Monday, July 07, 2014

Rescue Day

Now that my own computer is set up, I'll tell all y'all about the summer day that has put our rescue practices into actual practice. To sum up, two people rescued. No apparent injuries. Long description follows, for anyone who's interested.

Yesterday, the weather was great on Beaver Lake, the narrow end of a vaguely figure-8 shaped lake which we've written many blog posts about as we paddle there a lot. I was out in my little Dragonfly inflatable kayak (a 7-year-old model of what's now called Lagoon), and my friend Heather was rowing her inflatable rowboat (a Seahawk 2 rated as able to carry an adult and a child). These both are awesome little boats for commando kayaking, I should add -- portable, stable, easy to set up, and way way tougher than the cheap little pool toys sold for ten bucks in chain stores. It's easy as pie to carry these boats on the bus and get them to the shore. Turns out, they're reasonable for rescuing tired swimmers, as we were very careful...

John took this photo a couple of years ago, showing my sporty little boat!
It was Saanich's Strawberry Festival, and big crowds were at Beaver Beach but the lake had few people in it or on it. After enjoying strawberries and ice cream, we had a lovely chat with a fireman (Emergency Services had some booths set up and a Command Centre in a big white RV). Then Heather and I set up our boats and launched. Our little debate about whether to bring her old-style PFD or a seat cushion resolved with her sitting on the cushion. Wonderful how safety equipment can also make us more comfortable -- in this case, by boosting her up out of the usual wet-foot puddle in the bottom of her boat. It was 3:15 before we got on the water.
Here's the rowboat next to my kayak for size comparison.

After some relaxed drifting and chatting, Heather said suddenly, "What's that red thing in the water?" We paddled closer to an island to investigate what turned out to be someone's red t-shirt. Someone was swimming among the weeds around the bushy shoreline of the island. He called hello, and asked for a tow.

That's how we met Rob: a young guy in his twenties, tired and tangled in weeds. He took hold of the stern of my kayak and let me tow him out to clear water. There we re-assessed his situation. He was looking for the red canoe he and his dad brought to the island, with a six-pack of beer and a bottle of vodka. Could we please tow him around the island to look for the canoe? He was just too tired to swim through the weeds any more, and his backpack was getting heavy.

"Oh! You have a nice big boat!" he said to Heather. "I'll just get in and ride." He let go of my boat and grabbed for hers. There were weeds wrapped all around his legs and an arm. When we warned him not to flip us, he didn't inspire us with confidence that he could follow orders. It was hard enough for him to take off his backpack when we said so, because it was holding him down in the water. "Man, my electronics are all gonna be soaked," he said unhappily.

Meanwhile, Heather tied her float rope to her seat cushion. With that floating support, Rob was much happier; and with him floating ten feet away, we were much happier. After several tries, I rolled his insanely-heavy pack onto my front deck. There had to be 15 or 20 litres of water in that pack, so I began draining some of the water out through a partly-opened zipper. Peeking in, I saw shoes, jeans, and a plastic bag. Oh yeah, he had soaked whatever phone or camera was in here.

Was it time to push the emergency button on my SPOT beacon and call for rescue? Not quite. Rob could still talk coherently, and held on to his floating cushion fine. Warm day, good weather, and a beach on the lakeshore closer than whatever rock on the other side of the island where his dad and/or red canoe might or might not be, with whatever was left of the beer and vodka.
"Let's get him to shore," said Heather, tying the tow rope to my kayak's stern handle.
"You go ahead," I told her, "And get that nice young man we talked to with the big white truck." She nodded, realizing that if we said the words Emergency Services, Rob might get all upset at the notion of us calling the cops on him. Then he'd be even harder to deal with. Heather rowed to Beaver Beach, while I paddled to North Beach with Rob twenty feet behind me.
(Just for the record, if we hadn't known Emergency Services people were at the beach, we would have sent the emergency signal on the SPOT at that moment, and still begun towing him to shore.) 

Lila took this photo a couple years ago, of me paddling along a similar lake. You'll have to imagine my passenger floating along behind...
Rob chatted much of the way to the lakeshore, repeating what he said earlier. Towing a tired swimmer is much harder than towing a friend while playing or safety practise! Rob was doing an excellent imitation of a sea anchor.

Meanwhile, Heather had reached the shore only to find that the Emergency Services people had left. (We learned later that day that they were called out to another problem with some kids.) She borrowed a phone to call 911. Then she rowed back to the island, where she couldn't see the canoe but could hear Rob's father shouting for him. Good enough! He could stay there for now.

I pushed the OK button to celebrate when I got to shore. Rob staggered ashore and shook my hand. He sat at a picnic table, pulled his jeans and shoes out of his pack, and eventually struggled into them. "It's gonna take me an hour and a half to walk home," he said, and off he went. He wouldn't wait for his dad. Heather met me at North Beach, and we traded stories.

Heather and I went back to Beaver Beach, where a police car was pulled up on the grass close to shore nearly an hour and a half after the 911 call. Officer Brad needed some explanations, and used his radio to tell Fire Rescue to get a boat on the lake to pick up Rob's father. Brad set off to meet them at the Elk Lake end of the lake, and asked us to hang around in case Fire Rescue came to launch here instead. Meanwhile, Heather and I unlocked the Nature Centre. Never been so glad to have the key to that little building!
We folded up our boats, replaced various soggy clothes with dry, and re-fueled with cookies and water. We called my mom for a ride. Just before she got there, Officer Brad came back to tell us that Rob had been found walking along the road. And his father had been found in Elk Lake with a canoe part-way to shore  and been rescued because he tipped over just as the Fire Rescue boat reached him. It was 6:45pm.

All in all, a good reminder of why we make such an issue about safety here on the blog -- safety in so many ways:
-the importance of sturdy boats instead of cheap and flimsy pool toys
-familiarity with boat and gear
-experience in various conditions 
-safety gear (rope, flotation device, and dunk bag were all put to use)
-safety practise (Heather and I had practised towing in various configurations many times)
-general first aid (doesn't matter much whether someone is impaired by fatigue, a bump on the head, or alcohol if that impaired someone flips your boat and grabs your head -- to avoid that flip, it's much more important to figure out whether that someone is a little impaired or a lot!)
-safe drinking (both Heather and I were dehydrated by the end of our afternoon's adventure -- and I'm wondering if alcohol was a factor in Rob's behavior)

What should we have done differently? In retrospect, since the tired swimmer needed to be towed to shore and his father needed to be found, calling 911 was the right thing to do. The only difference is that we should have used the SPOT emergency signal instead of having one of us paddle to the emergency guys at the beach. The rescue of Rob's father might have been put in motion earlier.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo, Paula! Well done! You've earned your karma points for the week!