Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Don’t Do What I Did

January 1, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

I’m a citizen of the Czech Republic, and I came to the United States in 1999. One of my first clients was Kevin, who later became my friend. As our friendship developed, he showed me a completely new world of adventure and freedom through boating.

In my second year of boat ownership, I spent the winter excitedly waiting to get back on the water, and I was prepared. I beautifully cleaned the entire length of my 23’ 230SX Stingray, made the inside vinyl look brand new, changed all oil and fluids, and had the mechanic remove and lubricate the outdrive.

Come March, I couldn’t wait any longer.  I invited my friend Kevin and his two young daughters to join me on my first run, and as a prudent mariner, I asked Kevin to bring his kids’ life jackets, since I do not carry those sizes.

We launched the boat at the Peekskill ramp and made headway north. We passed the last buoy, steered to the right, and at full throttle, heard the nice rumble of 425 “horses.” What an awesome day looking at the mountain scenery!

Approaching the Bear Mountain Bridge, I felt my horses slipping away, and I said, “Kev, we’re losing power.” Kevin took the wheel, replying, “No worries, it will be okay.” (That’s the difference between us: Kevin trusts the equipment, and I’m always suspicious.) I opened the engine hatch and was greeted with a fountain of water from behind the engine block; the bilge was filled with Hudson River water right up to the battery terminals.  I quietly said to Kevin, “We are sinking,” and he set a course back to Peekskill.

I frantically looked around for anything to scoop the water out, as the bilge pump had stopped working. For a second I couldn’t locate anything to fit the engine bay, and I momentarily panicked. That’s when I spotted one of the girls’ pink Barbie backpacks. With Kevin’s permission, I emptied it and dove down by the rumbling engine. Each Barbie fill brought up approximately two gallons of icy water to toss over the starboard side; with feet high up and chest in water, however,  it was very hard and didn’t do much to relieve our dangerous position.

I heard Kevin on the phone talking to Boat U.S. I got a few bags of water ahead of the mighty Hudson, grabbed the phone, and in response to the question, “What is the nature of your situation?” I yelled, “There is no nature! We are sinking!”

Just then, we spotted a small boat on our port side, approximately 150 yards away. We shouted and beeped, and waved a red shirt, but that guy just kept on fishing and ignored us. Before returning to the backpack bailing, I said to Kevin, “If it gets any worse, just go to the side and put it into the mud.” I’d sacrifice my boat to make sure the kids would be on the bow, sticking up, until we were rescued.

As I was down below, huffing and puffing and willing myself on, Kevin drove until a nice big Coast Guard boat pulled up right behind us. Before long, we were relieved to be at the dock.

In the parking lot, a big audience of rescue vehicles and Coast Guard personnel were waiting for us. I labored to get my heavy boat out of the cold water and onto the trailer, and then cooperated with the very nice Coast Guard officers who made us feel protected and safe even while filling out the paperwork.

I sure learned my lessons that day about having inadequate safety equipment and communicating effectively with rescuers. I also wish I had taken a safe boating class. Now, my boat has three bilge pumps and a safety inspection before every season.

A few days later, I asked Kevin how things went when he returned home. “Well,” he told me, “when my wife got home and was saying good night to the kids, she asked them, ‘How was your trip?’ One said, ‘My Barbie back pack got all wet,’ and the other told her, ‘It was good. I got a chance to blow the horn in the ambulance.’”

By Zdenek Ulman

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