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Friday, March 23 News

Letter: Overturned boater thanks rescuers, and warns 'Don't be like me. Be prepared'

Instead of my obituary, this is my letter of thanks.

I was on the water on April 3 in an open-water rowing shell, which differs from a kayak by using oars for power and stability, nothing like a kayak paddle. It was a good day to row, not too cold, because I was constantly moving. There was little wind, no chop. I fell into the water because I failed to catch (water with) one of my oars properly, essentially pulling with no resistance, and my momentum carried me into the water.

It was cold. Not like cold air which takes time to cause numbing. My hands became numb instantly. Normally I could have gotten back onto my boat, but my hands wouldn't grip.

I had a life jacket on, but I bought it several years ago, never used it, and when I pulled expecting it to inflate, it didn't. Reason, a CO2 cartridge was missing.

I had a back-up life jacket in a pouch on the boat. Only problem, when fingers don't work, there is no way to get access.

Luckily my boat is also a flotation device, but it was tough to hold on, so I wedged my left arm into the storage netting, to at least stay with the boat. This also kept my head above water when I lost consciousness. The last thing I remember is the green No. 7 channel marker. Everyone has seen the photo and read what happened next.

Landon Storrs saw my boat and was curious enough to look more closely, and I am amazed at her quick action in alerting Travis Herman, who acted quickly to get me out of the water. Time is critical with hypothermia, and those two really made a difference. Thank you both.

Thanks also to the Fairfield emergency responders, who literally saved my life, and to staff in Bridgeport Hospital intensive care unit. They really performed, getting me from near death at 85 degrees, to a nice warn 98.6. Also, a special thanks to the security guard, who, by good detective work, identified me. Not an easy task. I had no ID with me or with the boat. I am very grateful to all.

Lessons learned: Know the water temperature; if not prepared for a spill, stay off the water; check safety equipment, meaning actually use it so you know how it works and that it will work; carry ID, leave a "flight" plan so someone knows where you plan to be. This is the start of the boating season. Don't be like me. Be prepared.

And in desperate times, prayer helps. I carry a prayer to St. Jude, and was asking for help when I passed out, then woke up in the hospital. It worked. Thanks also to the someone up there who was looking out for me.

Bill Sapone