This past Saturday began as a glorious day with sunny skies and puffy clouds. We had plans with friends to attend Raftapalooza at Thayer Beach, Vermont. The weather report looked calm until about 3 p.m. and we figured we would go for a little while and leave in time to get home before any storms.
The scene was idyllic. Picture the Caribbean in your backyard with makeshift water slides, tiki huts, people in tubes, kayaks, and paddle boards gently floating around the boats that had rafted up together. Some boats were 20 deep of all shapes and sizes. Both of our boats dropped anchor and we got out our own tubes to join in the fun. Another boat arrived and tied onto our own growing raft. Everyone was smiling, laughing and enjoying the calm waters and bright blue sky. We got caught up in the vibe and settled into nice conversation and people watching.
The darkening sky toward New York was becoming much more noticeable. At that moment we could not know how severe the storm was to become and decided to stay. Leaving would have meant heading directly back into the storm. One of the boats tied off to us decided to take that chance and we untethered their line. Thinking I should confirm the weather I hopped back on the boat and just as I did the wind picked up and the storm was upon us. From tranquil to chaos, everyone in the bay quickly tended to their stuff – boats, inflatables, and everything else on board.
People were screaming and boat anchors were not holding. A group of 3 boats tethered together almost crashed into us and luckily was able to sneak between us and the next boat. For our crew everyone had a job. My job was to hold one of the buoys between our two boats to keep them from crashing together and also to tie off the front of the boat. Our three guys hopped in the water to hold the anchor lines and provide extra traction. People and boats were scrambling and one of the boats to the north of us decided to leave. In the process they caught one anchor in their prop and clipped the line. We were down to one anchor.
The general chaos and shouting continued. A flair was lit to our right. The boat in front of us was in full on panic. Sadly, a gentleman on board had suffered a medical event and the words “you have to save him” could be heard. We could see people in the boat administering CPR. The others were wildly trying to get the attention of the Coast Guard who quickly put him in their boat and whisked him to shore.
My thoughts shifted from the boat’s safety to our guys in the water. I left my assigned buoy post and suggested we let the crafts go and get to shore. Over the sound of driving rain and wind I explained to our anchor holders that the boats were insured and stuff can be replaced. Human life cannot. We continued to closely watch the winds and rain. The Lightning continued in the distance. Another boat offered assistance, we tied our boats on to the back of his and everyone climbed aboard to catch a breath.
We caught a break in the weather and looked toward blue sky in New York. It was our time to depart. Before we did some of us got into the lake and it felt like a hot tub compared to the air temperatures. Two others snuggled up in the hold of one of our boats. We were shivering and needed to warm up before the journey across Lake Champlain.
In retrospect, the whole scene is surreal. Just the day before I had been talking with my son about what our business really is – Peace of Mind. Boat insurance would have replaced or repaired the crafts. The loss of human life, while also insurable, will alter the lives of loved ones forever.
My heart goes out to those affected by the tragedy of Saturday, as the gentlemen did pass away. I wish the outcome would have been different and I honestly didn’t even realize what was happening amidst our own crisis and keeping everyone safe. I am humbled and reminded how quickly weather and life can change.
Deena Giltz McCullough, CIC, CRM, GPCC™
President & CEO
July 28, 2016