But this time Frank the urban outdoorsman was not involved. Nope, this time it was a couple of kayakers. Grab some popcorn and listen to the story.
On Saturday afternoon I was sitting on the dock at Cow Key Marina resting after a hard morning. I had to get up at 5:30am and get to the marina for a 7:00am kayak tour. After which I had a second tour go out at 10:00. By 2:30 I was done and beat. I had the gear all cleaned up and was about ready to come home when I saw a couple in a recreational kayak floundering in the channel. The tide, which was running very high and strong due to a full moon had caught said couple and they were not making any headway to get back to their marina where they rented the kayak. They were getting spun around, yelling at each other when all of a sudden they flipped over. Both people got out of the kayak and swam over to the side of the channel into the mud whilst the kayak and paddles headed down stream and out to sea. Everyone at the marina just watched and then went back to what they were doing. I knew it was going to be bad as the couple just stood there in the mud watching their only way to get back float away. So, I mounted up a kayak and took off.
By the time I reached them a personal watercraft operator had grabbed the kayak and paddles and brought them back. So I had the couple drag the kayak off to the side away from the current so we could get them back in. Now there is a problem with this type of kayak. A recreational kayak is one that you sit inside of. Keeps you nice and dry but if it tips over, it fills with water. So, if you don’t have a bilge pump, or a sponge, or something of that nature, you can’t get the water out. My kayak had a hatch so I pulled the hatch cover off and began bailing the water out of the sunk kayak. I finally got enough out that it would float and could be paddled. I then was able to get the couple back into the kayak. I also tied off a towline and began the slow process of hauling them back to whence they came.
It was slow going but we did make progress against the strong current. And oh yeah, several boats passed us by, saw us struggling, and offered no assistance. We got up to the final turn into where they had to go, and where the current was flowing the hardest, like a damn river. My kayak got turned and I could not get around the turn, and the couple were not helping. So I decided to go back into a side channel and come in the back way. But when we made the turn, the couple proceeded to dump the kayak again, flooding it, again. This time they panicked because they thought they lost their car keys. Meanwhile I’m holding onto branches and whatever I can to prevent us all from going down stream again. Plus I am wearing out. They found their car keys but let go of the kayak and were floating down stream now. I am screaming at them to grab the kayak, a branch, anything when the girl, who is not wearing her pfd, announces she cannot swim. I let go of the branch that I am holding onto and downstream we all are going. I holler for the guy to grab her, because he was wearing his jacket and he did.
At this point we are floating back towards Cow Key marina and my yelling attracted the attention of everyone. I was able to slowly maneuver the whole mess to the marina where the couple was pulled to safety, and the kayak was dragged onto dry ground. I got my kayak secured and went over to find the couple exhausted but safe.
The guy told me they went out with a big group, unknown if there was a guide involved or not, and got left behind. They had been out there for 4 hours fighting the current. I called the kayak company and they came over and got everyone and all the gear so in that case, everyone was ok, and no loss of equipment.
I on the other hand, was spent. I could barely move for an hour and even now, my back hurts from trying to paddle against the current. I’m a bit ticked about several things with this incident.
The couple should not have been left behind by the others.
The recreational kayak is not a good boat to rent out for the reasons stated above.
No one at the marina did anything except watch when the couple went in. And several had access to personal watercraft and boats who could have buzzed out and rescued the couple in a few short minutes. But they were all too busy.
Other boaters passed by who could have offered help, but did not.
I’m getting way to old to be doing this rescue shit. It hurt this time.
But nobody really got hurt, nobody died, no equipment was lost. So, happy ending.
One last comment. At Cow Key we had just had a new personal watercraft tour company move in. We now have three PWC tour companies within 100 yds. of each other, numbering nearly 50 of those noisy, fast machines. We also have 3 kayak and paddle board tour and rental companies competing in the same territory. Plus all the boat traffic from fishing charters and people just out having fun. Cow Key channel has become saturated with water craft and it’s getting a bit squirrelly out there.
Cow Key channel offers some great paddling opportunities and the channel is a convenient way for boats to get out to the ocean or the gulf, but it’s getting too crowded. Nobody wants to share the waterway. Boats throw up wakes, pwc run outside the channel markers, paddlers won’t stay out of the channel. Everyone is guilty of some transgression no matter what mode of watercraft they are on. The tides can be very strong as they were this weekend with the high tide. Putting inexperienced paddlers out there without a guide is just asking for trouble. In the course of the day, alcohol comes into play. This waterway is an accident waiting to happen. We do our best when it comes to guided tours to keep our paddlers out of the way of the boat traffic, cross the channel when safe, and generally watch out. But with so many using the waterway, things like what happened yesterday will happen. I just hope it don’t take a real accident, injury, or death to wake everybody up.
There is a definite market for the watersports that are offered in this area. But if everyone is going to work in the same area, they all need to step up their game and emphasize the safety aspects of their respective activities and be more careful.
Cause my rescue days are coming to an end.