Aug 7, 2015

Search and Rescue? An Adventure like No other

Pacific City, Oregon
Over the course of the last two years, I’ve taken quite a liking to different types of water crafts. One being an inflatable pontoon boat (Stealth Pro) and second fishing kayaks. The ladder being my primary focus this year, but what’s important isn’t so much about boats but the focus for this story is the adventure. Where one thing leads to another and how important the little things tend to be.

One Sunday morning in July, my day began setting up my fishing kayak for a planned Ocean trip to Haystack rock the following weekend. This would be my first Ocean trip in a kayak and I was in a hurry to setup my trolling motor. With my kayak and gear laid out in the yard under a shaded tree the sun began to rise and the sweat began to pore, nearly 90 degrees and only 11am I was in need of refreshments, a cold one as I may say.

A few hours after lunch I was ready for a long neck, the heat and frustration drove me back inside to the sound of the air conditioner and screaming kids. My phone had been inside all day so I decided to check it. To my surprise my wife stated I should call my friend back (Let’s call him Jhun). I was concerned. Turns out he was kayak fishing near Haystack Rock in Pacific City and flipped his boat, in need of help. I called immediately, I could hear the distress in his voice as he explained… A sneaker wave surprised him and flipped him over. He was unable to flip it back over. He presumed the marine battery in the rear hit the hatch and provided a large enough gap for water to enter hull. He was safe, on the beach with no kayak. Kayak in need of a rescue I thought… You see, I have a tandem sit-on top kayak so it seemed like a good idea. I told him I was on my way, I quickly ran a list of items I might need in my head and shortly after gathering everything I was gone. For legal purposes, let’s say I drove the speed limit…

Screenshot: Pacific City Sun
Photo to the left shows his rescue. Why they weren't able to bring the boat in from this point, i'm not sure, I wasn't there... However i'm sure Jhun was happy to be on board. 

Upon arriving at the beach he explained where it was nearly 2hrs ago when he called, now pointing to where it was, almost a half mile away. Now, the first items I grabbed before leaving the house was keys, wallet and… my Smith Optics. However even with my Smiths on I was squinting trying to find this kayak… Where is it, what are you looking at? Oh right, yeah… I think I see it. We decided to talk to a few paddle boarders that had tried to help earlier in the day. We contemplated heading out at that point, but decided to climb the point to get a better visual. Note: Remember to stretch.

Upon climbing the hill, I did finally spot the kayak. A Jackson Big Rig nearly 14ft in length, 36” wide, marine battery, trolling motor, rod, gear, phone and wallet all on board. When the sun hit just right, I could see its now vertical nose bobbing a foot or two just North East of Haystack rock. Shoot, it’s going out to sea. At just past 7pm we could see a calm spot about a quarter mile wide, maybe a mile or so from the break of the rock just around the kayak, but after contemplating how long it would take us to suite up and get out there, we knew we wouldn’t have much light. The other thought in the back of our minds (due to the time), we had never kayaked a tandem together. Now I have kayaked my 5 year old son and mother around but I’m doing all the work (on a lake no less). So after staring into the sunset and contemplating all the options, we decided to call it a night just after 8pm. He mentioned he would come back in the morning to see if it washed to shore –or if he could get the help from any Dory boaters, I mentioned let me know if you need any help, said our good byes and that was the end. Over 3k in gear off to never never land.

That night, after telling the story in detail to my wife and discussing why you don’t paddle alone in the ocean at least without taking the proper precautions. We decided it was best I went along to “Search” for this kayak the following morning. We both knew, if it was my boat in the water – I would want to keep looking. At that point, our gut was saying, hey it floated all the way out to the rock, it’s going to keep floating somewhere. It’s not just going to sink. Assuming it hadn’t found a few more rocks to play on. Shortly after 11pm we decided to get up bright and early to start combing the beaches and chatting it up with the locals.

The following morning required coffee and away we went. First upon arriving we notified a few kayakers getting ready to make the voyage out, they said they would help if needed and keep an eye out. Jhun and another kayak friend hiked the point to take a better look. No luck. I spoke to the fire marshal and he just laughed in disbelief that we would find it. It’s sunk they said, it’s long gone they all said.

Sheila and Jhun: In search
A few locals said the current was headed south the night before. Mentioning Nestucca Bay and some of the surrounding road ways. We explored every access point and beach half way to Lincoln City. On one beach South of Pacific City a local said he was watching the current all afternoon, the current was heading north and recommended checking Sand Lake. Sounded plausible, north we went. After arriving at Sand Lake an employee their said he overheard on the radio of a boat being found, but was unable to provide any other information, as if it was a treasure hunt and we had to find each clue. Back to Pacific City we went, feeling a little ridiculous but hopeful, we had no luck getting in touch with Police or Fire on the non-emergency lines. We arrived back in Pacific City (PC) but once more we were disappointed to find no new leads. Our thoughts of a kayak laying along the shores were cut short with the view of Dory boats coming and going.

Devils Lake - Tandem
I think we were all disappointed at that point, but we kept truckin’ along and eventually made our way South to Lincoln City. No sign of any kayak, but damn we were hungry. Off to the buffet, Chinook Winds it is! At this point the mood was pretty grim. We spoke of alternatives for next week’s kayak trip. Jhun had another kayak (not as cool as the one he lost) so we planned for Nestucca Bay. After lunch we hit up the outlet’s and drove over to Devils Lake, Jhun and I went tandem in my kayak thinking we mind as well make the best of it.

