Capsized and Alone

June 22, 1999

Tuesday - in the am at low tide (6 am), in a two man canoe, I set about across the harbor to the point. The point was all I could see through the thick morning fog. After landing, I set up a temporary camp and spent the morning exploring the beaches. Around 11 am, the fog started the burn off, so I ate lunch, packed everything back up and set off to an island off in the distance. I was in Bunker's Harbor, and I think I was heading for Big Black Ledge, a little over two miles offshore. I launched at 11:30 and made it out of the cove with little trouble. At around 12:00 I noticed that I was heading toward the midway breakers. The swells were better than three feet, and they were breaking almost three times that, from what I could tell. To avoid these was imperative, and I did what I could to steer away, but I was still being driven toward them. I think in a moment of panic, I was trying to turn around, and got caught between two swells and flipped over.


I checked the time, 12:15 pm. I panicked a minute or so, but was able to force myself to calm down. Fortunately, I was wearing my life preserver. I tried a couple times to right the canoe, but was unable. After a minute to catch my breath, I was finally able to right the canoe, but it was impossible to empty it, so I did not even try. Amazingly, my forty-two pound frame pack was floating! I remembered the compass, whistle, and thermometer tied to the left shoulder strap and grabbed them. I checked the temperature, 45 ºF. I was not able to tie them to myself, so I clenched the whistle in my teeth, and threw the compass and thermometer away.


I made a very concerted effort to calm down and control my breathing, and proceeded to swim toward shore, pulling along the sunken canoe, for it was still floating at the surface. I just kept kicking. Every time that I stopped, I would start to feel cold, or later, the cramps in my legs. Every couple of minutes, I would blow an S-O-S (•••– – –•••) on my whistle, until I could no longer hold the whistle in my teeth, and I lost it in the ocean. I prayed to Jehovah that someone had heard it. I wished I had a boat horn. I wished I had a flare gun. I wished I had a radio or a phone. However, I had none of these things, so I stopped wishing. I think it was about 1:45 I lost the whistle. I kept kicking and praying. I thought of Amanda, my girlfriend at the time, and I thought of Mom. I cried, and kept kicking, I knew I could not give up.


About 2:30, I saw a car on the shore road. I could see the sun reflecting off the windshield. I thought I saw a person there, and I yelled out across the water, and then waved my canoe paddle at them. The car drove away, without any sign that the person had seen me. I kept kicking and hoping they had seen me.


At 3:05, I got ‘into’ the boat, and with the idea of making a flag, started cutting a strip out of my white shirt. Then, the shaking started. I shook so hard I almost lost my knife, but then I remembered I had tied it to my wrist.


At 3:10, the shaking was unbearable, I could not even hold my shirt or the knife, and I nearly sliced myself open trying to close the knife. Then I heard a low rumble, and looked to my left to see the approaching lobster boat, “Melissa II” I waved my paddle and collapsed into more shaking. Dana B Rice and some other men of the “Melissa II” reached out and pulled my gear and myself on board at 3:15 pm. I had been in the water at 45 ºF for three hours.

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© 2012-2019 by Benjamin Jerew