Eighteen-year-old Nicole Level, one of Mexico’s top junior windsurfers from Cancun, is alive today because of the quick thinking of 13-year-old Rasmus Sayre from Vineyard Haven.
The rescue took place last Saturday during a world-class windsurfing championship in Cozumel. The young teenage female sailor was found adrift amid four and five-foot seas, far offshore, without her board and not wearing a life jacket. Mr. Sayre happened to notice her while racing in a tight competition, and without hesitating he left the highly competitive race to make the rescue.
“There is nothing greater than saving the life of a person,” said Rasmus, standing outside the Tisbury Elementary School on Wednesday afternoon, where he had just finished playing volleyball. The words sounded as if they were spoken by someone much older than 13.
“She was really exhausted, scared and petrified. For 20 minutes she was treading water,” Rasmus said.
The two racing windsurfers were participants in the three-day North American Windsurfing Championship. The competition brought 22 of the fastest windsurfers in this hemisphere together to compete for prizes. They came from Peru, Canada and the United States, among other places.
Rasmus Sayre comes from a highly accomplished sailing and windsurfing family. His parents, Nevin and Stina Sayre, are both past windsurfing champions. His sister Solvig is one of the nation’s top sailors. Each winter, for the last three years, the family has traveled to a different place to race in the Techno 293 Junior Windsurfing North American Championship. Last year Rasmus won first place in the competition in Merritt Island, Fla.
Last week, the Sayres and their son attended the championship in Cozumel.
Saturday morning marked the second day of racing. Rasmus took his windsurfing board and entered the water along with the other competitors. He was vying for the top spot in the Techno 293 under 15 fleet. After several laps on a four to five-mile course, Rasmus was well ahead and in first place, when something caught his eye, far from the shoreline, in a strong current running in the opposite direction of the wind in huge seas. It was a hand sticking out of the top of a wave some distance away. The hand belonged to Nicole Level, who was alone in the water.
Rasmus immediately swung his board in her direction and pulled out of the race to help the tired swimmer.
Nevin Sayre later recounted the tale in an e-mail to friends and family: “It was a dangerous situation on the far offshore side of the course when the joint between Nicole’s board and rig failed, and she lost both her board and rig in the big waves.
“Nicole was left swimming alone in the strong offshore current for more than 20 minutes, and was without a life jacket. As Rasmus rounded the final turning mark first place in the Techno 293 under 15 fleet, he happened to see a hand at the crest of a wave. He immediately dropped out of his first place position, sailed out to her; and Nicole, completely exhausted, struggled onto Rasmus’s board.”
Ms. Level was a participant in the RS:X class, an older group of sailors who had left the beach earlier in the morning.
Nevin Sayre wrote in his e-mail: “The ordeal continued as Raz [Rasmus] attempted to sail the two of them to shore but was unable in the big waves, and they were being swept further out to sea by the four to five-knot Gulf Stream. Meanwhile, I was on the beach starting to freak out as competitors behind Raz started hitting the beach and no sign of Raz. I was just about to take the next steps when a T293 sail appeared far off from a strange direction. Luckily, an alert fishing vessel with high lookout tower noticed Raz’s sail from a distance. The fishing vessel came alongside, and Nicole had regained enough strength to swim to the boat and was taken safely back to shore.”
Rasmus sailed his windsurfer back to shore.
Word of the rescue traveled as quickly as the nimble windsurfers on their cresting waves. Mr. Sayre said his son was dubbed a guardian angel by the people of Cozumel.
Once ashore, more details about the race came out. Another sailor in the earlier race had noticed the troubled swimmer, but chose to continue racing and tell the authorities when the race was completed.
Nevin Sayre said the incident prompted much discussion, including about the issue of life jackets. In Rasmus’s racing class, all the participants are required to wear life jackets, but in Nicole’s class racers were not required to wear them. Some windsurfers see life jackets as too constricting. But Nicole Level said she would wear one from now on.
Judges gave Rasmus Sayre good standing in the regatta, even though he had dropped out of the first race Saturday morning to rescue Nicole Level.
“At the end of the regatta, he narrowly missed first place overall in his age group and ended with a second overall,” Nevin Sayre.
For Rasmus Sayre it was the most thrilling second place he had ever won.
“This was such an amazing experience,” he said.
Meanwhile, the windsurfing Sayre family is busy making plans to attend the world junior windsurfing championship in San Francisco in July, followed by the Nationals in Chatham in August.