It would have been about 10 in the morning July 11 when experienced fishing guide, 44-year-old Neil Sherwood, fell overboard during a charter in an area called the Whales Tale, near Kyuquot.
The only other person aboard was an 82-year-old man who didn’t know how to operate the boat or its sophisticated electronics.
By all accounts the weather was bad and it wasn’t long before the guest lost sight of Neil.
“They became separated very quickly and our guest began tossing life jackets and everything that could float overboard for Neil; whether any of that got to him or not, I don’t know,” said Doug Rodgers, owner of Rodger’s Fishing Lodge based in Esperanza Inlet.
Help in Kyuquot
It was a changeover day for Rugged Point Lodge in Kyuquot. Owners Kristy and Matt Guiguet were preparing to send guests home, and welcome new guests to the lodge that day, so their guides were not on the water.
Kristy and Matt were carrying on with their changeover routine when they got a call from one of the locals, asking them if they had heard what was happening on Channel 16, the VHF radio emergency channel.
They heard that a man had gone overboard on a fishing charter vessel and had not yet been found.
“My first thought is that it was a guest and I worried that he was a non-swimmer or if he had a life vest on,” said Guiguet.
It turned out the Mayday calls were from an elderly man, named Dennis, the lone guest on the charter boat.
Having an inexperienced mariner at sea during a storm presented a whole set of new problems.
“Luckily, he got the man overboard Mayday call out.”
Responding immediately to the emergency, Matt Guiguet and his guide Paul Vincent went out to search.
“It was blowing SE 30 knots and with the mist and stormy conditions, visibility was zero,” said Kristy.
Rodgers and his wife Pam listened intently to the VHF for updates after sending out their search boats.
It took a long time to find the boat, because their guest didn’t know how to use system. Time seemed to drag on as the search for Sherwood continued.
The Coast Guard walked Dennis through how to use the Global Positioning System (GPS) and were finally able to get the coordinates needed to locate the boat.
Matt Guiguet and Vincent found the charter boat and were able to guide Dennis into calmer waters before Vincent boarded the boat and took it through the reef-studded coastal waters back into Kyuquot.
The boat remains tied up at Rugged Point Lodge, a day after the incident.
“He did a wonderful job keeping his composure,” said Rodgers of Dennis.
Kristy said the poor man was terrified, and news of the guide was slow to come.
“By 1 p.m. everyone came to the conclusion that (Neil) wasn’t going to make it,” said Rodgers. But a half-hour later news came over the radio that the Coast Guard had found Sherwood.
The Coast Guard didn’t announce what condition Sherwood was in or whether or not he was alive. Rodgers ended up phoning the Coast Guard to get the good news that Sherwood was alive and being transported to hospital.
“We heard that he was just leaning over to net a fish when he slipped overboard,” said Kristy.
After speaking with the rescued guest, Kristy said she believes that the guide wasn’t wearing a conventional life jacket, but may have had a PFD (Personal Floatation Device) under his outer clothing.
He was “stripping off his clothes immediately after falling overboard” she said, and the guest didn’t understand why he would do that.
PFDs are often preferred by people who must wear life preservers constantly because they are less bulky, allowing the wearer to move more freely but they are less buoyant than life jackets.
Guiguet credits the PFD for saving the man’s life.
“I can’t believe he was found because that’s literally like finding a needle in a haystack under the stormy conditions,” said Kristy. She also credits the guide, Neil, with his 15 years of guiding experience, for saving himself.
Rodgers said that Sherwood had to have been in remarkable physical condition to endure three-and-a half-hours in the ocean.
From this incident Rodgers says he has learned two important lessons. One is to get GPS coordinates for all the areas his guides fish in.
“They were at the Whale’s Tale and, while we know where it is, we didn’t have the coordinates for the Coast Guard,” said Rodgers. Not having the coordinates caused a delay in finding the boat and Sherwood.
Secondly, Rodgers says his guides will now work on a buddy system, always having two or three boats fishing near one another. There was another of Rodger’s boat in the area but they were not very close.
As for Sherwood, Rodgers says he is a very strong man. He said he called the hospital and spoke to Sherwood last night.
“He said he knew someone would come looking for him and he saw the helicopter fly over twice – and he wanted to come back to work today!” said Rodgers.