We patrolled Skinner's on Saturday, July 4th and it was especially busy. Our patrol group included Tom Wilkins, Pete Van Slyke, Jim Schulte, Sarah and I.
Yesterday, as we were about to wrap up a good, long day of rescues that included a successful 1-hour effort by Pete and Tom to unpin a canoe, and head back up river to the takeout, a green canoe with three men came through upper Skinner's Falls and tipped over. It was a notable moment because two of the three men stated that they could not swim, and none of them were wearing life-jackets.
Watching as they went over, Tom Wilkins and I each paddled directly toward them. Tom got his canoe bow right next to the man who had been under water, raising his head just enough to catch a breath and swallow some water. He said "I can't swim" and looked exhausted. Tom slide alongside and helped the man (Vince) grab onto his boat. From there Tom brought Vince back to shore in the large eddy below the rapids, on the NY side. Pete and Jim helped the third man make it back to land.
I went for the second paddler who was also going under. When he saw and heard me shouting for him to grab my kayak, he lunged up and started trying to climb up and hold on to get air. We noticed that in one hand he had a very nice digital SLR camera with zoom lens, which by then had been fully submerged and was clearly bulky. Redirecting him to hang on to the back of my kayak, I brought him over to where Vince was.
Once safely sitting back on shore together, Nick said he had just taken his lifejacket off above the falls. Though it made little sense, it was important to hear his logic and try to understand how some people perceive the rapids and river. I talked with both Nick and Vince for a time about the importance of lifejackets whenever on the water, that all of us (NCSP) always wear our lifejackets, and that people with their lifejackets on properly don't drown. They were deeply appreciative of our group helping them. It was clear they had gone through a significant event that each felt had nearly ended their life.
For this reason, we labeled the rescue a "near drowning." Afterwards, speaking with the NPS rangers back at the kiosk, including Paddy, and the chief ranger Keith Winslow, they heard the story and agreed it was a near drowning.
We had written up the entire day of interactions, rescues and boatovers, just moments before their green canoe went over. As usual, the minute you think you're done something major happens.
In closing, I can honestly say that over the past two weekends, paddling Friday and Saturday each week, I've had two of the busiest days I can recall in my 15+ years on the river. Friday, June 26th from ZG to Corwin/Corwen Farms Rob and Julia Post, Tom and Madison Candela, and I dealt with the most boatovers I've ever seen in Shohola, all hard boats including livery canoes and kayaks. And yesterday, Saturday, July 4th, Skinner's was packed on water and land all day long.
It is good to be out on the water again, patrolling with friends, and to see people out and enjoying the river. I'm sharing this for all our patrol friends who can't yet get out to join us, as they take good care of themselves and their extended families. You are missed and we look forward to the time when we can all again be together.
See you on the river!
- Marc Magnus, NCSP Commodore