The Coast Guard And Mrs. Cook Watch Out For Seamen
HARVEY CEDARS, N.J. (AP) _ Fishermen who sail out of Barnegat Light depend on God, the Coast Guard and Mary Louise Cook, who keeps an ear on nautical communications from her dining room, except for Thursday mornings when she shops for groceries.
Mrs. Cook, 66, connects sick deck hands with hospital emergency rooms, alerts crew members whose wives have gone into labor, and reassures anxious mothers that their sons are safe.
Sometimes a captain will call her to have police waiting at the dock to pick up rowdy seagoing drunks.
Mrs. Cook, who uses the radio name ″Sand Dollar,″ keeps her VHF and sideband radios on daily from about 8 a.m. until 11 p.m. except for Thursdays, when she has that previous engagement.
She has been the sailors’ friend for about 16 years, since she took over the duty from a friend, Bill Wengel, a blind, double amputee nicknamed ″Teddy Bear.″ When he died ″it was just wished on me,″ Mrs. Cook said.
She and her husband, Howard, built a summer home in Harvey Cedars in 1952 and moved here permanently in 1968.
Crews on extended fishing trips from Barnegat Light, a nearby island borough in south-central New Jersey, touch base with ″Sand Dollar″ every few days to let her know they’re OK and when they expect to be back in port.
An infrequent sailor, Mrs. Cook also calls the National Weather Service daily with reports on visibility, winds and sea conditions she gets from boaters.
Like a mother who detects a child’s slighest sound, she always is poised to hear, ″Come in Sand Dollar.″
″You don’t listen. Your ear is tuned,″ Mrs. Cook explained in a recent interview. ″We can have music on, TV on, a crowd of people, I just hear when somebody calls me.″
″Although it’s not official as a title of any sort, she really is a lifesaver to a lot of people,″ said Nancy Gallimore, wife of a fisherman. ″Crewmen that are injured - they don’t call the Coast Guard, they call Sand Dollar.″
If the Coast Guard’s Barnegat station gets a call that a boat is overdue, the Coast Guard will call Mrs. Cook to see what she can find out from her friends at sea, said Petty Officer James Paton.
″There’s been cases where we haven’t had radio contact with a boat and she has, and she’s told us where they were,″ said Petty Officer Art Smith.
When Mrs. Cook first took up her radio chores, fishermen were using citizen’s band radios for land-to-sea communication. By the early 1970s, most were using VHF, and Mrs. Cook got her first Federal Communications Commission license to operate such equipment in 1976.
Her sideband, which broadens her listening capabilities by picking up transmissions either side of the normal frequency, was a gift from fishermen in 1982. A telephone patch that lets her connect boats to doctors, emergency personnel and mechanics on land was a Christmas gift from her husband.
Lights blink constantly across her scanner and voices in conversation from faraway places come into her home a block from the dunes on the narrowest part of Long Beach Island, a summer resort.
″It’s better to me than TV,″ said Mrs. Cook. ″I used to get nervous, but for some reason I don’t any more. Of course, I’m always scared down deep. You’re always wondering if things are going to turn out all right.″
Mrs. Cook said the satisfaction of helping the fishermen and other boaters makes her hobby worthwhile.
″And they don’t forget you,″ she said, sitting in her home surrounded by gifts from the fishermen - a music box, poinsettias, and a stock of her favorite Irish cream liquor.
″The fellows all respect her,″ Mrs. Gallimore said. Down to the most ″macho,″ weathered fisherman, ″she knows how to get to all of them.″