Woods and Waters An outdoor blog by John McCoy


NOAA photo

A new report from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration reveals that fishermen suffer more deaths from lightning than any other group.

Since 2006, 26 people anglers have died after being struck. Campers came in second on the list with 15 deaths, closely followed by boaters with 14.

Interestingly enough, 82 percent of those who died were male.

NOAA released the study to mark the kickoff of National Lightning Safety Awareness Week.


The capsized boat (Fla. Fish & Wildlife photo)

Sadly, one member of the eight-person fishing party apparently did not survive. From the Associated Press:

MARATHON, Fla. (AP) — Four hours into a family fishing trip, rough waves flipped a 22-foot boat off the Florida Keys, tossing eight people overboard. Seven of them, including a 4-year-old girl, survived by clinging to their capsized vessel and a small blue cooler for almost 20 hours, suffering exhaustion, jellyfish stings and hypothermia.
A 79-year-old woman, the matriarch of the group, was missing and presumed drowned.
“When the will to live kicks in, human beings can do amazing things,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Nick Ameen said. x
Those rescued were taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
The family left Layton in the Middle Keys around 8 a.m. Saturday to fish in less-than-ideal conditions. It was raining, seas topped 7 feet and winds were whipping up to 38 mph. After they anchored 3½ miles off the island chain, two waves hit suddenly, capsizing the vessel.
The women grabbed the girl and the 2½-foot cooler. One of the men tried to rescue his mother, but she slipped through his grasp and disappeared into the water.
Almost immediately, the two groups — the three women and girl and three men — drifted apart.
Nearly a day later, they were rescued when a commercial fisherman spotted the men Sunday morning and alerted the Coast Guard, which found the women and the blue cooler several miles away in the warm waters.
The women said the boat turned over so quickly that there wasn’t time to grab life jackets for anyone except the child, said Kendra Graves, a seaman with the Coast Guard.
Florida law requires children 6 or under on a boat 26 feet or less to wear a life jacket if the boat is moving. If the craft is anchored or docked, they don’t have to wear a life vest.
As the weather improved Sunday, fishing boat captain David Jensen headed out with customers to catch live bait. Off in the distance, he saw a large object floating in the water.
As he turned the boat to get closer look, he saw a man waving. At first, he said, he thought there was only one person holding on to the sunken boat, its bow protruding just a few feet out of the water. When he got closer, he realized there were three men.
“I tried to get them to swim to the boat, but they said they didn’t know how to swim,” Jensen said. “Then I had the mate throw them life jackets. One guy put on the life jacket and swam to the boat. The other two guys wouldn’t get off the boat. … They said they didn’t know how to swim.”
One of Jensen’s customers jumped in and swam over. He tied the boats together, and helped the other two men, one at a time, back to Jensen’s boat.
“They were exhausted. One guy overnight had lost his mother,” Jensen said. “He was very visibly upset, which was a little tough because he was the one who spoke the best English.”
Zaida San Jurjo Gonzalez died. Her son, Jorge Alejo Gonzalez, survived along with his wife, Tomasa Torres, the elderly woman’s daughter, Elena G. Gonzalez, and her boyfriend, Juglar Riveras.
Also rescued were Jorge and Elena Gonzalez’s uncle, Jose Miguel De Armas, his wife, Yunisleidy Lima Tejada, and their 4-year-old daughter, Fabiana De Armas Lima. All are from South Florida. The other survivors’ ages ranged from 30 to 62.
After the men were found shortly before 9 a.m., the fishermen called the Coast Guard, who found the women. They men were hanging on to the floating cooler and started waving and yelling for help when they saw the Coast Guard boat.
All of the boaters were soon reunited, wrapped in blankets and treated for shock and hypothermia.
“They were all pretty happy to see each other,” Graves said.
It wasn’t clear if the boaters were aware of a small-craft advisory that had been posted early Saturday.
“They shouldn’t have been out there,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife spokesman Robert Dube, whose agency is investigating. “It was nasty from the get-go.”

Man towing boat upside-down arrested for DUI

I can hear the guy now: “But officer, I only had one or tee martoonis.”

From the Associated Press:

BETHANY BEACH, Del. (AP) — Delaware Fish and Wildlife officials have charged a Pennsylvania man with driving under the influence after he continued to drive his truck after the boat and trailer he was towing flipped upside down.
Forty-year-old Eric A. Willis of Avondale, Pa., was also charged with resisting arrest and numerous traffic offenses. He is being held on $5,000 cash bail.
Authorities tell The News Journal of Wilmington that Willis was removing his pontoon from the water at Holts Landing and was towing it on Whites Neck Road when it hit a parked car and overturned.
He was eventually stopped by state park rangers and other authorities.

Here’s the News Journal article. It has a lot more of the absurd — and amusing — details.

