(Editor’s Note: The following is a series on the men and women who have spent their summers protecting all those who came to Ocean City for fun and safe vacation.)
OCEAN CITY — Not every Ocean City Beach Patrol story takes place in the ocean. Some can take place miles away. This is one of them.
In 1982, Captain Schoepf was working hard to turn the patrol into a nationally recognized force in lifesaving competitions. One of the top athletes to emerge from the ranks was Charlie “Chazz” Chiamardas. Chazz had been the leading distance swimmer for his Shepherd College team and was now racking up wins for Ocean City at regional and national swimming and rescue board events.
Chazz shared his own story here:
The 13-foot long OCBP competition board was brand new, beautiful, light and fast with built in rope grab rails. It was perfect for the late season competition in Virginia Beach. I loaded up the beach patrol board along with my own yellow board on my rusted out 1972 Ford station wagon, making sure they were properly padded and secured with nylon straps, and headed out for Route 50 west. It was my birthday and I figured I’d make a quick side trip to see my girlfriend, Laurie at Shepherd.
It was kind of windy as I rolled through Kent Island, so I peeked out my side view mirrors aimed up to check on the boards. Things were a little shaky and there was a little buzzing noise from the nylon straps vibrating as I hit the Bay Bridge, but nothing alarming. Then, I noticed a much louder buzzing and a thumping above me. “What could possibly go wrong I thought. After all, I’m a Boy Scout and a master of knots.
Suddenly, a loud metal snapping and twisting sound vibrated through the entire car. Before I knew it, the image of my precious rescue boards caught my eye in the rearview mirror, airborne, like windsurfers without a sail. Did the straps securing the boards fail? No! The entire metal rack had bowed to the winds and completely pulled out of the roof structure. With headlights flickering behind me, I slammed on my brakes and jumped out. I watched as my own bright rescue yellow board escaped the bounds of the bridge railings and glided to the bay waters below.
It got worse. There was only one boat below the bridge. Just one. I saw my board make a steep turn downward and nose dive into the bow deck of this one boat.
Many drivers had stopped by now to see what was happening, including the driver of a pickup truck. He was not as slow on stopping as I had hoped. I looked down and saw what remained of the beach patrol’s prized, custom shaped, super light competition board in the road, with the pickup’s tire marks clearly imprinted in the pieces. Just then the bridge police rolled up with yellow lights spinning, and asked if anyone was hurt. I told them about the boat below and the officer explained that they had radioed in about the event. They were going to assess the damage and report later, but luckily, no one was injured.
After handing over all my life data, apologizing and loading up what was left of the board, I got back on the road for a delightful two-hour drive to ponder when and how I was going to tell captain what I did to his $1,000 competition asset. When I finally did get back and told the story, I got the feeling that despite his anger, he was holding back a very gut crushing laugh. This was also the day I learned what the word “wage garnishment” meant.
Chazz now makes his home in West Palm Beach, Fla. He visits his old friends in Ocean City whenever he gets the chance and is always reminded of this adventure.