As I read the account of the recent drowning on Percy Priest Lake it sent a shudder down my spine, because my fishing buddy barely survived an identical accident.
The Percy Priest fisherman drowned after he was pitched out of his boat when it suddenly spun as he tinkered with the motor. Minutes before, he dropped his partner off at the dock to get the trailer.
A few years ago, my longtime fishing buddy Bob Sherborne came within a heartbeat of drowning after an identical incident on Old Hickory Lake.
It was a chilly, early spring day and we had motored back to the boat ramp after a morning of fishing. I hopped out get the truck and back the trailer down to load the boat.
As I walked up the ramp, Sherborne puttered back out into the cove and started fiddling with the motor to make some adjustments.
Suddenly the motor revved, the boat lurched and spun, and Sherborne was thrown overboard. The boat puttered away, leaving Sherborne floundering in its wake.
According to the TWRA report, that’s exactly what happened to the fisherman at Percy Priest. Like Sherborne, he wasn’t wearing a life jacket when he fell overboard.
Sherborne was about 100 yards out from the ramp, in deep water, bundled in heavy, waterlogged clothing. There was no way I could have swam out in time to rescue him.
By a stroke of pure luck – or divine miracle – one other boat happened to be in the otherwise-empty cove. That boater saw what happened and immediately rushed over, grabbed Sherborne just as he was going under, and hauled him aboard.
Unfortunately the boater on Priest wasn’t so lucky. There was no nearby boat to come to his rescue, and he drowned.
There is absolutely no question that Sherborne would have shared that same fate if not for the nearby, fast-thinking Good Samaritan.
We learned a couple of lessons from our near-fatal experience. First, always keep your life jacket on as long as you’re in the boat. Like many fishermen, we used to shuck off our jackets as we coasted up to the ramp, but not any more.
If you think about it, climbing in and out of the boat at the dock is one of the most risky times on the water. One stumble or slip and you can be in the water, perhaps hitting your head on the boat or dock in the process.
Keep your life jacket on until your feet are firmly on dry land.
Also, never get careless in a boat. In just a split-second – the time it takes to lean over to adjust a running motor, for example – an accident can occur.
Years ago a friend of mine was launching his boat when the bowline got coiled around a finger just as the heavy boat chugged off the trailer. The line snapped taunt and he lost a finger.
He was a veteran fisherman who had launched boats hundreds, if not thousands, of times over the years without a problem. But he got careless for just one second, and that was all it took. In a way, he was lucky – all he lost was a finger.
Another fishing buddy, Sherborne, was luckier still. He came within seconds of losing his life.
Unfortunately, not everyone is so fortunate. Some don’t get a second chance after making a first-time mistake.