Mercer Island Reporter contributor recalls boat rescue

A classic wooden boat sinks off a dock at the north end of Mercer Island. All four of its occupants made it safely to the Island. - Contributed photo
A classic wooden boat sinks off a dock at the north end of Mercer Island. All four of its occupants made it safely to the Island.
— image credit: Contributed photo

What do you do when you look up from cleaning your boat to see four frantic people in a classic wooden boat waving their arms and screaming, “We’re sinking! We’re sinking!”?

You wave them on in and try to get them as close to shore as possible.

And that is exactly what happened last Saturday evening just off the north end of Mercer Island.

At approximately 7:30 p.m. on a sunny, yet blustery Saturday, June 27, I was detailing Bill Webster’s ski boat on the north end of Mercer Island, in the bay whose proposed name, “Riley Cove,” was recently denied by the State Board on Geographic Names, when I heard the sound of a boat and looked up to see four people heading toward the dock in a classic wooden boat. During the summer, I occasionally have friends stop by the dock to say “hello.” But this wasn’t a boat I recognized. Something about the boat seemed odd. As I tried to figure out who might be in the vessel, and why they were waving their arms so excitedly, their proximity diminished and then I heard their screams; “We’re sinking! We’re sinking!”

Immediately, I began waving them in and directing them to drive to the beach as fast as they could. By the time they reached the end of the dock the boat was nearly half way under water and its occupants and items were beginning to float out of the confines of the classic model. A final push of the throttle neared the boat closer to shore but it fell short of the beach by about 30 feet, sinking into the soft bottom of Lake Washington’s shallow shore. All but the nose of the boat lay underwater.

I was relieved to see that all four passengers were wearing life preservers and appeared to be uninjured, although, as one would expect, shock of the event had begun to set in. Their personal items, seat cushions and bumpers now surrounded them in the water as they scrambled to the shore. The soaking-wet, casually-clad foursome emerged from the lake with pale faces. They had made it to land.

The Mercer Island Marine Patrol was alerted via a 911 emergency call and arrived within a matter of minutes. The MIPD officers took control of the situation, later calling in Vessel Assist to raise the boat and tow it to dry dock.

Through conversations with the boat’s owner and driver, Jamie Bernard of Seattle, and an informal investigation by Vessel Assist, we now have a good idea of what caused the boat to go down. With his girlfriend, father and father’s girlfriend on board, Bernard had launched the vessel earlier in the morning from Stan Sayers Park on the west side of Lake Washington and headed around the north end of Mercer Island to a home in Bellevue to celebrate his father’s 66th birthday.

After the celebration, the group braved the rough, wind-whipped waves as they ventured back to Stan Sayers Park. Somewhere between the Bellevue side of Lake Washington and the north end of Mercer Island, the boat collided with debris in the lake, which punched a hole in the hull of the wooden vessel. Bernard did not realize he had hit anything but did recognize the signs of trouble when he felt water coming up around his ankles. After alerting his passengers and attempting to bail the water from the boat without success, Bernard knew they were going down. After unsuccessful attempts to flag down passing boats, Bernard decided to race for the nearest shore of Mercer Island. He spotted me on the dock and this is where our story began.

In the end, although drenched and weary, all parties made it safely to dry land. I’m sure Bernard and his companions will recount the events of this birthday celebration gone awry for years to come.

Story and photo by Conner Webster, special to the Reporter.

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