A canoeist who risked choppy waters off White Rock’s West Beach Wednesday night had luck on his side after his vessel capsized south of White Rock pier.
With rescue crews en route, the middle-aged man was pulled from the water by a Good Samaritan who happened to have a boat nearby.
“He was very lucky, extremely lucky, that this other guy was in the area and picked him up,” said Sig Kristensen, a member of the Crescent Beach Coast Guard Auxiliary Unit 5 team who raced to the scene.
The incident was reported around 8:15 p.m. June 29. Police and fire crews responded to the waterfront area at the foot of Bay Street, as did paramedics. The Canadian Coast Guard’s hovercraft was also tasked out, after word of a second overturned craft, but was diverted to another incident after White Rock firefighters confirmed no other vessels were in distress.
Kristensen estimated the man was in the water for about 10 minutes before help arrived; he was in the citizen’s dinghy by the time the auxiliary team was able to get there.
“It took us a little longer than normal to get there, because it was a good four-foot chop,” Kristensen said.
The auxiliary team assessed the man on the water before he was transported to shore for further assessment by paramedics.
Kristensen did not know why the canoeist had set out, but speculated it was likely to check crab traps. He noted a White Rock man who took a similar risk in April 2001 paid for the choice with his life.
The risks taken by rescue crews were highlighted earlier Wednesday, when search-and-rescue efforts ended in tragedy with the drowning death of a volunteer near Creston, B.C.
“It just kind of brings it home – that safety’s always an issue,” Kristensen said. “You keep that in the back of your mind.”
The White Rock incident that evening was the local auxiliary’s first June water rescue.
Kristensen said boaters can also learn from an incident May 18, in which three people had to be rescued from an 18-foot boat after a mechanical failure caused the vessel to start taking on water near Point Roberts.
None of the three men onboard were wearing lifejackets, and the battery of the cellphone they used to call for help was near-empty.
“They were probably up to their knees in water when we got there, and they still didn’t have lifejackets on,” Kristensen said.
Crescent Beach and Point Roberts auxiliary crews were alerted to the distress call just before 7 p.m. The hovercraft was also tasked out, as was a helicopter.
No one was injured, however, one man in his 50s was taken to hospital due to a pre-existing medical condition.
Kristensen said lessons others can take from the experience are to always wear lifejackets on the water, don’t wait to call for help if you run into trouble and ensure communications equipment is in good working order before setting out.
“You can go out on the water 100 times and nothing happens. That one time when something does happen, that’s what all the safety preparation’s for,” he said.