Thursday, February 10, 2011

Near Tragedy at My Fishing Hole

Word has come today from the TidalFish message board that a boat capsized in the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant outflow (commonly called the rips). Three people were on the boat, and they were rescued by another boat, captained by a local fishing guide (whom I happen to know personally). This message by the captain of the rescue boat was taken from TidalFish :
Boat capsizes at ccnpp today - 3 men overboard

...and they were all lucky I was there to pull them out of the water.

If you do not think THE RIPS at CCNPP are dangerous - think again.

I arrived at Flag harbor today ay 7 AM and told my guest that I was very unsure we should even go. Even though the weatherman predicted NW winds, they were NE. Looking at the Bay it was white capping a bit, but my bigger concern was a NE wind at the Rips and standing waves. I told him we would give it a try, but if it was sloppy I was pulling the plug. We break ice to get out of the harbor.

We arrive at Rips at 7:45 and find one boat with a lone angler way, way back. At the head of the RIP was a another 18-19 ft CC with 3 anglers. Waves were not the worst I have seen so I try a drift in the upper 1/4. We start drifting into waves and I pull out thinking it is just to rough. I try another short drift, we each catch one. Then I look up at the other boat and can not believe my eyes!

The other boat (fellow Tidalfishers who shall remain un-named unless they choose to join in.) was listing badly after they tried a drift through the plume. Seconds later the boat has turtled. I immediatly radio a MAYDAY to Coast Guard, fire up boat then head over. USCG wants coordinates and wouldn't you know it, my GPS is non-functional. I try on 2 occasions to just tell them Calvert CLiffs Nuclear Power Plant. They still want coordinates.

I arrive at their boat about 15-20 seconds later, all 3 are standing near bow on bow rail that is 3 feet under the water. ( Thank God for their high bow rail). They are all wearing the Type III life jackets. We throw a life ring, winds blows it off course. I get next to them and now I have the danger of our boat beside theirs and the waves smashing the two boats together with them between them but there is no other way since they are stuck to their boat and not letting go in 38 degree water. Now they transfer over to my boat hanging on to my bow rail. (Inversely - Thank God for my low bow rail) With 5 people on one side of my boat I am now worried of getting caught in the standing waves and flipping. I work the guys one at a time from the bow of the boat to the stern where I have a swim ladder with step. The first guy says "Hey Dennis". I say, "Do I know you?" He says no, but he knows me from TidalFish. Now imangine trying to pull 200+ full grown men who are in shock, freezing to death and losing strength. One is panic struck begging us to hold onto them and not let them go. My guest is having a hard time dealing with one guy. I eventually get them in using every bit of strength I have and coaxing them to use whatever they have left. I tell them all that at this point to be thankful - they are alive. I radio Coast Guard telling them I have all 3 victims on board, no physical injuries, but I am sure they are hypothermic. All 3 swear they are not. I request medical assissitance at Flag Harbor.

The guy at the far end of the RIP has no idea what has happened, DOES NOT have Channel 16 on and is of no help.

We beat are way back in 15-20 MPH NE wind the whole while the USCG wants to talk to me and I have the problem of making time (engine noise) and communicating. We get back to Flag Harbor, ambulance crew is at far end by jetties despite seeing us come in on boat. (or did they) I use all the air I have from an air horn to signal our location. They are sitting in their heated "units" and never hear us. I need to call back to 911 to give my location, slip 120.

The men walk or crawl down the dock to the ambulance and are taken to Calvert Hospital. DNR is on hand for a report.

I visited them later, 2 were OK, one had his core temperature go down 3-4 degrees and was having a much harder time.

Lessons learned.

Monitor Channel 16 - always

The RIPS are dangerous in a NE wind.

The drift they made put the boat sideways in the waves, they took a wave in a boat with a cut out transom. I am not sure where they were standing. The boat also had an auxiallary kicker motor (more weight) Do not get sideways in the waves.

Have a plan for a man overboard drill - I always tell my people the drill before each trip.

Have your throw ring tied to a rope. (I thought loose would be better but I wish now I had a tether on.)

You absolutely need a swim ladder - no way were these guys coming in w/o one.

And for all of you guys who ridicule me for having a low sided boat (it is more akin to a "bay boat"), there is no doubt that it helped save the lives of 3 guys who surely would have died if we were not there and able to get them in.

Good job, Dennis. I can only hope I would be able to do as well in a similar situation.  However, it would be a cold day in Hell for me to be out there with 15-20 mph winds from the north in my little boat.  West, ehhh we'll think about it.  The scary thing is just how quickly things can go bad out there.  Apparently, they took a wave broadside in the rip (which tends to form large waves in a north wind) and swamped the boat.  If Dennis, or another boat had not been close by, and been able to pick them up, it could well have been a tragedy.  Cold water is remarkably unforgiving...

Dennis Fleming, holding the fish, in the boat used for today's rescue at CCNPP.

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