Boating tragedy can strike in a second

Larry Woody • Jan 25, 2018 at 9:30 AM

Two recent drownings of experienced fishermen hammered home a grim reminder of how tragedy can strike in a split-second to any boater, and I speak from experience.

My long-time fishing buddy Bob Sherborne came within a heartbeat of drowning a few years ago when he fell out of our boat on Old Hickory Lake.

Sherborne, like the two recent drowning victims, is a veteran boater with over 40 years of experience on the water. He had never had an accident until that near-fatal morning.

The same goes for the two fishermen who recently died:

One was a professional angler who was fishing in a tournament on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee when his boat struck a wave and he was tossed overboard.

The other was a veteran boater and an advisor with Tennessee Tech’s fishing team, who fell into Center Hill Lake while fishing alone.

It only takes a second for an accident to strike, and it can happen to anyone.

This is what happened in the case of Sherborne:

We had spent a cold, blustery early-spring morning fishing on Old Hickory Lake and after deciding to call it a day we puttered back to the Station Camp Creek ramp.

I climbed out walked up the parking lot to get the truck and back the trailer down for loading.

I happened to glance back, and saw our boat scooting across the lake – with nobody in it.

Far back in the boat’s wake, I saw Sherborne frantically thrashing.

He was over 100 yards out from shore in the deep, cold water, and wasn’t wearing a life jacket. Like me, he had shucked it off when we got to the ramp. Because of the cold weather, he was bundled in heavy clothing, which when soaked was like an anchor.

There was no way I could get to him, and no way he could remain afloat.

Miraculously, there was one other boat in the otherwise-deserted cove. The fisherman saw Sherborne fall overboard and immediately rushed over and hauled him aboard. He saved his life.

If that boat hadn’t been there, or if the operator hadn’t immediately responded, Sherborne would have drowned. He had already gone under once, and couldn’t have remained afloat another minute in the heavy clothing.

Later, after thawing out and calming down from his near-fatal experience, Sherborne related what happened:

After dropping me off at the ramp he puttered back out in the cove to make some adjustments to the outboard motor.

He was leaning over, off-balance, when the motor suddenly gunned. The boat surged forward and swerved sharply, pitching Sherborne overboard.

In a split-second he found himself in the deep, freezing water as the boat puttered away from him.

Sherborne was lucky – or blessed. Someone was close enough to rush to his rescue at the last second.

Ever since then, we keep our life jackets on until we’re out of the boat and on dry land. We also don’t risk bad weather – if the water is too choppy we stick close to shore; even a sturdy, wide-hulled bass boat is susceptible to big waves.

We learned a valuable lesson, and we know how fortunate Sherborne was to get a second chance after his mistake. Unfortunately, not everyone does.

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