Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Rescue on Beaver Dam Lake!

5/30/2011 - Beaver Dam Lake, Wake Forest, NC.

Howdy everyone! The last few weeks had been extremely busy for me with lots of family activities and getting over jet lag from a week long business trip to the Netherlands. I was ready to de-stress and relax. I was ready for a paddling adventure... but it turned into more of an adventure than I first imagined!

Memorial Day promised to be a hot one with temperatures in the mid-90's and high humidity... so I decided to get in a morning paddle to avoid the worst of the heat. Originally, Rachel had planned to join me... but her back was bothering her and reluctantly she had to decline. I off-loaded our tandem kayak from the back of my truck... loaded in my single seat Aquafusion Liberty 13... threw in the rest of the gear... and was on the road to Beaver Dam Lake by 9:00 AM.

Put in at the Beaver Dam Lake boat ramp.

Just before I put in, I ran into Banks Dixon who operates Frog Hollow Outdoors - a kayak outfitter located in Durham, NC. Banks had sold me the Aquafusion Liberty 13 from his rental fleet last year.

Banks informed me he was off loading a small flotilla of canoes for a large party of vacationers who were looking to spend Memorial Day paddling on Beaver Dam Lake. I ran into his group later during my paddle and observed some risky and foolish behavior. More on that encounter later.

First, the rescue! I put in and headed north on the lake. I wanted to investigate the swampy area on the far side of the Old Weaver Dam bridge in the hopes of spotting a bald eagle. Bald eagles are known to nest in that area. I was approximately 2 miles into my paddle when I spotted a woman swimming in the water underneath the Old Weaver Dam bridge. Strange, I thought to myself. The area under the bridge is lined with boulders, underwater debris and rusty bridge support beams - a dangerous area for someone to be in the water. As I got closer, a fisherman on the river bank pointed to me and shouted, "Here comes someone!" I looked to my left and saw a man clinging to the supports under the bridge. This is bad I thought. As I paddled closer, I noted one foot of a kayak bow sticking vertically out of the water... and on the far side of the bridge, a tackle box, ice chest, and two paddles floating away with the current. I pulled along side the capsized kayak and the couple. I quickly determined they were not injured and thankfully both were wearing PFDs. I learned later their names were Dan and Cheryl. The couple had been out fishing... Cheryl's back had been hurting her... and as she shifted position in the boat... she lost her balance... all the gear shifted... and the kayak flipped over dumping them into the water. They were both pretty shaken by their ordeal. Dan handed me his water soaked cell phone and car keys. He did not want to risk losing these items. I was more concerned for Cheryl. "Can you swim?" I asked... and she replied "A little." I told her I would escort her to the shoreline... get her secure... and than return to her husband. She took a few strokes and dog paddled while I paddled adjacent to her. I was relieved when Cheryl made it to the rocky embankment next to the bridge and was able to climb partially out of the water. I returned to Dan who was still clinging to the bridge supports. Dan explained that he had an electric motor with battery attached to the kayak stern that was weighing down the craft. I had no idea how we were going to pull the submerged kayak out... drain the water out of it... and get them back on the shore line. But Dan was more anxious about the lost gear and asked if I could retrieve it. After making sure Dan was secure and relatively safe... I took off after the floating gear.

I spotted a tackle box and half empty ice cooler floating about 100 yards from the bridge... paddled along side the gear... hauled the items into my kayak... and deposited the gear on the shore. I than swung back out... and after a short search, I spotted a paddle and returned it to the shore. I than circled back to Dan... made sure he was still safe... and than headed down the lake to search for the remaining lost paddle. After a more lengthy search... and I was just about to give up on finding it... I spotted the paddle gently floating on the current approximately 200 - 300 yards away from the capsized accident. I quickly paddled back to Dan. By this time two other kayakers had arrived on the scene and were helping retrieve some small items for the couple.

While I was retrieving the lost gear, Dan was able to use the bridge supports as leverage to pull the water logged kayak out and suspend it across the lower bridge beams. He was busily bailing water out of the craft using a small bucket when I returned to him. Cheryl had made her way along the shore and was passing some of the gear to her husband and making ready to get back into the kayak. I returned Dan's cell phone and car keys to him and helped steady the kayak as Cheryl got back into the bow section. Both Dan and Cheryl were very thankful for my assistance! Miraculously, even after 20 minutes submerged, the electric motor turned over and Dan and Cheryl were able to motor back to the boat ramp.

Here are the bridge supports that Dan utilized to raise and support the water logged boat while he bailed it out.

After the rescue, I landed to stretch my legs, eat a snack and take a bio break.

A couple of Beaver Dam Lake beauty shots. Enjoy!

Someone decided that the Beaver Dam Lake shoreline was an appropriate dumping area for a rusty grill.

Encountered one of those "stand-on-top" paddle craft on my return leg. I asked the fellow... "What do you do when you get tired of standing?" He replied that he could kneel... sit... or if he got too hot... he could dive off and swim for a bit. Now, I know! :-)

Earlier I mentioned about Banks Dixon and his large party of canoeists. I encountered this group on my return paddle. Most of the party consisted of teenagers who were not wearing PFDs... and thought it great fun to stand upright in their canoes. Foolish and risky behavior can quickly turn deadly while on the water. Don't do it! Hopefully, there were no mishaps with this group of young folks.
Back at the put in / take out area. By early afternoon, - the boat ramp area had gotten a lot more crowded!

I was thankful that I was in a position to help Dan and Cheryl... and that other kayakers came to their aid too. This will be one Memorial Day that I will not soon forget!

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  1. Every kayaking trip is an adventure and you never know what is around the next corner of the waterway. Congrats on your rescue.

  2. Hi Rob! I guess the best advice is to "expect" the "unexpected" when paddling? Thanks for your comments!

  3. Cool story! Hopefully it will encourage others to prepare for a capsize and what their rescue paln is. Some boats just aren't meant to be taken far from shore.

  4. It was nice of you to help out. I'm sure they appreciated it. But wow. Are they ever lucky . . . this time.

  5. Hey BaffinPaddler and PenobscotPaddles. I am glad the good Lord had me in the right place and at the right time, to help out the couple and their capsized boat. But too many folks venture out on the water with no PFDs, and no safety training. They think that lakes, rivers, and streams are some kind of Disney ride with little risk to themselves. Hopefully, the couple I helped out learned some valuable lessons about the importance of being prepared when on the water.


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