For five days in 2002, author and Colington Harbour resident David P. Hope’s sanctuary became the most dangerous place he had ever been. So he wrote a book about it.
The lifelong law enforcement officer was engaged in his other passion, sailing. He and his crew planned a cruise in his 37-foot sailboat, Summer Heat, from the Outer Banks to the Bahamas.
They left at 1000 hours on Nov. 13, 2002, part of a cruising rally with 18 other sailboats bound for the Bahamas. Despite ominous weather reports and personal premonitions, Hope shoved off with his five-person crew and Jammer the Wonder Dog.
Soon after reaching the open ocean, the seas worsened. Their sailing group scattered, and soon the Summer Heat was on its own, battling 30-knot winds and 20-foot waves.
The adventure quickly changed from a casual crossing to a five-day ordeal. In his book, “Summer Heat,” Hope details the challenges, from crew members getting sick and injured, to a harrowing race to restart the engine, to loss of sails and rigging.
When they realized their efforts had failed and finally sent the Mayday signal, it only began another adventure as two ships–the only vessels within hours–attempted to affect a rescue, a rescue that nearly finished them off.
It took years before Hope decided to describe the “trip from Hell” in his book, Summer Heat.
“I didn’t tell many about it at first,” he said of the harrowing adventure. “When I did, people would tell me, 'wow, you should write a book'.”
When he sat down to write it, though, he felt there wasn’t enough material for a book. Then he had an epiphany.
“I’ll write about my police career and my sailing avocation, and how they parallel,” he said.
For his law enforcement career, Hope takes readers from when he entered the police academy to moving up through the ranks in the Chesterfield County police force.
Hope was frank about his doubts and misjudgments. He details how a call to a suicide attempt by a fellow officer could have ended in a homicide, and second-guessed how he handled a domestic dispute where a firearm suddenly appeared.
Hope worked his way up to become police major, retiring in 2002. Still, his secrets stayed inside a close group of fellow law officers.
“I wouldn’t tell about it for years,” he said. “Then I thought I should be sharing with other officers to help them in similar situations. At the time it happened, I was ashamed to be compromised. But I lived through it. When I retired, I was not worried if I got criticized or not. I hoped fellow officers would read it and benefit.”
While telling of his law enforcement experiences, Hope weaves in his growing passion for being on the water, from wind surfing escapades, culminating in his dream of taking his 37-foot sailboat to Bermuda. That story arc led to the more harrowing chapters in the book.
Obviously, Hope and crew (and Jammer) lived to tell the tale. But an important narrative in the book is that the story did not end with the rescue. Hope continues to learn and share lessons from the experience.
Two days after coming back ashore, while driving back to the Outer Banks, he stopped to have breakfast. He began sobbing uncontrollably.
“The tears were rolling down my face, and I couldn’t get them to stop,” he said. “It took two days, because we were dealing with everything up to that point. Reality finally sunk in.”
Then there was the anger.
“I got mad at the moon,” he said. “The moon came out on that last night on the water. I wanted to believe that meant the weather would get better. But instead, that’s when we got knocked back down. 'Moon,' I thought, 'you are lying to us'.”
He hopes readers take away lessons he nearly lost his life learning.
“The big message I’ve learned in life is the old Boy Scout motto: Be prepared. That truly is what saved us.”
John Hess, Captain of Discovery, the container ship that rescued them, agreed.
“I was thanking Captain Hess for how they put themselves in peril to rescue us,” Hope said. “Do you know what he said? He said that 50 percent of that rescue was because of you and your crew. It was us being prepared, being able to talk coherently on the radio, to communicate, and to be ready to do what we needed to do. To be prepared.”
Hope still goes out to sea.
“I had to get back on boats real quickly, and I wanted to,” he said, noting he has been to the Bahamas four times since the incident. “One of the first times was on a sailboat in a race and the wind kicked up to 30 knots. I thought this is too fresh in my mind to deal with, but you get through it.”
He has docked any plans to sail to Bermuda, almost 600 miles due east.
“I have no interest in that much blue water,” he admitted. “Once you are out there, you are out there. People don’t understand if you are 20 miles offshore heading down the coast, you don’t just turn and head to the coast. You need a safe inlet, and that could be 100 miles away. I’ve had my bad experience, and I don’t want another one.”
But he will always be “out there.”
“I am happiest when on the boat,” he said. “Out there on the water, you are in your own sphere, with my fiancée, my dog, and in our own little world, out of sight of land. I don’t know exactly why, but what works for me is being on the boat.”