A tugboat crew was in the right place at the right time as they rescued a pair of kayakers from frigid ocean waters off the coast of central Vancouver Island Wednesday night.
And the rescue may have been critically delayed if not for a worker calling in sick.
It happened around 7 p.m. A two-person crew from Chemainus-based Jones Marine Group was on their way back to dock when the captain spotted a faint light in the water between Dodd Narrows and Round Island, east of Cedar.
“He couldn’t figure out what it was, he couldn’t distinguish it,” dispatcher Randy Hughes told CHEK News Thursday. “The deckhand opened the door to see if he could get a better look and he heard someone call for help.”
The light turned out to be a headlamp, worn by a man floating in the water whose kayak had capsized. A woman kayaking with him was still in her vessel, but the situation was quickly worsening in the strong currents.
“His arm was on it, trying to swim, trying to get it into safety,” said Hughes. “The tide was running fairly strong and they weren’t making much progress.”
Far from shore and with the sun having already set, the pair, who had also called 911 for help from the Canadian Coast Guard, were trying to get the tug’s attention.
The crew headed for the pair and pulled them onto the vessel at around 7:15 p.m., providing them with dry clothing as they took them to shore.
“[The captain] said when they got there, they pulled him out right away and he said that the fellow was really exhausted, used a lot of energy,” said Hughes.
The kayakers were cold but otherwise said to be uninjured, and were released into the care of emergency responders once they were back on solid ground.
Coast Guard auxiliary vessels from Nanaimo and Ladysmith were dispatched to help, but were stood down when the tug crew confirmed they had been rescued, according to the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Victoria.
If not for the man’s headlamp, and for the fact that the tug happened to be in the area by a stroke of luck, things could have gone worse, said Jones Marine Group owner Daryl Jones.
“Part of the story that’s kind of interesting is the fact that we had a crew member call in sick, so we couldn’t man the boat that night,” Jones told CHEK News.
That meant the Sea Imp XII had to head back to its home port, and that’s when it encountered the pair of kayakers.
The company commended the crew’s vigilance in heading toward the faint light, saying they did “everything they were supposed to do” in the situation.
“It was good timing, I think, that they were going by,” said Hughes. “We’ve helped boats that have broken down. This was a different circumstance, they were quite a ways off-shore.”