Tuesday, March 9, 2010
The Ten Mile Rule
I received a nice message recently, from one my relatives, commenting about the blog and my writing. He had just read through some of the archive posts, and it brought to his memory a time that we had fished together and were caught in a strong thunderstorm. I concurred with him that the story was worth telling again, because it serves as a good reminder to all of us, about the dangers of lightning, and boating safety.
I figure that I was about twelve years old, when Uncle Arnie decided to leave the dock in the 16ft Alumacraft with a 10 horse Johnson, and take my cousin and I out to Bald Island. "Old Baldy" as it was commonly called was a well known spot for summertime angling. The deep cooler water was a haven for Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass, and numerous panfish. Pelican Lake is about 9 miles long and 4 miles wide at it's longest points, and Old Baldy lies just about in the middle. Traveling across a body of water that size with a small boat, can sometimes be quite an adventure, and on this afternoon it would be one we would never forget.
The island runs from north to south, and it has a nice bay with good weed cover on the east side, when the wind blows from the west it can be a great spot to fish. We made it out to Baldy and pulled around to the east side. To tell the truth I can't remember if we caught any fish that day, but I'm sure we did. It wasn't very often that you would make the trip out to Baldy without catching a few good fish. The large rock formations on the island are quite different from the rest of the lake and it always felt as if you had traveled to a Canadian shield lake each time we went there. Our boat was positioned in the bay on the east side and the height of the island had to be at least 35 feet high at it's tallest points. Because of that, it was easy to lose sight of the west end of the lake and the approaching weather.
The first rumbles of thunder were heard, and uncle Arnie knew that we had to pack it in and head back to the cabin. What he didn't know was how fast the storm was traveling down the lake, and what we would be in for next. Our boat came around the corner of the island and was greeted by big waves and wind. We held on tight and made our way across the water bouncing off of each whitecap like an Alfonso Soriano hop out in left field at Wrigley. One side note; I thought we got rid of the hopping when Sammy left town? Seasons change but the problems remain the same. Anyway, back to the story.
The lightning and thunder and rain began to intensify, and it seemed as though we still had a long, long, way to go. There isn't to many places to hold onto in a 16ft aluminum boat in a thunderstorm, so I'm sure that I was holding on to the side rails of that boat, when I felt the first crack on the top of my head. Remember when the Juniors would get their new class rings in High School? They would turn them upside down and smack them on the freshmen and sophomores heads. That is exactly what I felt and yes I experienced that too! I was wearing a baseball cap, probably one in Cubbies blue, and the fastener on the top was obviously metal. What I didn't know until just the other day, was that uncle Arnie saw the sparks coming off the top of my head like a sparkler on the fourth of July. The lightning was actually hitting the water behind the boat, and luckily for us not contacting us directly, or I wouldn't be sitting here, writing this story!
We eventually made it back to the dock and I don't ever remember a time in my life when I was more frightened, except when the doctor came into the hospital room and told my Dad the devastating news, that he had lung cancer. The bottom line to all of this is that life is too short, and we don't need to make it any shorter. Since then technology has given us many tools to help make our time on the water much safer. We have weather radios with up to the minute forecasts and warnings, and GPS units to help us in fog to guide us back to the boat landings. Our boats are built with safety in mind. Engines are much more reliable. Life vests have been greatly improved in both comfort, and safety. Marine radios are affordable and improved. Cell phones are now reliable and work in most places. We are lucky to have all these great tools available to us.
So take a few minutes to check your boat this spring and make sure you have all of your safety equipment up to date. First aid kits, a whistle, flairs, a fire extinguisher, an anchor to name a few. Check the regulations with the Coast Guard, or your states DNR website. When you're out on the water, remember that lightning can travel up to 10 miles from a thunderstorm, so just because it's not raining over here doesn't mean that you are safe! Every year I read about someone on a golf course, or a kid at a baseball field, or a person in a parking lot, that is struck by lightning. Don't become a statistic. You can always fish tomorrow, unless you're not here, because you tried to make one more cast before the storm. Have a great Spring fishing season! Catch lots of fish, and Cast Across America!