At 11:56 a.m. Sunday, Ken Recine picked up his boat’s VHF radio and called “Mayday.”
His 14-foot Malibu, on then-Tropical Storm Beryl’s heavy seas, had just been slammed — and quickly swamped — by a wave in Charleston Harbor.
Sully Witte, his wife and the editor of The Moultrie News, and her 10-year-old daughter clung to a cooler and the side of the submerged boat. Their dog, Porscha, stood on a bench with his paws underwater.
Twenty minutes later, two U.S. Coast Guard ships and a helicopter arrived to rescue the trio and their dog.
The family had been camping on the back of Morris Island, saw Beryl’s projected path Saturday night and decided they’d break camp the next morning.
But once they rounded Cummings Point into the harbor and saw its choppy water — the Coast Guard reported four-foot waves near the rescue site — Recine realized they needed to get back to the island to re-evaluate their approach.
In turning around, the boat took on some water, and its engine cut off, but still, Recine said, there wasn’t much cause for concern.
“I just thought the engine was giving me a hard time,” he said.
That’s when the wave hit. Now, Recine’s boat is doing fine. It was towed ashore and sustained no damage on Sunday, save for a lost seat cover.
The rescue was just one of four made by the Coast Guard in the Charleston area over the Memorial Day weekend. In all, 11 people were rescued in the Charleston Sector’s area of responsibility, which covers South Carolina and Georgia, according to Vernon Roland, a senior chief in the sector’s command center.
The experience, Recine said, shows how important — and useful — having a waterproof VHF radio can be.
His mayday call brought an unidentified woman on a personal watercraft to help retrieve their things and caused Fort Sumter’s Spirit of Charleston to set out for them.
“If that was a cellphone, it would’ve died right away, because everything got wet,” he said, adding that a phone reaches just one person. “You put out ... any call for help on a VHF, you can hit five or six hundred people in one shot.”
It’s also reinforced their belief in carrying life jackets on board.
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources offers other boating safety rules and tips. Boaters, it says on its website, should keep tabs on the weather, tell people on shore where they’re headed and stay with their boat if it’s swamped.
Even then, things change quickly and can go awry quickly. When it does, Recine suggested a good sense of humor doesn’t hurt either.
“I looked over at (my stepdaughter),” he said, recalling their 20 minutes in the water, “and I asked her, ‘So how’s your day?’”
Reach Thad Moore at 958-7360 or on Twitter @thadmoore.