Floating the Boise River is a great way to spend a hot weekend afternoon with the family.
When done right its safe and easy. But as the Boise Fire Dive Team found last week it can turn harzardous fast
The dive team’s raft capsized as its members were rescuing two girls who had become stranded on a log near Veteran’s Memorial Park bridge. It all turned out well, in part because of the team’s skills and the life jackets the girls were wearing.
I was reminded Saturday of how quick a leisurely float can turn into a similarly scary episode. I also saw the cooperative spirit of rafters and other floaters when one of their own gets into trouble.
I was floating in my fishing pontoon boat that I had recently patched. It was the shake out cruise before I went back to evening fishing floats I had not done for years.
It started out okay. I had placed the oar frame on backwards, which made the craft lean a little too far back. But it wasn’t really problem until the patched pontoon had leaked enough air to affect steering.
One floater came along side and offered to pump it up. But a set of rapids was coming up and I told him I would catch him afterwards.
I know I should have sneaked it but I had no problem in the earlier diversions so I went through in big waves on the right-center. The leaking pontoon turned my boat just as I entered the rapid.
The wave flipped the raft, sending me into the ice cold water.
Swimming in water after a boat turns has never been a pleasant experience. Nearly 20 years ago I swam in Rubber Rapids near the bottom of the Middle Fork in an inflatable kayak. I had floated the entire river running through more than 90 class three and class 4 rapids in five days without incident
But swimming Rubber was so discombobulating that I forgot the very simple instructions for getting through the last big rapid on the trip, Hancock, and swam there as well. After that I was glad to get on a raft and give up my kayak for the final few miles to Cache Creek landing.
On the lower Boise River several years later I was hunting from my pontoon fishing boat for pheasants and ducks with Jeff Barney. I read the currents wrong and got sucked into a strainer that flipped my boat just above the Snake River.
Sitting under water holding on to the log, I had to decide whether to drop my shotgun or save myself. I dropped the gun and Barney talked me through my self rescue and helped me ashore.
When I came up from below my boat Saturday in the swift current, I felt like I had been waterboarded. I blew the water from my windpipe and tried to hold on to my boat.
I had a life jacket on and it helped. But I couldn’t hold on to my boat in the rocky bottomed river and I had to let go.
A raft came up with a father and his two sons and they allowed me to climb out of the river and into their boat. Downriver, another rafter had gathered up my boat, the oars and even my hat.
He pumped me up and I was on my way thanks to the kindness of strangers. I don’t think I’ll be using the pontoon boat again until I patch it up again.
But Boise fire officials won’t have to tell me again about thinking about safety on the river.
“The river is always unpredictable and potentially dangerous,” said Boise Fire Battalion Chief John Peugh.