I am known far and wide as "THE" person who has extra of everything stashed in my truck. If you forgot it, Nora's got it. I always carry two PFD's in my truck. My rescue PFD and my play PFD. Not this day though. I had just gotten back from the Northwest and unloaded my truck. With my brand new PFD just arrived I took my older ones out and hung them on their hooks. I didn't get around to putting my new PFD in the truck before I went to my home river...The Vermilion. I was bummed when I discovered this fact in the parking lot. Since it would be an hour round trip home to get it and I spend more time in Donut Hole than on my living room couch I decided to paddle without it. All things considered including that I am a very strong swimmer and it's a small pool drop park and play river with lots of paddlers there, I wasn't too worried.
The river was up from the summer rains. We had a fairly large group gathered to play. The Verm is a place to just go and hang out with friends and have fun. Some of my best paddling memories are from this river. We made it down to my favorite hole...Donut! It was stomping and so much fun. I chased one paddler down to the pool below when she swam. It's a large safe pool for the most part and a favorite swimming hole for the local kids. The only current is a jet on river right that pushes along a slightly undercut cliff wall. In the summer the young people that hang out also like to butt slide down through Donut hole so it's not unusual for us to wait for them to go through. Two young men were taking turns in the hole with us. All was good. Then one of the young men decided to try to talk his girlfriend into sliding down. I could see she was very reluctant. He then decided to try to persuade her by making out with her above the drop so all of us could watch. "Come on baby...I'll be there to save you." We could see it all coming down. I was next in the hole and it was to be my last ride and then I was headed out. The pool below was filling up with the boaters that had washed or swam too far down and it was time to go. Well she was finally convinced so I let them slide hand in hand through the hole and then I jumped in for my last surf. As I turned to head down to the pool I saw only her in the fast water along the undercut with her boyfriend nowhere to be seen. I had a suspicion something was very wrong and sped down to her. When I caught up to her she had sank completely underwater and I could see she had no idea how to swim. I was horrified to see she was actually drowning. I looked to grab something on her to pull her up but there was nothing to grab. I was just about to jump out of my boat when she hit the wall and grabbed on. She pried her head above water as I pulled up next to her. She didn't realize at first I was there but pressed her head into the rock. She was terrified, sobbing and hysterical. I talked to her to calm her down and explained that I was going to give her the back of my kayak to hold on to and I would take her across the current. Bobzilla had caught wind of what was going down and was there if I needed him.
She was a sweetheart and listened to my commands. Not being a swimmer she was hard to ferry across the current since she didn't know how to float. I saw her boyfriend just watching in waist deep water on the sand bar. I yelled at him to come and help her. No response. Again I told him to come and help her. Very little response. He took a few slow steps. It was pretty obvious he really didn't give a %&*$. Wow! When I did get her onto the sand bar and she was standing I asked her if she even knew how to swim. She said "no". Now here the story pauses on my blog...One of my rules for my blog is to post nothing negative. When I learned her boyfriend had encouraged her to go down through rapids, without a PFD, when she didn't know how to swim a few, ah shall we say, negative things came out of my mouth. It wasn't pretty.
Ok back to the story. The sand bar is only in the middle of the river and there is a small deep area next to the shore she needed to get out on. I told her I wasn't leaving the pool until she was safe on shore and towed her to shore.
Observations in hindsight. A friend just sent me this link today about drowning. The parallels are amazing. She was bobbing with her feet hanging down and her hair was just floating in the water around her head. There was a total of about fifteen paddlers and young people hanging out down there and thankfully I saw what was happening. No one else noticed. A drowning person can easily panic and pull down their would be rescuer. I was very aware of this as I helped her out. Being without my PFD put me at a disadvantage. But then, in the past, I have rescued a few others in serious drowning situations while just swimming without a PFD. The best thing is to have training. Not only in swift water rescue but also in CPR and lifeguard. I am also trained in First Responder. Thankfully it all came together and it was a good feeling to know it turned out right in the end. Bobzilla remarked that "somebody" owed me some beer. I laughed and said "somebody" probably wasn't old enough to buy me some beer. I truly hope she dumped that boyfriend!