It happens faster than you can imagine! One minute you’re riding down the lake having a great time and the next minute things are totally out of control. Last week’s accident at the Kentucky Lake FLW tournament involving Shinichi Fukae hitting the Paris Landing Bridge is a stark reminder to all of us; even experienced drivers have accidents.
Shinichi had minor injuries but his cameraman had to be airlifted to the hospital where he is expected to recover. All of the reports that I’ve seen indicate that Shinichi was distracted by something, possibly by a front seat that came out while running, when he hit the bridge. His accident reminds me of an incident that I had many years ago; which came out better than his, but could have had serious consequences.
A buddy of mine and I were practicing for a Redman tournament on the Arkansas River on a hot summer day. The river was at flood stage and they were releasing a huge amount of water out of the dams, so the current was really blowing down the river. It was probably 95 degrees, so we were riding without our life vests on; just enjoying the cool breeze as we made the run back to the landing.
As we were running down the river, Bill saw an area on the right hand bank that he thought looked interesting, so he tapped me on the shoulder and pointed. I looked over my shoulder and must have turned the boat at an angle to get a better view. So when I let off the throttle to make the turn toward this backwater; the boat dropped off of the pad and the bow caught and violently snatched to the right. I reacted almost instantly and came off the throttle completely, spun the wheel to the left and stomped on the hot foot to spin the boat back straight.
Bill had lost his grip on the “Oh S@#t” handle and bounced off of the console when I originally lost control, so when I spun the boat back straight, he was still in the air and I swung the boat out from under him. The last I saw of him, he was tucked into a cannon ball position, head down and headed over the side of the boat. It took me a few seconds to get everything under complete control; so when I got stopped, I was probably 400 to 500 yards downstream from Bill.
I looked back upstream, scared that I’d see Bill’s lifeless body floating face down or even worse, not see him at all. Fortunately, I could see him and he appeared to be unhurt. As I hurried back up stream to pick him up; two thoughts filled my mind. Thank God was naturally the first thing that crossed my mind but then my immediate thought was that Bill was a pretty good sized guy and I was pretty sure that I was about to get my butt kicked pretty good.
I got back to Bill and helped him into the boat and for a second he just stood there looking at me. After a minute, during which I could almost hear his thoughts about what an idiot I was, he simply pointed upriver and said, “My hat’s back up there!” We retrieved his hat and having lost all interest in the backwater area we had been considering, headed toward the landing without another word.
After a few minutes, I worked up the nerve to look over at Bill and as soon as he looked at me, we both started laughing hysterically. There was nothing funny about the situation, but we both realized that we have been remarkably lucky. First of all, neither of us had been hurt, even though neither of us had been wearing a life vest. And secondly, that I had not been thrown out as well, since I had not had the kill switch hooked to me. We had both dodged a bullet and we knew it.
We told the tournament director about the incident and since there was nothing in the rules at the time about wearing our life vests during the practice period, he didn’t disqualify us or send us home. The next morning, however, in honor of our stupidity, Bill and I both put our life vests on at the motel and wore them to the landing in the truck.
From this moment on, I’ve always realized how quickly things can go wrong in a boat and I’ve always worn my life vest while running. I’ve got untold thousands of hours running boats in general and bass boats in particular and it can still happen to me or any of you. Today’s boats, like my Phoenix 721, will run in the mid to high 70’s and things happen even faster than they did back then when we were luck to run in the low 60’s. My understanding from the internet reports is that Shinichi’s accident happened at speeds in the low 50’s, so speed is not always the determining factor.
The lessons to be learned from my accident and Shinichi’s are that you should always be ready for the worst, wear those life vests and use the kill switch. You never know when that fun ride down the lake can turn dangerous and while it’s happening, there isn’t time to put on the life vest or even to cut off the motor. I was lucky in my accident but you can’t count on luck every time.
Thanks to the sponsors who make this all possible: Scoutlookweather.com, Lowrance Electronics, Phoenix Bass Boats, Mercury Motors, Motorguide Trolling Motors, Costa del Mar Sunglasses, Bass Angler Magazine and Mississippi Van Lines. Without all of you, none of this would be possible.