This past weekend I attended the annual conference of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio (OWO). As the current president of OWO, I'm involved with the planning of most of the organization's activities. During the annual meeting, conference planners seek out various outdoor pursuits that represent the area of the conference location well. The conference was held in Athens, which is just south of the Hocking Hills Region (cliffs, caves and other geological wonders). So hiking was high on the must-do list, with hikes being guided by Ohio Department of Natural Resources employees, such as division managers.
The hike I chose to join was also joined by an ODNR Division of Watercraft officer. He was scheduled to do a kayaking demonstration later in the day. At the trailhead, during introductions, I noticed the watercraft officer was wearing a low-profile, inflatable life vest. I thought that the upcoming creek crossings must be really wild or the officer simply forgot to take it off from some prior outing. I had to ask. He informed me that it was National Wear Your Life Jacket To Work Day, which kicks off National Safe Boating Week. A large number of hikers and campers are also involved in boating, whether it be a kayak, canoe or powerboat. If you have spent an ample time on the water, it's likely you have a "close call" story. Following is mine and how life jackets saved a few lives.
The water's surface was not glass-like, but the waves were easily negotiable for our 14-foot aluminum, deep-vee fishing boat. I turned our craft away from the shoreline we were following and headed across the open section of the reservoir. The fishing action had slowed, so we (my wife, a friend and I) decided to switch to the opposing side of the lake, traveling through a "No Wake" zone.
As we traversed the no wake zone, it seemed like boats were coming out of nowhere. Many were pleasure boats cruising towards the buoys marking the no wake zone. We were on the calm side of the buoys where I thought the lake crossing would be a safe one for our modest boat.
Then I saw it coming — a black ski boat speeding our way and not slowing down. I told my partners to look at the idiot in the black boat, could he not read the "No Wake" lettered on the buoys? The boat continued coming. At the last second, the ski boat swerved away and created a huge wake and barely missing my boat. The bow of my boat dove into the hole created by the ski boat like a nose-diving duck. The three of us knew that we were in serious trouble and began grabbing gear. And then the boat rolled over.
The three of us were clinging to the capsized boat, waving at other boaters. I could see the ski boat that caused us to flip and the driver looked at me as he drove away while laughing, likely intoxicated. We were pulled from the water and our boat pulled to shore to flip it right side up by a courteous boater. Once back to the boat ramp, angry but happy no one drowned, we assessed the value of the tackle and other items that were lost and would never be retrieved. Although, the most valuable items we had in the boat that day were not lost — the three life jackets we were wearing that I still have today — 25 years later.