Tuesday, November 23, 2010
UPDATE: The Night We Earned Our Wings
Ships Log Wednesday November 17, 2010: Anchored safely south of the Melbourne, Florida Indian River Bridge causeway, we had just finished dinner and were getting ready to watch the TV show Survivor (at 8:00 pm) when we heard this loud noise. It sounded like the chain paying off our windless. I thought to myself “how could this be?” The anchor set well and the rope snubber was providing a cushion, the GPS says we are not moving so what in the H is going on. I went forward to have a look at the chain and snubber and to my surprise they were fine. As I turned around to go down below, I discovered the source of the sound. About 25 ft above the deck at the 1st spreader was an Opsrey. The Osprey apparently landed in our mast rigging and got his talon caught between the two steel cable stays on the starboard side of the boat (these cables are attached to deck fittings and hold the mast in place). When he tried to fly off he flipped over and broke his leg. He was hanging upside down and couldn’t free himself.
Those of you that know me and Ginny know how much we love animals. When we realized what had happened and the sober realization hit us that more than likely this bird was going to suffer and die, we began to get sick to our stomachs. We watched and listened to the poor bird trying to free himself to no avail. His high frequency screech for help was ear piercing and each time drove a stake through our hearts. We began to hear another Osprey calling him from a distance with the same high shrill call and each time he would try to free himself.
Thinking through our options, I couldn’t come up with many that would be good for the Osprey. I decided to tape together boat hooks and pvc pipe to see if I could rig something long enough and sturdy enough to push his talon out from between the stays. From the top of the pilothouse, I steadied myself and began to try to push on his talon. The Osprey looked into my eyes as if to say “thanks for helping me”. He stayed calm and didn’t move while I tried to release him. I could barely reach the lower spreader tip where he was caught. It was apparent this was not going to work. From my bosons chair I wouldn’t be able reach him way out on the end of the spreader and even if I could I didn’t have talon gloves so I decided to call for help. As I climbed down from the cabin top, the Osprey let go a shower of you know what and the wind helped deposit it on my hat and shirt. I thought to myself this is the true definition of a shitty day.
I could hear my sweet wife praying for the Osprey as I changed hats and shirts. With new found determination, I decide to call the Coast Guard on the VHF radio to see if they could provide the phone number for Florida Fish and Wildlife. I called the Fish and Wildlife and luckily, they had a waterborne officer on duty about 45 minutes from us. While waiting for the officer to show up, I decided to see if I could rig a more sturdy pole that we could use if the officer didn’t have something more adequate. We found another boat hook and I was able to tape them together with Gorilla tape.
The F&W officer arrived around 10:30 pm and tied his boat up alongside ours. He came on board and I explained what had happened. We used spot lights and binoculars to get a better look at how the Osprey was tangled. We both agreed, the only hope was, to use the extension rod I made and see if we could push his talon free. I climbed back on top of the pilothouse and began to try to push the talon free. It was not working. The officer suggested that I push up from the opposite side just above the Osprey’s broken leg. I had thought of that earlier but couldn’t bring myself to do it. This was our only hope. I extended the rod a few more inches and got into position. I was thinking this is really going to hurt the Osprey. With a deep breath I gently pushed up on the Osprey’s thigh. About one hundredth of a second into the push the Osprey started flapping his wings and “poof” he was free and flying off into the night. I could see his broken leg as he flew away. Calmness filled the air as we all realized this was a happy ending to what could have turned out very differently for the Osprey.
The F&W officer told us the Osprey would be alright. He said he had seen many birds with only one leg and they learn how to survive just fine. We thanked the officer profusely for coming by and helped him shove off into the darkness of the Indian River. I looked at my watch and it was 11:30 pm. Ginny and I decided to have a glass of wine to help wind down from the events of the evening. As we discussed what had happened Ginny looked and me and said, “you earned your wings tonight”. Our efforts to help the Osprey fly another day made us feel really good as the rain began to fall.