Hood River County Sheriff’s deputies had their mettle tested on the Fourth of July when rough conditions on the Columbia River made rescuing two men and a dog who were trapped on a capsized boat in the river exceedingly difficult... and dangerous.
Early in the afternoon of July 4, Marine Deputy Mike Anderson and Reserve Deputy Mike Renault of the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office responded to multiple calls from boaters at the Hood River Marina who reported they had seen a sailboat capsize in the marina basin.
By the time Anderson and Renault got to the water 12 minutes later, the watercraft had “got sucked out of the Marina and pulled to the confluence of the Hood River,” according to Anderson.
“The water level was about three feet above normal, which makes the current faster than normal,” he explained.
The deputies launched their own 24-foot motor boat to catch up with the 16-foot O’Day sailboat that was drifting down a choppy Columbia River, upside down, with Hood River resident Hahn Huang, the owner of the boat, and William Yang, of New York, and a large dog clinging to the keel of the overturned vessel. Anderson, who was captaining the boat, quickly caught up to the capsized sailboat, but the four- to five-foot swells and the sustained 20-m.p.h. wind gusts made the rescue anything but speedy.
“Normally we’d have someone swim out to us, but because of the swells and the wind that wasn’t an option,” he explained.
“It was pretty hairy out there,” Anderson added.
Not only that, Yang informed the deputies he was unable to swim. Also adding to the difficulty of the rescue were ropes trailing underwater from the sailboat’s downed rigging, which Anderson feared would get sucked into the boat’s propulsion system and leave everyone “dead in the water.”
The trailing ropes meant Anderson had to remain upstream of the downed craft while maneuvering his own vessel close enough so that Renault could grab the people and their pet and pull them to safety, but stay far enough away so the Sheriff’s vessel didn’t bump into the sailboat and knock the passengers into the water.
Anderson said he had to make multiple approaches and do “a lot of maneuvering” before Renault was finally able to pull the men and the dog off the boat.
“It felt like forever, but it was probably about 20 minutes,” Anderson said of the rescue.
The men were transported to shore, where they were treated and released for a knee laceration and hypothermia. Anderson noted as it happened, Hood River EMS were already in the area, dealing with a two-car accident near the Hood River Bridge.
The dog also made it out just fine and was tearing around the parking lot of the marina after the rescue.
Anderson and Renault then went to tow the sailboat to shore, which at that point had drifted almost all the way west to Wells Island. It was discovered to have extensive damage, including a mast that had snapped at the base.
“What happened was when he (the captain of the sailboat) went to turn on his motor, he forgot to unsheet the sail,” Anderson explained. “The sail caught air and flipped him over, which can happen in the blink of an eye.”
The boat may be in bad condition — Anderson believed it was totaled — but he was pleased everyone got out of the situation safely.
“It was hard,” Anderson said of the rescue. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years and this was the worst technical rescue I’ve done in quite some time.”