Partially sunken boat recovered

Published 3:03 pm Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Hampden-Sydney volunteer firefighters and Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) officers recovered a fishing boat that partially sank in Briery Creek Lake on Thursday afternoon. Neither of the two men aboard the small craft suffered injuries.

DGIF District 24 (Farmville area) Sgt. James Slaughter said authorities were contacted just before 3:30 p.m. about a craft taking on water near the Landing Road boat landing and the men aboard needing help. The landing is near the middle of the lake on the eastern side.

MARTIN L. CAHN | HERALD Firefighters and DGIF officers recovered the 1953 restored fiberglass-bottomed boat, at right, and rescued two men.

Firefighters and DGIF officers recovered the 1953 restored fiberglass-bottomed boat, at right, and rescued two men.

“The men said they had been fishing and were heading back in when they hit some debris underwater,” Slaughter said. “The debris punctured the fiberglass bottom of the boat. Senior Officers Jessica Whirley and Gavin Fariss got there just before the boat really starting sinking.”

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In a telephone interview Friday, Whirley said two other people at the lake saw the stranded men and called for help.

“When we arrived, they were hanging on to the side of the boat,” Whirley said. “They were wearing life jackets, so they didn’t have to hold up all their weight. I’m not sure how long they were out there, but they were worn out when we got to them.”

Whirley said she and Fariss took the men back to the landing one at a time, starting with the older of the two men. She said both men had recently undergone open heart surgery and — in order not to place too much pressure on their chests — decided to take them back by having them hold on to the side of, instead of climbing inside, the DGIF boat

“After we got them both back to the landing, we went back out and retrieved their belongings,” Whirley said.

“The owner told me it was a 1953 restored fiberglass-bottomed boat,” Slaughter said of the 13-foot craft, adding Briery Creek Lake is between 12 to 18 feet deep where the boat hit the debris.

Once the men and their belongings were back at the landing, firefighters and DGIF officers began the process of recovering the boat. Slaughter, Farris, Whirley and other officers went out to the boat at different times to inspect it and help determine a plan.

As it began to get close to 5 p.m., officers and firefighters developed a rope and pulley system: two ropes were tied to each other; one end was attached to the boat, the other to Hampden-Sydney Truck 2. The combined ropes were strung through an “eye” attached to one of the landing’s piers.

Fariss and Hampden-Sydney Fire Chief Ray Draper went out to the boat one last time to use a gas-powered chain saw to cut enough of the boat to float it off the debris. Truck 2 began pulling the boat away from the site only to have the knot used to tie the two ropes together jam against the eye attached to the pier. Firefighters and DGIF officers scrambled to grab the rope and pull the boat all the way back to shore.

Even though things turned out well, Slaughter said the incident shows why it’s important to be careful when fishing and boating.

“I asked one of the men whether they could stand up in the water when they got out, and he said, ‘no.’ Luckily, they were wearing life jackets,” Slaughter said. “This lake is extremely brushy and it’s easy to hit something.”