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“Thank God…and Thank God for Bomber Gear”
…I guess it started badly on Friday the 24th, the first day of my nine day vacation. After getting set up in our campsite, my wife and I set out to meet up with some friends and do some fishing. First stop was Frank and Frans for bait. I picked out some bunker and set it up on the scales. Then I went over to the refrigerator for some bloodworms so I could try to accumulate some sea mullet heads for the bait stash. When I swung open the fridge door the bottom of the door caught my big toenail and pulled it completely off. Ouch and bloody hell! Literally! Blood flew all over the place and you can imagine the pain. What a start to the vacation! The guy behind the counter asked my wife if I was accident prone and she said, not usually. Little were we to know.
Of course, the top of my big toe was very tender and wearing any shoes but flip-flops made it painful to walk. How was I ever going to make the hike to the point? Along about Monday things were starting to get a little better so I decided that I’d get up early on Tuesday morning, make the hike and fish the last of the ebb and the first of the flood tide.
I made it out to the point about 3:30, stuck my rod in a little, plastic sand spike I had brought along, then I pulled on my Bomber Gear dry-top over my waders. I had purchased the dry-top back in February for a couple of reasons. First, it keeps you absolutely dry. It has latex seals at the neck and wrists and a neoprene seal at the waist. You can stand on a bar or rock in crashing waves and stay comfortable. Second, it adds a huge safety factor to deep wading. If you get knocked down or step off deep the trapped air floats you. Little was I to know just how long it floats you but I was about to find out.
So, I finish gearing up and walk out on the bar. I was alone. Was the point ever weird that night. Very little breaking waves. Hardly anything was breaking on the south side. In addition it was a very dark night. No moon whatsoever. It was so calm that when you waded out to cast there were no breakers in front of you. Then when you turned around to walk back on the bar you could only tell where it was by the slick water. The waves breaking on the bar were not big enough to throw spray. No waves breaking, no other fishermen silhouetted against the sky, so dark I couldn’t see shore and could hardly make out the bar. I was having a pretty tough time keeping my bearings straight.
I made about four casts with nothing but a doggie to show for it. Then it happened. I waded out waist deep and made my cast. Then instead of walking straight back to where I was standing on the bar I suppose I veered to the west a little bit. In two steps I went from waist deep to arm-pit deep. Another step and I was floating! Somehow I had walked into a hole or slough instead of back into shallow water.There I was, probably a couple hundred yards off the beach, all alone, darker than pitch, swimming in water over my head. In addition when I stepped off I immediately lost all perspective of where I was at. Let me tell you when you’re chin level to the water in a black ocean on a black night you can’t see squat!
My first thought was, Man I’m in a bad situation. My second was to pray. The prayers of a desperate man are pretty simple. Lord help me! And Help me Lord was about it. But let me tell you it was fervent! My third thought was, I can’t die and leave my wife a widow, alone in North Carolina.
At first I tried to hold onto my rod and swim back to where I thought the bar was located. I guess I swam for maybe five minutes and never touched a toe to the bottom. The lifeguard style one-armed sidestroke was getting me nowhere but tired quickly.
I can’t do this, I thought. I’ll never make it. I’ve got to find a better way to swim. So I collected myself and weighed things out. I knew I was drifting to the southwest away from the point. An odd current for the south side of the point but I could tell from my earlier casts that was the way it was running. Thank God it was! I also knew from earlier things I had read that with a life-preserver, swimming on your back was the most efficient method. So I lined up the lighthouse to my right and ahead, the Frisco lights to my left and behind, flipped over on my back, lined up some stars so I could keep my bearings, tucked my rod under my wader belt and started swimming. I also noted the direction of the waves knowing that they would run towards shore.
I stroked along at a slow steady pace, keeping my feet aligned with a cluster of stars I had picked out and my head pointing in the same direction as the waves. I felt my strength returning. It’s amazing what a good shot of adrenaline can do for the vitality of a 54 year old desk jockey. All the while I was being kept afloat by the air trapped inside my waders and sealed dry-top. I kept praying my simple prayer and kept up the slow, steady swimming stroke. If I don’t tire out and if the air in my jacket holds up I might get through this, I thought. Not long after I started the back-stroke I felt my Fusion Magnum slip out of my belt. My favorite rod was gone. At the time it wasn’t a priority.
I swam for a long time. It seemed like hours Every few minutes I would try to touch. Finally, after I’m guessing twenty minutes I struck bottom. You can’t imagine the relief that swept over me. I waded about twenty yards and I was on the shore. The current had carried me down just short of the bird closure on south beach. I’d say it was about 4:40 when I stepped over my head. It was false dawn when I hit the shore, or somewhere around 5:10. I figure I swam for about a half-hour.
I stripped off my waders and dry-top. There may have been a quart of water in the legs of my waders and just a little in the sleeves of my jacket. Thank God for that jacket! It saved my life!
In the end I lost my Fusion Mag. That saddens me because for me $400 rods don’t grow on trees and I’m not sure when I’ll be able to replace it. But I’m alive! My grandchildren still have their Pop-Pop, my children their Dad, and most of all, I didn’t leave my wife a widow, alone in North Carolina.
Sorry for the long tale but it was a horrific experience. There’s a lot I can learn and I’m still thinking about that. I guess for everyone else my only words would be if you deep wade get a sealed dry top or wear an inflatable pfd. The fact that I stayed afloat is what kept me alive. That and the answer of a simple prayer by my good, sweet Lord.