Danger At Shelter Cove E-mail
Written by Allen Bushnell   
Tuesday, 29 May 2012 22:51

Washrocks

Despite all reasonable precautions, and regardless how many years of experience, any one of us can find ourselves in an emergency situation.  Often, we arrive there unbeknownst, look around then have our "Oh Shit!" moment.  Northern California, and other coldwater areas, share not only sneaker waves, and heavy rip currents, but also the ever-present danger of hypothermia.

On May 12, 2012, more than 150 kayak anglers, their friends and families gathered at California's remote Shelter Cove for the Sixth Annual "Gimme Shelter" Kayak Fishing Derby.  Shelter Cove is located in far Northern California, just above the wild "Lost Coast" stretch of Mendocino/Humboldt Counties.  Fir, cedar and giant redwoods top the 300-foot cliffs, which fall to a rocky shoreline of jumbled boulders and black sand beaches.  Shelter Cove has a protected launch area, but gets little fishing pressure due to its remote location. Just to the north is a boulder point, and to the south, additional wash rocks and shallow reefs.

Shelter Cove can be a spooky place.  There are legends of Native American curses here, as well as fabled tales of buried Spanish treasure.  In modern times, a number of people, even families, have drowned at shelter Cove; swept from the beach or rocks by big surf.  But the lure remains for anglers, as an almost pristine, picturesque location with little fishing pressure, numerous big rockfish, salmon and Pacific halibut.

The following is a personal account from San Francisco Bay Area fisherman Sonny Nguyen, who bravely entered the impact zone to try and rescue another derby competitor, only to find himself in a bad spot that got worse by the moment.  Sonny is an experienced kayak angler that has been featured here at KFM as a past Angler Of The Month.

shelterCovearial "My name is Sonny aka Sailfish.  I'm a certified SCUBA diver and Abalone diver for over 20 years and fishing to me is more like a passion than a hobby.  I started kayak fishing about a year prior joining NorCalKayakAnglers.com (NCKA) and made lots of friends there in the last 6 years.  I would like to share my recent kayak incident at Shelter Cove during the 6th annual kayak-fishing derby.

It was nice weather on the derby day so I decided to wear a T-shirt and shorts underneath my Kokatak dry suit.  I was using my Hobie Revolution with a recently installed outrigger/stabilizer to test it out for future sailing purpose.  I caught lots of fish that day and moved in closer to the kelp beds about 500 yards from shore trying to catch my 4th specie on the derby list.

While I was trolling along the edge of the kelp beds, I heard a call on the radio: "kayaker in the water by the point!" "Is he alright...does he need help?" I responded. I tried calling the capsized kayaker "are you alright? Do you need help?", but I got no response.  I looked toward the wash rocks area and saw a kayaker in the water very close to the big wash rock.  He was about 10- 15ft from the rock. I put away my fishing rod I started to pedal toward him while observing the waves that came from NW and were about six feet in height.

My plan was to get close enough to throw him a towline, which I already tied to the bow of my kayak, and tow him out of the wash rocks area.  When I about 50ft from him, I saw he just climbed back on his kayak and started to paddle away from the wash rock.  I asked him if he's OK and yelled: "let's get out of here".  I immediately turn my kayak around to get out of the dangerous rocky area. As soon as the yak turned around, I saw a big wave heading my way.  I pedaled harder trying to turn the kayak perpendicular to the wave and punch through it but didn't make it in time.

The big wave turned the kayak sideway and flipped it over.  I tried to flip the kayak back as I have done many times in the past, but because of the stabilizer I was unable to do it this after two tries.  I called on my radio: "This is Sonny-Sailfish.  I'm in the water.  I'm OK but need some help".  About three minutes later I saw a kayaker (Tim/Krusty) paddling toward me, and he towed me out of the danger zone.

Later, two more kayakers (Daviator and Batt) retrieved my kayak, and with the help of (BigGabe) they able to flip my yak over.  When I got back onto my kayak, Dave offered to tow me in, but I wanted to "exercise" to warm myself up since I was in the water for 10 minutes or longer and I was feeling the chill.  After 10 minutes pedaling, my left leg totally cramped up, so I switched to paddling.  Not too long after that, my right arm also completely cramped!  Dave grabbed my towline at the bow and towed me in the rest of the way. When we got back to the beach, my friends wrapped me with a blanket and gave me a hot drink that made me feel like I was taken care of by family members.

Some people said I'm a hero but I'm not, I am just a kayaker that was trying to help out another kayaker in need of assistance as I've done many times in the past.  I'm very grateful for the help from other kayakers that help me that day.  NCKA is a community like no other communities I've joined before where people are friendly and really look out for each other.  I'm proud to be a member of this "brotherhood" community.

In conclusion, the biggest mistake that I made that day was not dressing for immersion.  The dry suit will keep you dry but the cold water will always get you if you're in the water for a prolonged period of time.  I made a promise to myself that I'll dress for immersion from now on when kayak fishing in the ocean, regardless of the weather conditions, and hope others will learn from my mistake."

 

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