So we took TIDEPOOL out for our annual mid-May shakedown cruise. The weather forecast was imperfect, so we didn’t go far and we ended up tied to a mooring on the north side of Hope Island, a WA state park north of Camano Island and inside Whidbey Island. As usual, we were the smallest boat in the moorage.
We tied to a mooring buoy, had lunch, and sat around. Then we took the dinghy and circumnavigated Hope Island. Then we sat around for a while. It was pretty quiet except for the F/A 18 Super Hornets buzzing around.
They’re cool. Anyway, it was quiet. The the VHF radio made some noise, which almost never happens anymore because nobody uses the radio. Everyone talks on their cell phones. Some guy was saying some stuff. It was all very weak and noisy, but then I heard “…kayakers in distress…” and I started paying attention. The water here is 55 degrees and for some reason there’s a lot of beginners in the area. It’s easy to get here, I guess. But if you fall in and panic you can die in about 15 minutes. If you don’t panic it takes slightly longer. 55 is cold. You can’t breathe.
So I called on the radio: “Kayakers in distress, TIDEPOOL. What is your location?”
Noisy static in reply “…swept away in the current…” and more noise.
“Kayakers in Distress, TIDEPOOL. Where are you?”
“TIDEPOOL, I’m not in a kayak,” clear as can be. “I’m watching…” …noise….”…lan spit….”
Kayakers in distress, TIDEPOOL. Say again your location.”
(noise)….”(inside) or (east side) noise “…ception Pass….” noise.
Deception pass is a wicked dangerous area with huge currents and whirlpools and kraken. It was three miles away. Nancy and I pulled the dinghy onboard, untied from the buoy and started north at 30 mph.
We left from A and ran to B and stopped. We had heard some radio traffic, but we can’t understand it while we’re running. Also, B is the first place where the current really matters.
“Kayaks in Distress, TIDEPOOL. Where are the kayaks in distress?”
Noise. Noisy noise. “…spit.” Noise.
So we headed for the pass. As we were climbing on plane, we heard a very clear call, so we stopped again at C. “Station calling TIDEPOOL, this is TIDEPOOL.”*
“TIDEPOOL, be advised that the people that live around here see a lot of kayaks in the water and call in a lot of false alarms.”
“Yeah, any idea who he’s talking about?”
“Did you hear the location?”
“I’ll keep looking then. TIDEPOOL out.”
Then we got a different call.
“TIDEPOOL, United States Coast Guard.”
So we talked to the Coast Guard for a while. They wanted all the details. We told them what we knew. The USCG didn’t know where Alan or Alain Spit was, either.
So we motored through some fishing boats and out through Deception Pass to D. There was very little current and no kayaks anywhere near the pass. As we accelerated back onto plane and turned around, two boats ran towards us from the northwest. One circled the island inside the pass and went back out, another passed us, then stopped and pulled next to us once we got back inside the pass.
“Did you find them?” they yelled. We hadn’t, of course. They’d heard our broadcast and came to help. So had the other boat, apparently. Then they took off.
There were two guys fishing from kayaks at E. They were fine and hadn’t seen anybody in trouble. While we were talking to them we got another call from the Coast Guard. No, we hadn’t learned anything new, but Nancy heard him say that the spit across from Hope Island is sometimes called Ala Spit. I didn’t understand that part, but Nancy did.
So we got up on plane and ran back to Hope Island. We heard some radio chatter on the way, but kept going. We didn’t see any kayaks in distress.
When we got back to Hope Island, there were four kayaks crossing over from the mainland (F). The water runs pretty good through the narrows, but it’s not a dangerous spot. There’s plenty of calm water on either side of the flow. It’s like a tide rip — you paddle across the flow, then upstream once you’re clear of the current. But we stopped and talked to the last guy anyway. He was actually in a bit of distress. He’d been fighting the current and didn’t think he was making progress. His buddy, 50 yards in front of him, yelled that they were fine and didn’t need any help. I told the guy that he was getting help anyway, because the Coast Guard was already involved and things needed a conclusion. So we dropped the dingy in the water and towed it to the last kayaker (like a water ski pickup). I told him to crawl into the dingy and wait there while we catch his buddy. The the coast guard called again. I told them we found some people to help, and we got a phone number to call once things settled down. Once we stopped talking to the USCG, we turned around and our new hopefully not contagious passenger was in the cockpit of TIDEPOOL, his kayak drifting away. So we turned back and captured his kayak (and his phone, which was in the bottom of the his kayak). They we started after his buddy who by now was making progress and was almost out of the current.
The buddy picked up speed. He didn’t want any help. So we followed him in for 15 minutes or so, then we stopped right off the beach, got our passenger back in his kayak, and watched him paddle the last 50 feet to shore.
So once everyone was on shore (G) – 4 guys total (two were way ahead of the other two) the Coast Guard called again on the radio. Switch to Channel 21A, number of people, what they were wearing, color of the boats, their condition, etc. Then he wanted to know the name of the boat that made the distress call. “I don’t know,” I said. “I think it was somebody on shore. The signal was very weak, then he stopped answering my calls.”
“Roger, TIDEPOOL, Coast Guard out.”
“I’m him. I’m the guy.” And he’s back. So now the USCG wanted to talk to the guy on shore.
Then the helicopter arrived. Cool.
The Coast Guard was busy talking to the on-shore guy on the radio (channel 21A), and I couldn’t hear him very well, so I called the Helicopter on 16, which was fun. He was about 200 feet directly above us.
“Coast Guard Helo, TIDEPOOL on 16.”
“TIDEPOOL, CG Helo.”
Did they see the guys on shore, did they see anyone else in the area, can I give them any more information, why are they still here, etc.
“We’re waiting to be cleared by base.”
“Coast Guard Helo, TIDEPOOL. Roger. Standing by on 16”
So then I called USCG on the phone and made sure we were done. Then we were done.
We went back to the mooring and had dinner. We’re still kerfuffled by the whole thing, because it was a waste and a mess but you don’t want people ignoring trouble, either. The only thing that might have saved it would have been if the guy on shore had called 911 in the first place then the response would have been managed by the Sheriff or USCG from the start. That would have been better. Also, if he had said the kayakers were crossing to Hope Island everyone would have know where that was.
By the way, the feature marked X on the chart is called Ala Spit in our thirty year old Marine Atlas, but it’s not listed as a place name in the index, so we didn’t find it. On modern charts, including our electronic charts, it’s called Ben Uri Spit. Just to make it all more stupider, the island just south of E on the chart (three miles away) is called Ben Uri Island. So that’s fun. Good luck in the next exact same rescue situation.
The next day we hiked on Hope Island. It’s a pretty place, if you like trees and flowers and stuff.