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Boat captain saves woman stranded off Marina del Rey

An extraordinary water rescue off Marina del Rey last month began with a pod of dolphins.

Or maybe it really started with a hernia and a new hobby.

Either way, Khosrow Khosravani’s maiden open water voyage aboard his new sailboat took an unexpected turn in late September when he saw a single hand rise from the freezing waters of the Pacific Ocean.

A month after hoisting a naked, shaking woman onto the deck of his 25ft boat, Khosravani still marvels at all that made him be in the right place at the right time that day.

“I wonder how it all came together,” said the 59-year-old. “I came from Iran 43 years ago. I don’t practice religion. But so many things have gone well for this lady. At the end of the day, I don’t think it was divine intervention.

He pauses before adding, “I’m a scientist, but thank goodness for everything that went well.”

Khosrow “Koz” Khosravani, right, shakes hands with Los Angeles lifeguard Captain Matt Rhodes.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

A few years ago, a hernia injury sidelined athlete Khosravani. Determined to stay active, he learned to swim by watching YouTube tutorials. Instant love for the ocean was born.

Khosravani moved to Marina del Rey in July and figured if everyone had a sailboat they would buy one too.

The former computer scientist had previously taught on the college circuit, including at UCLA, but had never been on a boat. To prepare, he took courses with the American Sailing Assn. and the online courses required to obtain a California boating license. He studied the basics, including how to navigate near steep coastlines.

And he learned to pull someone out of the water if they overflowed.

On the morning of September 26, Khosravani set sail from Marina del Rey for Paradise Cove near Malibu. It was his first time on the boat in open water, and he gave his three passengers a crash course in case of an emergency.

About three miles from shore, his party spotted a pod of dolphins. Khosravani followed the animals as they crossed in front of the arch.

“Once they passed I saw a hand in the water,” he said. “It was about a block out of town. At that time, I wasn’t sure I had seen what I had seen. Then I was sure it was human as we got closer.

Khosravani’s training a few weeks earlier began. “Everything was fresh in my head,” he said.

He knew he had to maneuver his boat against the wind so that it didn’t crash into the skull of the person swinging in the water.

As he approached, he saw the pale form of a young woman in the dark blue water. She was naked and barely kept afloat. Khosravani threw a flotation device at her, but she was too weak to hold onto it. He circled the Defiant towards her, and one of his passengers threw another line, which she grabbed.

Khosravani turned off her outboard motor once the woman got closer to the boat, then leaned down and managed to hook her arms under her armpits and pull her onto the deck.

Her passengers rushed to wrap the woman in a blanket as Khosravani signaled Mayday on his emergency radio.

At about six nautical miles, Captain Matt Rhodes, ocean rescuer with the LA County Fire Department, heard the call. Details weren’t clear, but he grabbed what he needed: someone had been lifted out of the water 3 miles from shore.

“It was already weird,” Rhodes said Thursday, recounting the rescue. “Why is there a person so far out there?” “

Return currents can draw swimmers a few hundred yards from the beach, he said, but it was much further.

When Rhodes arrived at Khosravani’s boat, the woman’s skin was “ashy color” and she could barely speak.

She managed to tell him that she had gone for a swim around midnight off Venice Beach, 12 hours earlier. She had been in the water – the average temperature off Malibu in September of which is 68.4 degrees – the entire time.

Rescuers went their separate ways that day, unsure of the woman’s fate.

“I know it’s weird, and when I tell the story to people now, I have to start off by saying, ‘OK, I know you’re not going to believe it,’” Rhodes said. “If you told me that someone was floating in open water for 10 to 12 hours without thermal clothing, I would look at you from the side.”

Rhodes said it was a miracle the woman, who was in her mid-twenties and was not identified to protect her privacy, survived. They learned that she had been hospitalized for three days and treated for hypothermia, then released.

“Without you there,” Rhodes said, turning to Khosravani, “I’m pretty sure she would be dead.”

Although she did not reach out to the men who saved her, Rhodes and Khosravani said they hoped she knew people cared about her.

“Wherever she is in life, I hope she feels – I don’t know the right word,” Rhodes said. “I just want her to know that there are people out there who care.”

Khosrovani said he would say to the woman, “I’m so glad you’re alive. I’m glad you have, hopefully, decades and decades of life ahead of you. The most important thing: it’s a second chance; make it count.

The rescue at sea did not deter Khosravani’s enthusiasm for sailing. In fact, he recently sold the Defiant for a larger boat, which he named the Defiant II.

Rhodes joked that it would be more difficult for him to pull a person out of the water on a bigger boat. But Khosravani fought back and said he now had more room to rescue people.

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