Last November (2018) a neighbor told me she had a plan to swim in the slough every day of the year to see if she would be able to acclimate to it. The water is at least liquid for the full 365 days but still, it is cold, even colder after getting out. 40 degree F. (4.44 C) water is still ice cold to me, I don’t care where a person is from. I don’t know if our ability to handle cold temperatures can be enhanced by exposing ourselves to the natural changes throughout the year. We won’t find out because she decided not to give it a try. We have had a wet winter, it wasn’t all that cold, I only remember 3 frost days, it’s not good for the fruit trees but they will still do well. There is a lot of snow in the mountains, and a lot of water behind the dams ensuring we will have cold, high water levels.
The ambient temperature is on the rise also and the boaters will begin to hit the water. Fishermen have been in their boats all winter, some days every few minutes one passes by mostly during fishing tournament weekends. Mostly bass fishermen on the weekend competing for whatever prize is being offered, they come from all over the country. They all appear to prepare themselves well for the weather, most of them I see are all bundled up as if they’re heading to the Arctic. There are a few that go by without life preservers but that is rare for them. Before the start of the competition, the local bait shop that sponsors them has a meeting with the teams. Speed limits, courtesy, and basic rules of the game are talked about, it hasn’t always been like that. We are lucky that the sponsors are understanding of the residents of the island, it only took one bad tournament for complaints to line up.
The first competition we woke to a loud low pitch buzzing sound, it was everywhere much like being inside a fluorescent light bub only surrounded by sound. At exactly 6 am the competition began and every boat had been warming up to prepare for that moment when the signal was sounded the air was filled with motor noise. The fishermen were rude, obnoxious, and speeding through the sloughs, it was not a good start to an already controversial event. The following Monday morning the bait shop was full of islanders each one taking off the sponsors head, it was ugly. I was there although a little late it was not an organized meeting, I got my views across as did everyone else. To the owners’ credits, he fixed it, that was 8 years ago and we haven’t had another incident like that first contest. A large part of the success of the meeting was being able to get the entire group together and discuss concerns, but that’s not always possible to do.
Recreational boaters are a slightly different lot, they have no motivation for being on the water other than having a good time, which is a fine goal. One month ago an article in the paper was written about a three-year-old boy that fell out of a boat into the cold Delta Water. He was with his father and another sibling, after entering the water the father dove in after him, the little boy was floating with a life vest on. The father, on the other hand, was not wearing any personal floatation device, he did not rescue his son, in fact, he met his demise shortly after entering the river. Small children are tough to have on a boat, for short rides they do alright but it doesn’t take a long time for the sun, wind, and boredom to set in. Their impatience with the flow of activities normally does them in as most parents know. The water was cold the little boy was treated for hypothermia, his sibling was OK.
The water temperature can be deadly even while wearing a PFD, (Personal Floatation Device), loss of body heat is an all too common cause of drownings. Especially in a snow-fed river, during the summer five feet below the surface is still 50 degrees (10 C0 while the ambient temperature hovers around 100 F (37.77 C) a deep dive with a 50-degree temperature difference is substantial. Therein lies the danger a nice cool dip on a hot summer day is a sure relief, but it’s best to acclimate ourselves before the plunge. We may experience shock from the differential which in some cases is fatal. Last year a man’s hat flew off of his head into the water, he dove in after it and never came back to the surface, he succumbed to shock.
High water is sure to come in the spring during the snowmelt, not only lowering the water temperature but exposing physical dangers as well. During years of low rainfall, the banks of the rivers collect all manner of debris, everything from disposable cups to complete trees and docks. Some are easy to see and avoid, others glide stealthily just under the surface. Pylons, logs, and telephone poles float just below the surface on occasion, that’s what’s dangerous it is unpredictable. When speeding down the rivers, bayous, or sloughs of the Delta it is easy to place the concerns of hitting something in the back of our minds. Unfortunately, it happens all of the time, sometimes on a large scale as with a pylon and other times with an item as small as a block of wood.
Hypothermia may occur in the middle of the summer, especially so on a river that meets with the ocean. A temperature differential of 50 degrees is common on the Delta, it is after all a partial desert. I remember several years ago a man and his wife were on a jet ski on a warm August day having a good time. That is until the craft ran out of gas and they were set adrift, unable to flag down passing boaters for reasons unknown, the only remedy was to drift to a deserted island. These islands levees are normally bordered with Raspberry bushes, you know the ones with the long sharp thorns. Meeting the shoreline they had to work their way through the dense brambles, it was now dusk. Scratched, cut, and bleeding they found refuge by plowing their way through to a high patch of ground. With no water, matches, food, or extra clothes the situation looked bleak. They spent the night on the island and could see the Coast Guard helicopters searching for them, but with no way to make themselves seen sitting there was the only course of action they could take. At first light they sighted a sheriffs boat searching which they were able to flag down, they were rescued and treated for exposure, they could have “frozen” to death.
Summer boating is, here again, many of us hit the water with the impression that it will be a fun and safe day on the water. And it can be as long as we are aware of the precautions we must take, it pays to start one day earlier to service, and prepare your equipment. Having a PFD for each passenger, taking along plenty of water, a flashlight, matches, and a flare set are prudent measures to take into account. Take along extra clothing, sweat pants, sweatshirt, and dry shoes and socks, no matter how large or small the vessel is they can all break down and the chances are better that first time out every year.
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.