For the New Bedford dragger Venture I, trouble started shortly after daybreak on Jan. 9 more than 100 miles south of Nantucket where a winter gale was running them ragged.
The skipper was having a hard time controlling the vessel, when huge waves crashed through the pilothouse. He sustained multiple fractures in his left leg and one of his six crew members received deep cuts on his face from broken glass. The waves continued.
Facing an emergency situation at sea, the crew had to rely on another for survival. While this isn’t a rare occurrence on the water, this rescue was anything but typical. The rescuers didn’t know the troubled crew, and they weren’t from a nearby port. They weren’t even American. They were Russians, and this was 1966. Half a world away, America and Russia were opposing forces in the Vietnam War.
Soviet-American cooperation wasn’t unheard of on Georges Bank, but this rescue involved an unusual amount of communication and maneuvering.
Without power, lights or radio, the crew were left foundering until the boat was spotted by the 376-foot factory ship Zelenogorsk of the Russian fishing fleet. Capt. Tschist Jakov, after determining that the vessel was in distress, pumped oil to calm the waves and shot a line to the Venture I so the crews could pass messages back and forth in an empty bottle. He took the injured men aboard and arranged for another Russian vessel to tow the Venture I.
Communication was difficult. Through talks with the Russian Embassy and the Coast Guard Commandment in Washington, D.C., a rendezvous was arranged and all of the men were transferred to Coast Guard vessels.
A New Bedford Standard Times editorial said of the rescue: “Everybody here knows that if the men afloat do not help each other, inevitably some will not come back. Thus, the man at the lunch counter the other day asked, ‘If they can help each other at sea, why are we at each other’s throats in Vietnam and the United Nations?”
The editorial staff wrote that the answer is bigger than the question: “Perhaps it is because politicians, not sailors, run the countries of the world.”
The fishing family is strong through thick and thin.
And, of course, as soon as the rescued crew was off their deck, those Russian vessels went right back to fishing.