Puget Sound Water Rescue E-mail
Written by Domenick Venezia   
Friday, 05 July 2013 00:00

It was the last day of the 2013 lingcod season on Puget Sound. The weather was windy, 15-20 knots, with 3-foot white-capped seas and occasional larger wind driven boat wakes. Partly sunny skies with an air temperature of 64F and a surface water temperature about 50-55F. At times it was tough to fish. Little did I know I would soon assist two people in distress.

I launched my turbo-finned Hobie Revolution 13 just before 10AM and hit a couple of my lingcod holes Hobie.Wells.Pt with nothing to show except a photo of a 25-1/2" underling. By 3PM the winds had calmed to a five-knot northerly. As I passed Wells Point southbound, something a mile ahead seemed odd. Slowly it resolved into a sailboarder, 1/3 NM offshore, in the water and unable to mount his board. He was wearing a light, hoodless wetsuit. His wife however was functionally naked. She had seen him floundering from the beach and in a two-piece bathing suit, no PFD and no paddle leash, had used a small plastic sit-inside kayak to bring him a paddle. 

At the scene I asked if he wanted a tow using a line I had aboard. He declined. I hovered about until he had rolled up his sail, aligned it on top of his board, climbed on the board, and started stroking. Then I followed them to shore. 

After landing I got the Revo onto its cart and up the beach where I would remove all my gear then lift it up the 5-foot bulkhead. Two guys approached and pointing offshore asked what I thought it was. It resembled a Viking ship with a curved bowsprit arching into the air. Someone handed me a pair of binoculars and I could see it was a kiteboarder down in the water unable to mount his board. They said he had been drifting for over an hour. I was tired but I did what anyone else would have done- unloaded my fishing gear and launched to help. The 3/4 NM trip out took about 15 minutes. I turned on the hand held VHF radio clipped to my PFD in case I needed to call for additional help.

Priest.Point.DV When I arrived, about a third of his kite was sticking up forming the arch I had seen from the beach, and it was acting like a sail pulling him south. His lines were a tangled mess. He was in a light, hoodless wetsuit and his teeth were chattering. In another half hour he would be in serious physical distress. I asked if he wanted a tow. He said yes. Unfortunately my towline was in my milk crate on the beach. He was going to have to get aboard. 

He deflated the kite and wadded it up as best he could. The fabric was wet and the folds held pockets of water, making it heavy. We piled it onto the rear storage area behind the cockpit, and his board went across the top. The kite lines tangled in my rudder and paddle and I was concerned if we went into the water we would become tangled. I almost suggested cutting them with the rescue knife on my PFD. He mounted the kayak as gently as he could from the stern. 

Although he was slender, the wet kite, the board and his body were far behind the normal center of gravity of the kayak. The weight levered the bow up, my seat was awash, and the boat was wallowing and tippy. I could barely make 2 knots on the trip back in. When I had the breath we chatted a bit. I had seen him earlier when the wind was up and he was having a blast. As the wind calmed he had unknowingly chased the wind stream into the center of the channel, then didn't have enough to get all the way back to shore. He added he had been becalmed before. 

He was a good passenger, but still we nearly went over a number of times on the 30 minute return voyage. I was obviously beat, and seeing my gray hair, the youngsters on the beach graciously carried the kayak up the beach and over the bulkhead where it was an easy roll to my truck.

The lessons are clear, but bear repeating. Everything has its place. I should have returned the towline to it place in the side mesh pocket. Instead, I simply tossed it into the milk crate. 

The water in the area never gets much above 60F even in August, yet almost no one I see in a kayak or on a paddle board is wearing even a basic flotation vest. Both of the guys I encountered were wearing light wetsuits that retain some heat and provided some buoyancy. This may have turned potentially fatal events into something more mundane. Given their wetsuits both could have possibly swum to shore, but people are reluctant to leave their belongings, often until it is too late. 

D Venezia I can almost excuse the sailboarder's wife for disregarding her own safety in going to her husband's rescue, but had she gone into the water, swamped her kayak or lost her paddle, she would have been in immediate peril and likely an added danger to her spouse. 

Cold water kills. The cold-water gasp reflex can cause inhalation, a debilitating coughing fit, panic and a quick drowning. And, over time the cold slows your muscle chemistry until the laws of physics make them inoperable. Your will to live, regardless how strong, cannot overcome the laws of thermodynamics. You sink below the waves watching the light fade, and remaining conscious and helpless until the end comes. 

Please, dress and plan for immersion. 


For most of us, being prepared with safety items while kayak fishing is almost second nature. Seattle based Domenick Venezia is very familiar with the capricious nature of his home waters in Puget Sound. In this case not one, but two people may owe their lives to a kayak fisherman who was "prepared."

 

 
 

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