Fishing was slow Friday afternoon at the mouth of the Buskin River on Kodiak Island, so Dave Horne was about to pull his net out of the water and take his boat home.
It’s a good thing the newly retired high school fisheries teacher didn’t.
Off in the distance, Horne spotted a white 18-foot Boston Whaler — the only other boat in the vicinity — that didn’t look right.
“It looked really low in the water,” he said. “I looked at it for a bit and pulled out my binoculars. I couldn’t see the guy in the hull, so I let go of the anchor and started going over there.”
What Horne found when he arrived was one fisherman in the water and another on top of the overturned Whaler, who was waving for help about 500 yards from shore.
The seas were choppy, so Horne speculated the boat’s propeller got tangled in a fishing net, which disabled the motor and left the stern exposed to the waves.
“It was pretty rough — they took waves over the stern, and it filled with water and flipped over,” Horne said.
The two men told Horne the boat had been overturned for at least 20 minutes. Horne pulled the man out of the water into his boat. The two then rescued the man on the overturned boat. Both men were aware of what was going on and, according to Horne, did not want to receive medical attention. After checking them out, Horne took them to St. Herman’s Harbor.
“They were not shaking, they were not chattering their teeth,” Horne said. “They were in pretty good shape, especially for 20 minutes in the water.”
Horne said neither man was wearing a life jacket or had any devices to alert people they were in trouble.
“I go out alone a lot. I wear a life jacket, and in one pocket there are flares and in the other pocket there is a handheld VHS,” Horne said. “Unless you can tell somebody that you are in distress by a flare or radio, a life jacket is great, but you got to be able to tell somebody you need help.”
After alerting the Kodiak Harbormaster’s Office of the situation, Horne and a few of his buddies returned to the scene. They towed the overturned boat to Alaska Pacific Seafoods, where it was pulled out of the water. Horne said he saw the men, who were not identified, towing the boat down the road a day later.
A 12-year commercial fisherman and an avid sports fisherman, Horne had never had to save anybody until last Friday.
“I was the only one there to see it — I am really glad I decided to go fishing that day. I almost headed in because the fish was so slow,” Horne said. “It was rewarding for me. It was nice that I could do it and save those guys and get them home safe.”