‘Flying’ sturgeon strike again

Florida’s sturgeon must be reading silver carp press clippings.

Why else would they suddenly start leaping out of the water to clobber speeding boaters? It’s happened five times already this year, and the latest victim suffered a broken leg.

Silver carp have gotten a lot of media play, largely for their highly telegenic tendency to leap clear of the water when a boat goes speeding by. Perhaps sturgeon have had the same tendency all along, but now it’s getting media attention.

Tina Fletcher of Cross City, Fla., certainly got more ink than she wanted after she got her leg broken by a leaping Suwanee River sturgeon. The full story is here, in the Gainesville Sun.

It might be some time before authorities give us a final assessment of what caused last weekend’s boating accident on southern West Virginia’s New River.

These things are clear, though:

Two men are dead and another is missing. Searchers have recovered two bodies, those of 23-year-old Paul Malone of Lester and 49-year-old Sam Acord of Richmond, Va. The search for the other man, Dean Halsey of Lester, is scheduled to resume today.

Two men survived. Jeff Acord of Sandstone and Daniel Malone of Lester swam to safety after the 14-foot jon boat capsized 15 miles downstream from Bluestone Dam.

Boating practices empoyed by the victims were not safe. The Coast Guard rates the carrying capacity of that size jon boat at three people and 350 pounds. Clearly, the boat was overloaded. What’s more, none of the men were wearing life jackets.

“This would not be  atagedy if all those men would have had on life jackets,” said Jeff West, chief ranger for the National Park Service’s New River Gorge National River.

Sadly, this sort of accident occurs with some regularity on the New, a river known for its swift currents and dangerous rapids.

I hope something like this never happens again, but I fear it will.

Rafters at the Gauley's Pillow Rock Rapids

This post might seem out of place on a blog that primarily deals with hunting, fishing and wildlife, but it struck me pretty close to home.

Two whitewater rafters have drowned in the past few days on West Virginia’s Gauley River. Their deaths confirm that no matter how commercialized an adventure sport gets, there’s still an element of danger.

The body of the first paddler, a woman, was found under an undercut rock in the river’s Iron Curtain Rapids. The body of the second victim, a man, was found in a rocky shoal near Fingernail Rapids.

Both deaths had the earmarks of classic “entrapment” scenarios. Essentially, those occur when an arm or a leg or the paddler’s entire body gets wedged between rocks. The force of the current holds the victim under and he/she drowns.

Entrapment drownings are more of a problem on the Gauley when flows are relatively low. This fall’s flows have been nice and high. I guess this goes to show that even when conditions are perfect, bad stuff can happen.

In my younger days, I greatly enjoyed whitewater canoeing and kayaking. My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims’ families.

boatsteps.jpgRalph Ireland might be 88 years old, but he thinks about new things.

Ireland, a fisherman from Mankato, Minn., was having a hard time launching his boat. He couldn’t keep his footing on the trailer’s wet rails.

He invented a pair of remedies: The Slide Step and the Swing Step, zinc-plated steel running boards that bolt to the rails. The steps have a non-skid coating to provide dry, sure footing.

Read Ireland’s full story in the Mankato Free Press. Check out his inventions here.

boatsunset.jpgDivision of Natural Resources conservation officers will be keeping an especially sharp eye out for drunk boaters during the June 26-28 weekend.

It’s all part of a national enforcement effort known as Operation Dry Water. DNR officers will conduct more patrols, breathalyzer tests and checkpoints on waters throughout the state.

“There will be arrests this weekend, and some boaters will face the consequences of boating under the influence,” said Lt. Tim Coleman, the DNR’s Boating Safety Coordinator. “But we’d much rather arrest someone than to have to tell their friends and family they’re never coming back.”

Be warned, folks. Have fun, but stay “dry.”

A 2009 guide to boat buying

bassboat.jpgBuy a boat? In this economy?

Strange as it seems, people seem to be thinking that way. With interest rates and fuel prices running lower than normal, and with dealers eager to move inventory, anglers and pleasure boaters might think it’s time to start shopping.

Phil Keeter, president of the Marine Retailers Association of America, told the Associated Press there’s a glut of boats in dealers’ showrooms right now. Keeter said he’s seeing some improvement in buyer traffic, primarily in the area of less expensive boats.

Keeter might be right. But whenever I’m tempted to go boat-shopping, I heed the words of a boat-owning friend: “The two happiest days of any boat owner’s life are the day he buys his boat and the day he sells it.”

That same friend told me how to know precisely when it’s time to buy:

“Go to your bathroom and turn on the shower, full-blast cold,” he said. “Strip down buck naked, stand under the water, and start feeding $20 bills down the drain. If that still feels good after 30 minutes, you’re ready to buy a boat.”