Paddlers rescue man from river in Chelsea, Quebec

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by Mark Burgess on September 3, 2009

While dock spectators sit and watch

Linda Landry is disgusted with people.

Not all people but the ones who watched placidly from dry land while a sailboat operator was drowning 100 metres off shore in the Gatineau River at Farm Point in Chelsea, Quebec.

“This man would have slipped away silently if we hadn’t been there,” she said.

Landry was paddling in her ocean canoe with her husband, Reg, and friend, Kirsten Hanson, on Aug. 23 when a man on shore alerted them to the drowning man.

Linda saw a sailboat anchored in the river, an overturned kayak nearby, and what looked like a ball of hair from where she was. Getting a bit closer she saw a man clinging to the kayak with one arm, swimming against the current with the other, not making any headway in the five metres of river separating him and his sailboat.

“I realized when I looked at his face, right into his eyes, that he was in distress,” Linda said. Rescuing him in her ocean canoe was no simple task, however.

A few different groups of people were on the docks on shore but none offered any assistance in the rescue. Linda said there were also motorboats and a Sea-doo – equipment far superior to what she had.

Linda, a retired sports administrator and experienced paddler, and Reg Landry were each in their own ocean canoes, while Hanson was in a kayak – not ideal rescue crafts.

Hanson got to the man first and, using the calm tone she’d perfected as a flight attendant, told the man she would give him her lifejacket to hold onto while she secured his kayak to the sailboat. The man didn’t want to let go.

When Linda approached him he latched onto her Ahma – a detachable arm that juts out the canoe’s right side – with both arms and legs, bringing it underwater and taking the boat with it.

“We may have been the rescuers but at one point I needed rescuing,” Linda said. “He brought the Ahma underwater, which is really, really hard to do.”

When her canoe sunk to a 45 degree angle, Linda thought she was going in too.

Reg, whose Ahma is on the left side, came around and the man was able to put one arm on each boat. This brought the canoes’ noses together but with Reg paddling forward and Linda drawing sideways, they managed to get the man to the sailboat’s ladder.

“I was worried he wasn’t strong enough to make the transfer,” Linda said.

He managed to get from the canoe to the ladder but struggled climbing it before eventually sliding into the boat. When he tried to stand his legs crumpled and he fell over.

“I said, ‘You have hypothermia, you’re blue, get out of those clothes,’” Linda said.

The man followed her advice, thanking them and assuring them he wasn’t leaving his sailboat. He was between 50 and 65, Linda said, physically fit with a ponytail. She never got his name.

It was getting dark. When Linda turned back to the shore to seek extra help, no one was there except for the kids swimming.

“We had no one to pass the torch to and the man on the dock had buggered off,” she said.

Exhausted and needing to get to shore before dark, Linda asked the kids, who said their parents weren’t home, to keep an eye on the man and to call 9-1-1 if he fell in the water. She asked them to have their parents check on him when they got home.

Linda said she would wear a lifejacket on the water from now on, rather than simply carrying one, and she would keep a line for tying and a board for rescuing with her at all times.

What struck her most about the experience, though, was the indifference of the people on the shore who were better equipped than she was for the rescue.

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Chelsea, Quebec paddlers rescue man from river | Lowdown Online « Sail Boating
09.03.09 at 9:03 am

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