There are moments in life that seem to unfold in slow motion.
Zeno Schwebel, 20, of Truro, remembers one. It was June 27, 2019, the start of what was supposed to be an adventurous summer aboard his friend Kai Olney-Miller Malicoat’s new 58-foot steel seining vessel, the Ginny O. They planned to fish for salmon off the island of Sitka, Alaska.
The previous year, Malicoat, 25, of Provincetown and Sitka, had made the huge investment in the new boat. He became a captain after years of fishing with his father, Bae Olney-Miller, and an uncle in Alaska.
“Being my own boss at 25 is a dream come true,” Malicoat said by phone this week. “It’s something I’ve always wanted. I like the fact that my fate is in my own hands. The harder I work and the smarter I am, the more successful I’ll be.”
But the risks of fishing, sufficiently documented in shows such as “Deadliest Catch” and the book The Perfect Storm, have also played a role in his fate.
On June 27, their second day seining for salmon, Malicoat was hauling in the net when one of the rollers on the side of the Ginny O swung toward him.
He jumped to the middle of the deck where a powerful deck winch, capable of hauling 10,000 pounds of fish, caught his right arm.
“By the time I got free, it had rotated four times,” said Malicoat. “The miraculous thing is, it did spit me out.”
Schwebel was in a 20-foot skiff nearby, helping to gather the net. He saw Kai’s body rotate around the winch once. His arm seemed to make the rotation again but his body did not move as much, Schwebel recalled.
“It was like a movie,” Schwebel said.
Once onboard, Schwebel saw the arm held in place by little more than the sleeve of Malicoat’s sweatshirt. And yet, “kind of right away I knew he was OK,” Schwebel said. “He wasn’t bleeding. He was pretty calm and with it the whole time.”
On deck Colin Nobili, also a Nauset Regional High School graduate, and Kai’s younger brother, Andre Malicoat, had called mayday and shut off the hydraulics.
While waiting 20 minutes for help to arrive, they noticed time move again.
“I did a quick assessment and I could tell my arm was pretty well ripped off,” Malicoat said. “But it would have been obvious if I had ruptured an artery.”
Luckily Malicoat’s buddy Alex Cagle, who was captaining for Allen Marine, heard the call. He fired up a 60-foot catamaran full throttle and got Malicoat on the dock before the Coast Guard even mobilized.
“The fire department hadn’t even put a boat in yet,” he said.
Since the accident, there have been “a number of small miracles that all ended up being 100 percent crucial in keeping my health and my arm,” Malicoat said.
These include the fact that no artery was severed. Fortunately, blood flow had been blocked by the arm being twisted.
And yet the arm was without a blood supply for 10 hours. He was admitted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle as an amputee.
“Doctors estimated that there was only a 5-percent chance that they would be able to save his arm,” says the GoFundMe narrative posted with a goal of raising $75,000 to help Malicoat with medical expenses.
After a seven-hour operation by a team of 12 surgeons, Malicoat’s brachial artery was successfully repaired and blood flow returned to his arm.
Seven weeks in the hospital and several more weeks in a rehab facility followed. But now Malicoat is driving left-handed (the right arm was his dominant) and doing errands, while trying to arrange for someone to work the boat this winter.
As his aunts, Galen and Robena Malicoat, wrote on his GoFundMe page, he has two years of healing, surgeries, and therapies ahead of him; it will be a long haul before his arm is healed to a point where he regains its full use.
Kai told the Independent he plans to return to fishing.
“I do really love it and I haven’t gotten my full shot yet,” he said.
His mother, Bronwyn Malicoat of Provincetown, said, “These past months have been very hard and intense, but we have so much to be grateful for and I have total faith in Kai. The love and support from family and friends near and far has been extraordinary and has rippled outward to include so many kind well-wishers who we don’t even know.”
If he wants to fish again, his mother supports it.
“Kai loves fishing and he loves his boat,” she said. “He is committed to continuing with the Ginny O, and the Sitka community has been incredibly kind and supportive. Whenever Kai gets an idea, a vision, an inspiration, he researches it and thinks it through and he figures out how to do it. He isn’t afraid to tackle the unknown. I’ve learned a lot from watching him.”