ALLPHIN: Safe boating is no accident

Don Allphin

Herald Correspondent

Visitors to Lake Powell last week saw sustained winds above 30 miles per hour and gusts upwards of 50. When the winds hit on Wednesday and Sunday, many boaters became stranded for upwards of a day or had difficulties loading their boats using the new, unprotected boat ramp at Bullfrog Marina. For much of those two days, even if harbor officials had known where the stranded boaters were, rescue missions couldn't have been considered until the winds and waves subsided. Three boats involved in The Bass Federation (TBF) fishing tournament over the weekend failed to report back to the weigh in and were reported as MIAs until late in the evening on Sunday.

Steve Christensen of Castle Dale, one of the anglers who failed to return on time, shared his experience via telephone.

"We were about 30 miles or so north of Bullfrog and in that area the winds were light and very manageable," Christensen said. "We knew there was a storm in the forecast so we planned to head back towards Bullfrog at 11:00 a.m. just to be safe (winds were predicted to begin between 12 and 2 p.m.)"

When winds come from the south, the area between Moki and Knowles Canyon is known locally as the "washing machine," a narrow gauntlet in which waves don't dissipate, but rather bounce off the steep canyon walls on both sides of the channel. As the winds build, the waves follow suit and instead of creating large "rollers" going in one direction, the surface is churned in several directions making it extremely difficult to navigate.

"We were catching fish so we stayed too long in our area and when we began our trip back down the lake we soon realized our mistake," he said. "When we moved through the lower part of Good Hope Bay we were already hitting some very significant waves. And, when we reached Knowles Canyon we knew we were in trouble."

Christensen was in a shallow-hulled bass boat built to take on large waves but not necessarily to keep the occupants of the boat dry in the process. So, when his boat couldn't stay on plane (run across the tops of the waves), he was forced to slow down and with the bow up in the air literally plowed through the huge waves and confused water.

"Sprays of water battered us constantly as we inched our way south," Christensen continued. "We kept thinking we should pull into a canyon off the main channel and wait out the storm so eventually we entered Hansen Creek Canyon to get some relief from the wind. Much to my chagrin, however, my partner for the day had gotten wet and had developed hypothermia and needed assistance in a hurry."

The two found another group of stranded boaters/campers in Hansen Creek and so Christensen decided to get his fishing partner, Clint Martinez off the boat, into some dry clothes, and out of the incessant wind. After finding enough of a cell signal to notify tournament organizers of their location, they waited out the storm with the other stranded boaters while Martinez tried to get dry and warm.

Finally, late in the evening the wind changed direction which allowed Christensen to make it back to the dock. Martinez, however chose to stay overnight in Hansen Creek, rather than fight the waves all the way back to the marina.

Christensen's preparedness which included extra clothes and plenty of food and water were keys to their safety through the ordeal.

"Our mistake," he concluded, "was assuming that the weather near Bullfrog would be the same as 30 miles to the north.

When boating or fishing on Lake Powell, listen to weather reports and go prepared to spend the night in a protected canyon or have extra supplies on hand to assist others who might find themselves at the mercy of Mother Nature.

Boating safety is NO ACCIDENT.

• Don Allphin can be reached at don@donallphin.com.

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