Flashback: A near miss with hypothermia (part 2 of 2)

[Part 1 is here]

The shivering bubba - and for ease of reference, why don't we just call him Bubba? - perched atop his overturned airboat seemed nice enough, but he was obviously skeptical that the skinny, neoprene-clad guy riding a piece of styrofoam with a sail could be any help. To be honest, I shared his skepticism.

We discussed a couple of alternatives. He did have friends across the lake, and I could certainly sail back to them and describe his predicament, but they didn't have another boat and so that approach didn't seem too beneficial. Pleasure Lake had no facilities, no marina, no infrastructure, so there was no one "in charge" we could seek help from, and this was before cell phones were common. We both came to the conclusion that if anything was going to be done, it would have to be us doing it. And the obvious solution was to sail both of us to shore.

Fortunately, my sailboard - a Mistral Maui - was what is known as a "floater." I earlier used the term facetiously to describe Bubba, but it's an actual term of art in the sailboard business. A floater is a board with significant buoyancy, enough that it will easily support the weight of the sailor even when not in motion. Floaters are good boards for beginners, and they're also good for light wind conditions: the SUVs of sailboards.

At the other end of the spectrum are the so-called "sinkers," and you can guess why. They are smaller, less-buoyant boards that are very maneuverable and fairly unforgiving: the sports cars of sailboards. Many sinkers are so non-buoyant that the only way to mount them is to catch a gust of wind strong enough to lift the sailor out of the water and onto the board; this technique is called a water-start, and I think I managed to do it exactly once in my rather short sailboarding career.

But I digress. My board was quite buoyant (11'-12' in length and about 200 liters of displacement) and I could walk from end to end and barely dip below water level. The bigger question was whether it would support more than twice my weight. Much more.

I described my plan to Bubba.

"I'm going to carry you on my sailboard to the shore."

His eyebrows went up, but he didn't protest.

"I think this will work," I went on, sounding more sure than I was, "but you're still going to get wetter and colder than you are now. This sailboard won't support our total combined weight, but even if it did, I'm guessing you've never stood on a board, and it's harder than it looks. I can't afford for you to bring us both down."

Bubba nodded his understanding.

"Now, what I need for you to do is to slide into the water and partway up onto the board on your belly, grabbing the center of board, about where I'm standing. Let your legs trail in the water, and I'll try to get us to shore as quickly as possible."

Miraculously, he was able to pull himself onto the sailboard without pulling us both into the water, and I was relieved to find that we were sufficiently stable that this plan might actually have a chance to succeed. Now all we needed was some wind.

It was getting late in the afternoon - still plenty of daylight left, but the wind was starting to die, as it often does. But one advantage of having a floater is that you also probably have a huge sail, because you're anticipating lighter winds. That was indeed the case with my setup, and even a 5 mph wind would be sufficient for our purposes. (Truth be known, we would have been in more trouble had the winds been too high.)

As it turned out, the winds were favorable and we moved steadily toward shore. I'm not sure who was more relieved when we hit water shallow enough for Bubba to wade and hop onto dry land. By that time, he was turning a bit bluish, shivering uncontrollably, but the sunlight was welcome and the mile-long hike he had to get back to his truck would no doubt dry him out and warm him up. We shook hands and he set out. I climbed back on my board and headed across the lake.

I often wonder if and how he would have made it to shore without my help. Chances are that the water temperature wasn't cold enough that a twenty minute swim would have been fatal, but there's always a risk of cramping, or worse. All in all, it was probably fortuitous that I picked that afternoon to go sailing.

I never knew the guy's name. I also never heard how they got that airboat out of the lake.


Cool story. thanks for sharing. Definitely scary how serious cold water affects people. When I lived in Colorado, someone jumped into a lake in a small mountain town going after a fishing pole he dropped in (in May or June, I think), and he never came out.

Also, maybe they just waited for the playa to dry up to get the boat?

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This page contains a single entry by Eric published on February 8, 2011 6:27 AM.

Flashback: A near miss with hypothermia (part 1 of 2) was the previous entry in this blog.

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