During his 30 years as a Coast Guard reservist, John Tracy coordinated a lot of search-and-rescue operations along the Maine coast. But it was the first time he jumped in feet first when he retrieved a man clutching to the Maine State Pier on May 5.
Tracy, a ferry captain who’s worked with Casco Bay Lines for 29 years, had just come off his shift when he and other ferry workers heard cries for help around 2:45 p.m. that Wednesday.
“We were out in the parking lot, shooting the breeze and getting ready to go home,” Tracy said. “We heard some screaming and yelling and thought it was a fight or something.”
The group took off running to the pier. “The younger guys got there first and were looking over the end of the pier,” said Tracy, 51. As he caught up, Tracy peered down too and saw a man clutching one of the pier crossties: “This guy was holding on for dear life.”
Tracy grabbed a life ring and dropped it down. The man made no move. So Tracy calculated the risk, and jumped in to the barely 47-degree water.
“There were seven or eight guys there, and I’m a pretty good swimmer,” he said. “I know the next worst thing to one guy in the water is two guys in the water. But I figured they would help me get out.”
Tracy got the man’s arms into the life ring, and the group on the pier made their way down the crossties to get them both. The end of the life ring line had not been tied off, and someone mistaking it for an extra line tossed it down “and it hit me in the head,” Tracy said with a laugh.
But they were close enough to get pulled out, as the Portland Fire Department rolled up and began administering aid to the man, who was not seriously injured.
Tracy climbed out, and headed for the ferry headquarters for a shower. When he got out, almost everyone was gone. All ferry workers know is the man was standing on a floating dock when he apparently fell in.
Before his recent retirement from the Coast Guard Reserve, Tracy, who lives in South Portland, Maine, served at stations as quartermaster, watchstander and coordinating S&R operations.
He has another personal save to his credit too. About 20 years ago, while tying up the ferry at the end of a night shift, Tracy’s deckhand heard someone yelling from the nearby Portland fishing docks. They drove over and found a fisherman who had slipped while trying to get back on his dragger for a night’s sleep.
“The guy fell between the boat and the dock and was able to grab a line,” Tracy said. “He was lucky we heard him.”