Paul Mahony’s many close calls have little effect on how he approaches his adventurous life
If you call it a near-death experience, he’ll correct you.
For Paul Mahony, they’re just close calls.
A prolific skier, mountaineer and sailor, Mahony has faced multiple dangerous situations.
He has capsized while sailing on Lake Superior, nearly suffocated in a skiing crash that dumped him into a snow-filled tree well and narrowly avoided being hit by an avalanche.
“The British call them ‘a bit of bother,’” says the 58-year-old Calgary father referring to his many accidents.
Even after all these – what Mahony calls – “events,” he won’t say it.
He won’t say death.
Mahony’s worst and most-recent experience happened Dec. 4, 2013, when he and his friend, Peter Powell, were shipwrecked off the coast of Cape Horn.
The stretch of water off the southern coast of South America, between Chile and Argentina, is notorious for rough seas.
Produced by ZOE CHOY, COLIN MCHATTIE AND EVAN MANCONI
In 1992 a memorial was inaugurated “in memory of the men of the sea from every nation that lost their lives fighting against the merciless forces of nature of the Southern Ocean that prevail in the vicinity of the legendary Cape Horn.”
According to AFAR, a U.S. based travel publication, there has been an estimated 800 shipwrecks at Cape Horn.
While the exact number of shipwrecks is unknown, according to Professor María Cristina Morandi of the Naval Hidrographic Service, 54 ships were lost just in 19th century alone.
Photo courtesy of Paul Mahony
Mahony and Powell knew of the dangers and were prepared for the voyage. Powell was on the last leg of his sailing trip around the world when Mahony joined him, and because of the direction Powell started out in, they knew they would be taking the more difficult route into Cape Horn.
Mahony says that sailing around Cape Horn the wrong way was part of their motivation for the journey, “[It] is kind of a big check mark in any sailor’s career.”
They left Mar Del Plata on Nov. 15, 2013 and began what was supposed to be a journey around the bottom tip of South America.
Mahony says that he wasn’t planning on coming home until February 13, 2014, but the trip ended abruptly after just two-and-a-half weeks of sailing.
On Dec. 4, 2013 at three in the afternoon, their boat was hit by a rogue wave.
The boat flipped, the mast broke, the life raft was torn apart and the frigid sea poured in. In 9 °C water, it doesn’t take long for hypothermia to set in.
Powell was knocked unconscious when the boat flipped, but luckily Mahony was able to administer first aid with what little supplies they had that weren’t soaked.
Their only hope for rescue was a device called an Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon, or an EPIRB, with which they sent a distress signal.
Photo courtesy of Paul MahonyMahony says the worst part about the shipwreck was having so much time to sit and think while the boat went down. He says his thoughts turned to his family.
“Because Christmas day is also my birthday, I felt that it was pretty greedy on my part, because now all everybody is going to remember is that around Christmas time what happened? I wasn’t going to be there.”
The boat was sinking for nearly six hours, which ended up being their saving grace because it gave the rescue crew enough time to locate them.
The Argentinean Prefectura sent a nearby tanker to make sure the distress call was legitimate. Later, Mahony remembers seeing a plane fly overhead.
After waiting for six hours, at 9:20 p.m. their ship finally sunk.
Just as they entered the cold water and began to swim toward each other, a helicopter light shone down on them. Rescue divers jumped in to pull them out individually.
Powell wrote about the rescue on his blog, Soul Upon the Ocean.
“These brave boys hauled us to safety. Everything was the limit. The helicopter’s range, our ability to stay afloat, our strength, our hopes. They did it and we survived. Thanks, Paul. Thanks, boys.”
The two shipwrecked sailors were airlifted to an Argentinean hospital. They had no clothes, no Argentinean money and only Mahony’s passport. Their rescuers from the Argentinean Prefectura came the next day and took care of them.
They put Mahony and Powell in touch with the Canadian Consulate and with their help; the pair was able to get back home.
The Prefectura is receiving a Commendation for Bravery in the face of danger by the Canadian government for their efforts in the rescue.
Mahony says he is a little “bubble wrapped” by his family after the event, but has no fears of sailing and hopes to get back out soon.
“You don’t give up doing what you like doing just because you’ve had an event.”