Hi Joey: I was hoping you could share with your readers what I would categorize as a near miss drowning story that my wife Ginger and I were involved in this past Sunday on our beautiful Annisquam River in an effort to bring awareness to the potential dangers of recreational boating along the river.
First a bit of background if you will. Ginger and I have grown up on the Annisquam for over 50 years and know its ins and outs, it quirks, and its beauty. One might call us “river rats”. We have seen the use of the Annisquam change from years gone by when the old eastern rig trawlers used her for saving hours of transit time between the gulf of Maine and Ipswich Bay to Gloucester Harbor and the river had limited recreational use due to pollution, today the river is alive, as clean as it has ever been in our lifetimes, and recreational boaters flock to her shores. Unfortunately, not all of these boaters have local knowledge of the many facets of rivers and currents.
Ginger and I were transiting at no wake speed north bound approaching the area known as Jones’s Creek. It was a gorgeous day, perfect for boating, as could be attested by the hundreds of fellow boaters enjoying the river and her sandy banks. At the time the current was in full ebb at the apex of Jones’s and the Annisquam and the outbound current was flowing very strongly. As we neared the intersection we could not help but notice out of the corner of our eyes an orange object in the water off to port. For me, a 24 year USCG veteran, orange on the water only means one thing, some sort of lifesaving device. It was out of place. So I maneuvered across the boating traffic, which was heavy and moving both north and south, to investigate; we simply could not help ourselves. As we got closer it became apparent the orange was indeed a “PFD” (Lifejacket) and as we got even closer we could see two heads, nothing more. Two folks were barely keeping their heads above water in the rapid current. It was apparent we had a life threatening situation on hands, and as we approached to within shouting distance, it was confirmed the two men were in extreme distress. Luckily we were able to come up on them, cut our outboard engine, and pull them aboard one at a time via our stern ladder. They were exhausted and clearly only minutes away from succumbing despite the fact that they were both physically strong individuals. They sat onboard with us for a while to catch their breaths and regroup as I idled in position. Once able to convey what had happened it was a scary but not untypical story.
It seems these men were not locals, had come to the Annisquam to enjoy the beauty of the day, get some swimming in, and simply have a great day. We were able to get them to tell us where they had come from and we proceeded to head for their boat. It was anchored properly out of the channel in what one would call a “great spot”. As it was a hot day, one of the fellows dove off the back of the boat upon completion of getting the anchor set without evaluating the current and was quickly swept away. He tried in vain to swim back to the boat, against the current, which quickly sucked all energy from him. His friend, noticing his predicament, grabbed a life jacket (smart move), and dove in after him. He did reach his buddy, got the life jacket on him, and then tried in vain to swim them both back to the boat against the current. By the time he realized that that was not going to happen they were close to the river channel quite a distance from the shore. When we came upon them they were exhausted and had just grabbed a mooring pickup to keep themselves from going under.
There are so many lessons to be learned here, I have to share them with your readers.
• Once safely anchored, take some time to evaluate your surroundings, know and understand the depth of water and current. As one of my friends said later in the day, “this is not a lake”.
• If you are going to swim off the back of your boat and you notice a current even ever so slight, trail a life line over the stern with a floating device attached to its end.
• Always keep a throw able device at the ready. This could have prevented the second guy from having to risk his life going after his buddy.
• If caught in a strong current, never ever try to swim against it. Allow the current to carry you and swim diagonally to the shore. You may have a bit of a walk to get back to your boat, but you will be able to walk, not swim with the fishes.
• In the above mentioned situation, the rescuer should have put on a lifejacket of his own before going after his buddy. There is no sense in the rescuer drowning as well.
• And this one a pet peeve of mine. NEVER EVER allow people near the stern of your boat with an engine/outboard running. I witness this foolishness dozens upon dozens of times daily when boating/beach season is in full swing.
• For all you boaters out their, always be aware of what is going on around you. I swear a dozen or more boats passed directly by these guys as they struggled to stay afloat.
After, we exchanged pleasantries, shared the above tips with our happy swimmers once we had them safely back on their own boat, we departed ways heading for beautiful Wingearsheek to claim our bit of sand for a few hours of fun in the sand and sun.
All in all a great afternoon on the River
Joe and Ginger McKechnie