Boating season has just begun, and already three Fort residents are very grateful for the help of local search and rescue.
Byron Goerz and his two sons, Harry and David, eleven and nine respectively, went out on Friday afternoon for a boat ride.
The family was taking their newly purchased 20 foot cuddy cabin Bayliner from Stones Bay to Paarens Beach for the craft’s maiden voyage.
But part way across the lake, something on the upper leg of the motor broke, and the boat was dead in the water, with no secondary motor yet on board.
As the afternoon wore on, the lake began to “kick up” according to Goerz, with an east wind blowing up the lake.
He did have a radio, and tried to call for help, but with so few boats on the lake at the time, no one was listening to the boating channel.
While they did have oars in the boat, the strong wind made it impossible for them to get close to shore.
“So when we lost light, basically, I just threw anchor so I wouldn’t get blown up the lake and just let the bow take the waves,” said Goerz.
It was a long night, but Goerz and his sons crawled into the cuddy cabin and used the extra lifejackets to keep as warm as they could, and Goerz worked to keep the mood light.
“I made it more an adventure, tried not to get them scared,” he said.
He could see they would be spending the night and so he did what he could to keep them safe. With the engine running, he kept the battery charged and the bilge pumps working so the boat stayed afloat.
And while he and the boys spent the night bobbing up and down in the lake, Goerz was pretty sure he had the better of it.
“The worst of it was for my wife who didn’t know what was going on, where we were, if we were still alive,” said Goerz.
But his wife was not sitting idly by, apparently. She had called the residence where her husband and sons has set out from, when they were so late getting back, and when she heard they had left hours before, she called the police.
For his part, her husband was grateful the RCMP took her concerns to heart and initiated the search sooner rather than later.
“I have to give the RCMP kudos,” he said.
At 11:50 p.m. on June 3, the Fort St. James Search and Rescue (FSJSAR) were brought into the picture by the RCMP, and they in turn mobilized seven members and put an aircraft on standby for first light.
The temperature that night was measured at three degrees according to the search and rescue report, with 20 knot winds and an 18 inch chop on the water.
At around 3:30 a.m., the search and rescue launched two boats, and one of these located the stranded boaters at 4:40 a.m., all three of whom were none the worse for wear.
Goerz said while his sons thought the ordeal was pretty exciting, they were also “sure pretty happy to see the boat in the morning when Paul and Darrel showed up.”
Even though a night out in rough conditions with young sons might seem like a bad scenario to most people, Goerz was very grateful for the good luck they had.
“A lot of things went very right, even though it was a break-down, a lot of things worked in our favour,” he said.
Next time, Goerz is sure he will do a few things differently, because even though he was fairly well-prepared, he says he won’t be going out again without a cell phone or a call-in procedure with his wife.
“I had all the essentials except a means of communication,” he said.
“A radio doesn’t do you any good if you’re just talking to yourself.”
The event is perhaps a somewhat cheap lesson before the busier part of boating season gets underway, with the search and rescue team reminding boaters to make sure they are prepared for cool and unpredictable weather and carry safety and survival supplies.
“The message certainly is you know we have to really watch our lake and being overly prepared is better than being underprepared,” said Goerz.