Mark Eskridge was looking out of his window at the lake checking wind conditions when he noticed something out of the ordinary early Saturday morning, Feb. 2.
Grabbing a pair of binoculars, he saw that a man was struggling in the water about 150 yards from shore, off of Calkins Landing. The man’s rowboat had capsized outside of the no-wake buoy.
Eskridge, 36, who is a managing broker for John L. Scott real estate on Mercer Island, yelled for his wife, Katie. She grabbed a blanket and made tea as he got out his 10-foot and 14-foot paddleboards.
An avid boarder who participates in the annual ‘Round the Rock’ paddleboard race, Eskridge said he is out on the water about 75 times every year and is accustomed to paddling three miles across the lake from Calkins Landing to the Mt. Baker boat launch. He is also a Navy veteran.
Choosing to use the 10-foot board for its stability and width, Eskridge was able to reach the man in about one minute as a neighbor called 911. Katie and their 5-year-old daughter watched from the Calkins shore.
The man had been in the water for 20 minutes, wearing only a windbreaker and thin pants — no wetsuit.
“He had his lifejacket on,” Eskridge said. “That helped him stay afloat — it would have been really hard in that cold of water.”
As Eskridge reached the man, the Marine Patrol was on the way, coming around the Island from the boat launch off of East Mercer Way at full speed.
“I put him on the bow of the board and paddled him back to shore,” Eskridge said, estimating that it took seven minutes to paddle in.
“We’re used to paddling around with the kids on the bow of the boat — we’re used to someone on there,” he said. “I paddled a lot with my knees, with the man on it.”
Eskridge kept asking the man questions to make sure that he was lucid: What day is it? What is your name? What color is your boat?
Eskridge said he knew the man, 69, was lucid when he said he was worried about his wife finding out.
Neighbors Kris Reeck and Karen McDonald met them at the shore with blankets. Police and an ambulance arrived, and the Marine Patrol brought the man’s 8-foot rowboat to shore. The man, identified in the police report as Timothy Firnstahl of Mercer Island, was treated for hypothermia but declined to be taken to a hospital.
“It was a community affair,” Eskridge said. “What I thought was really cool was how it was kind of a 60th Avenue community rescue. That’s one of the takeaways — between Kris and Karen and my wife, Katie, it was really cool how everybody came together. Everybody that saw it came out of their house to help. Nobody sat inside doing nothing.”