherwise. He was treading water, holding the dog above the waves, the boat was sailing away.
Early turned the boat again. This time a crewmember was ready with a cushion with a line tied to it. The toss was short and the boat slid by. Another pass was equally unsuccessful. King was tiring; he could feel his strength waning. The dog remained calm.
While Quing Long was doing circles, it was still in the race.
In desperation, King yelled to Early to start the engine and drop out of the race. His energy depleted, King said he felt like jelly and shook for four hours after finally getting aboard. The dog was an instant hit.
Two women aboard volunteered to keep it, but King said that wouldn’t be right.
“It’s got parents. How are they going to feel?”
A collar with phone numbers provided the answer.
King called, and on the other end he heard an excited woman yell, ‘They’ve found Lilly.”
King said they would be arriving at Brewer’s. Lilly’s owners assumed it was Brewer’s in Warwick Cove where, in fact, the boat is docked at Brewer’s off Masthead Drive. After another call they straightened that out and Lilly was reunited with her parents.
They told King they were in the process of testing a boat they plan to buy when they discovered Lilly was missing. They had frantically searched for her without success.
Looking back on the experience, King thinks of all the mistakes. He had failed to have a cushion or life jacket; a line wasn’t handy; there were no safety cushions above deck; he released the lifeline without taking precautionary measures. He should have floated on his back and kept Lilly on his stomach and conserved energy.
And he thinks, too, of boaters with dogs – King has three of them – and how they should be outfitted with floatation devices.