Now a bit later in the day, we decided to go home the long-about way and head back north to PC for one last look-see. No real hope in mind but it would make a nice drive and we could end the day eating sea food with a few drinks looking out over the “Rock”. As we pulled down onto the beach this is where I would like to say we found Jhun’s kayak, but we didn’t. It was bitter sweet, no kayak in hand but the day was finally coming to a close. Jhun wanted to make one last climb up the point so I joined him so I could say my good byes to his boat. We made it to the furthest, highest point where we could get a better view of the Rock and southern shoreline, but to no surprise - no dice. Made our way around to check the north face, with view of the bluff as Jhun walked in front of me he stopped, paused… I stopped, paused… He pointed, “Mike I think I see it…”. Now hold up, stop the press, we’ve been out all day, Let me wipe the sweat off my face and put my Smith Optics back on. I thought I could hear the crack in Jhun’s voice. Was he to cry in joy, scream in excitement… I wondered. “Hold up, let’s get a closer look Jhun.” We walked, no we leaped closer. Confirmed! Still bobbing out of the water by a foot or two we had visual confirmation. Houston we are go, I repeat we are go for rescue. We hurried around the hill side towards our rigs, I called my wife… breathing heavily, load up! Start the truck! We found it! Was that a crack in my voice? Was I tearing up? No just sand, it’s cool as we skipped down the sandy hillside. We high tailed it out of their as my wife is telling me to slow down, watch for people walking. They’ll move. 10 and 2, on a mission!

Rescue in Progress?
On our way to the cliff
We thought the best course of action would be to drive around to the north side of the sand dune to access the bluff side of the rock, at least to get a better look. With hardly anyone on the beach on the north side, I’m not sure I’ve ever driven as fast on a beach in a full side pickup. Don’t tell my father, it was his truck.

The kayak was still there. Bobbing in the water almost taunting us. Feeling a little giddy but mostly things got real, really quickly. This was now a full on rescue mission. We were no longer aimlessly stumbling up and down the coast line, we had found it. However the kayak was not found lying in the sand like some beached whale in a dream, it was 40-50ft from the cliff side with a boarder of “danger zone” rocks in our way. We believed the tide was beginning to turn and start coming back in, but how would that effect the kayak in its current location. Would the kayak just repeatedly slam into the rock, or keep circling in the danger zone. We climbed around the rocks and discussed our options. With the waves much greater on the North side we thought it would be safer to launch and go around from the South, thinking the kayak might be circling and would kick back out to the south. We decided to suite up and head back around. Although in the back of my mind I wasn’t certain what way it was going to go. So we suited up. Jhun was longer going to screw around with the ocean, he hadn’t tightened his wading belt enough when he was knocked off his boat and had water in his waders upon returning to the shore

He brought a wet suit.

I had an incident in the Hood a year before so I tightened my belt along with everything else extra tight.  

Armed with:
No it's not a shark, that's the nose of the kayak
Jhun aired up his raft and I gathered all the rope I had and using carabineers to attach them to the raft. Now why aren’t we taking the tandem out? Well, the water was a little rough for our liking and thought the raft would be a little more stable. We continued to watch and wait and calculate the water. At this point it was moving north, not south and calculated it was moving about 5ft every 20 minutes. At that rate, we could almost go eat dinner before it got out of the danger zone.

I believe Jhun could tell I was a little distressed or concerned. Wife and kids where in the truck waiting, crying and had already eaten all the snacks and ticktacks one could find. He offered we go eat and come back thinking the boat would be much closer and easier to rescue. I reluctantly agreed considered it took me a bit to get suited up and I the kayak was moving our way. After a quick discussion about dinner I stayed suited up while Jhun started to load up. I made one last check and noticed the kayak was moving even quicker than before, I waved to Jhun, we realized we needed to stay. We decided to daisy chain the ropes and if lucky enough either row out to the kayak and hook on, or swim. We watched and waited some more. We began to lose light, finally it made it’s way away from the rocks, it was still moving North. At some point since we originally found the kayak, the top hatch had broken off. No longer visible but foam from the inside began to float ashore. I began to unravel the rope as Jhun and I inched closer and closer. At some point, as I’m still unraveling the rope Jhun makes the call to head towards his kayak. You could see the determination on his face. The ropes began to knot up, he grabs the nose of his kayak, and he’s yelling something, pull? Oh crap, pull!! He’s still yelling, is he yelling stop I questioned? It was hard to decipher. I continued pulling as I’m unraveling the rope in attempt to throw the other end to Sheila our other kayak friend dressed in sneakers. She eventually grabs the rope, we pull, Jhun still yelling. Is he yelling pull or stop? I ask. No clue, we continue pulling the boat to shore. It must have weighed close to a thousand pounds being full of water with 300lb’s in gear and kayak. Finally it was ashore. Upside down, dang it Jhun! The three of us attempted to lift the kayak from one end. It wouldn’t even budge. No surprise, we tried again but this time with the help of a wave. It budged. That was our ticket. We needed the power of the waves to help flip this monster over. After a few tries we did it. Paddle, Rod, Cell phone, Marine battery and some odds and ends all there. What was left of the trolling motor or hardware I should say wasn’t worth anything. However both hatches had been ripped off but all in all. We did it, kayak Searched and Rescued!    

Houston we have landing
With a high five, our job was nearly complete. My day, as long as it was, was beginning to come to a close. I was glad to be a part of this day. As tired as I was I was exhilarated of the fact we actually found this Big Rig! Over 24 hrs later. I was grateful for having gear I felt confident in, from the Korkers boots to the shades on my face. It made my day, a rescue worth remembering. If I hadn’t been confident in my gear, I wouldn’t have felt confident in how I could perform, thus hindering my ability to help.

So for all of you, stay safe, and remember the little things. Purchase the right gear for the right job and enjoy the journey.

Gorge Fly Shop Webmaster

Gorge Fly Shop Team

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