Well I was HOPING to NOT EVER have to write a post based on a RECENT TRAGEDY!! WELL, Thats exactly what I must do to spread a valuable message and possibly prevent a fellow MARINER- (for the sake that this applies to all who travel on the water-engine powered or human/wind powered) from either spending unnecessary ( not to mention uncomfortable) time in the water or putting themselves at risk for being LOST AT SEA.
As news travels of the 4 original boaters- 2 NFL players, 2 College (USF) players that left from Clearwater,Fl. last Saturday night-02/28/09 on a fishing trip 35 miles into the Gulf of Mexico, I can’t help but write about the SAFETY Precautions that possibly could have led to a SWIFT RESCUE/ SAVING OF LIVES!!!! May I also state that I and 2 other Paddlers also left on that same day to do an ADVANCED OPEN WATER paddle into the GULF- See previous POSTING: Cayo Costa Currents!!!!. This is why I feel now is a good time to do this post!!
In a nutshell for those who aren’t familiar with the story: 4 men leave in a 21 foot open fishing boat. Get caught by bad FRONTAL SYSTEM(low pressure), seas build, boat capsizes. 4 men hang onto boat, 3 eventually drift off never to be seen again. A lone survivor is eventually located after massive search effort for 3 days. He is located sitting on the boats hull about 35 miles offshore, with his BRIGHT ORANGE PFD– ON!!!! Now for one thing when we do RESCUE classes for Kayaks we are taught never to leave the boat, reason being your more easily spotted as a bigger target. This is reason #1 why I believe Lone Survivor was located! Reason 2 was his BRIGHT ORANGE PFD- not only visible but also held in warmth!!!!
How about an EPIRB!! If I were going far offshore, I personally would spend the $500-$700 for an emergency location/Global Positioning Device. Simply put 1-open cover, 2- flip security latch, 3- push distress button!!!! Coastguard IMMEDIATELY notified of EMERGENCY & POSITION!!!! Probably would have been on the scene in 30-45 minutes, NOT 3 DAYS SEARCHING!!!! How about Space Blankets– could have climbed on hull and wrapped themselves in them, to delay the effects of HYPOTHERMIA( your WORST ENEMY, NOT DROWNING.)- cost $3.00-$5.00 at a camp store!! Also should have tied themselves to the hull so even in the event of fatalities- families could put closure with a body and funeral service. This sounds HARSH, but SO IS THE REALITY OF ALL THIS!!!! I heard about the MEMORIAL SERVICE for one of the YOUNG MEN– ONCE AGAIN MEMORIAL SERVICE– NO FUNERAL.
As I said we planned a paddle that same day- among the MANDATORY SAFETY EQUIP. WAS–:: Space Blanket, Hand Held Flares, Smoke Flares, Flouro. Dye Markers, GPS- to send coordinates if we got into TROUBLE!, Signal Mirrors, Rescue Banners, Waterproof Cell Phones, Waterproof VHF/Weather Radio- so we could keep tabs on weather( which we knew could get BAD- why I was up at 4 am monitoring it 03/01/09(Sunday). Lets not forget We Filed a Float Plan with Family and Friends- had they not heard from us at a SPECIFIC TIME! They would have IMMEDIATELY called the COASTGUARD. In the case of the 4 boaters a call was made 71/2 hours after they should have returned!!!! We also had Whistles for getting other boaters attention. I and the other 2 paddlers kept our Kokatat PFD’s on at all times!! Not to mention we had Princeton Tech Waterproof Lights/STROBES!! Also had extra water and food- snack stuff we could have rationed in the event rescue was delayed!!!! As well as a Spare Paddle & Paddle Float/ Bilge Pump- STANDARD SAFETY EQUIP. FOR OPEN WATER KAYAKERS! An Air Powered Boat Horn might also be of use- I ‘m GONNA GO GET ONE MYSELF!!
We were only doing a 3/4 of a mile open water crossing- with potential to be swept into Gulf, not to mention the potential for BAD WEATHER- which we were aware of and prepared for might I add. All that SAFETY EQUIPMENT was probably OVERKILL, and NOT A PIECE OF IT WAS USED- excluding Weather Radio, Cell Phones( to check in at stated time.), and GPS to track our mileage. All 3 of us also had tents, clothing, bivy sacks, stoves, and the necessary camping equip. included inside our kayaks.
THE POINT BEING IF WE COULD GET ALL OUR CAMP GEAR, FOOD, WATER, AND ALL THAT SAFETY GEAR IN 3 KAYAKS UNDER 19 FEET LONG, THE PROPER PRECAUTIONS COULD HAVE BEEN TAKEN IN A 21 FOOT POWER BOAT TO INSURE A RESCUE AND PREVENTION OF LOSS OF LIFE!!!! Let this be a LESSON to ALL OF US who play in the GULF OR ANY BODY OF WATER FOR THAT MATTER– NEED IT OR NOT, IT JUST MIGHT SAVE YOUR LIFE!!
Our thoughts and Prayers Go Out to the Families of THE 4 Boaters!!!!
Sean “Topa Honu” Fitzgibbon