Sunday, June 18, 2006

Let's just say, my story includes the Oceana County Sheriff's Search & Rescue Boat....

Now that I have your attention.... There are so many titles I could go with: More Water Adventures with the Chapmans or My Ode to David Crowder's "Rescue Is Coming" or Adrift on the Lake or My Rescue at Sea....or You Had to Be There.

I went to Michigan this past week for one last family vacation with my sister, brother-in-law and nephews before they leave the States. We went back up to my parents' property (cabin coming in '07) to camp, off-road, jet ski, etc. (much like I did three weeks ago for Memorial Day).

We pretty much hung around camp and the beach from Monday through Wednesday. My brother and sister-in-law came up on Thursday and that's when things got interesting.... We got the jet ski out and prepared for some fun on the still very cold water of Lake Michigan. Day 1 (Thursday) of jet skiing was pretty miscalculated stunts, no flips off, the water was pretty calm, we had some good rides out.

Day 2 (Friday) my brother Jason rode the jet ski south on Lake Michigan to meet up with us at the dunes where we off-road in Jeeps, dune buggies, etc. I did one round on the jet ski and then did another round in the Jeep. I got back to the beach as Jason was finishing up on the jet ski. The lake was really choppy on Friday as the wind was blowing steadily north (make a note of that, north). I decided to take another spin on the jet jacket, hop on, off I go.

I make my way south of where our group is staked on the beach so that I can tear back easily once I fight the waves down there. Well, as I'm cutting back and forth, the jet ski quits. I thought I stalled it, so I try to start it up again. Nothing. I look up the beach to see if my brother is back yet...he's not. So, I try to start it again nothing. My family (sister, dad and nephews) are on the beach and see me but don't think anything of it. Jas comes back out to the beach and I motion for help. I wasn't too far out and over a sandbar so he put on his life jacket to swim out and help.

But that wind blowing north...yeah, it was still blowing. Except it was more northwest because I was floating away from the beach. My sister told me later that our dad thought I would just float back towards them and closer to the beach. On any other day when the wind's blowing toward the beach, that might have worked. Last Friday it was not. So, Jason is trying to swim out to me, but I'm moving faster than he is...I can't get off because I can't tell how deep it is, and if he couldn't help me, I might not be able to get back on. So, as I get farther away and he gets too tired to swim, he yells at me, "Just stay on!"

At this point I'm leaving the beach area of the dunes. I see my dad jump in the dune buggy to go out and find help with the park rangers. My uncle and his friend Bob come back to the beach from their ride in his dune buggy and he calls 911 on his cell phone (obviously, I find all this out later since I'm floating north hundreds of yards out in the lake). My dad gets about no help from the park rangers as they don't have any kind of boat to be used for rescue, and when they decide to call "Central," they tell them that someone else called 911 already (my uncle).

So, I see my family standing there helpless on the beach, trying to find help, get a hold of help, and I'm just floating...farther away from them, from the beach, from any sign of life. I can't remember many moments in life where I've been deeply scared but this definitely is one of those times. My brother continues walking along the beach keeping me company. Though I'm too far away to talk to him, just the sight of him keeps me calm. As long as I could see him, I was OK...although he was getting smaller and smaller with each minute. By the end he was all of 1/4-inch tall, just teeny-tiny. We figure I was a good 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile out in the lake.

There I sit. On the jet ski, floating out in Lake Michigan. Remember, this lake is don't just look across and see Wisconsin...all you see is water. And all I see is more water between me and land. The water is darker, the waves are getting bigger and I'm all alone. Needless to say, I prayed, "God, you calmed the seas. Jesus, you walked on water. Please, please, turn this wind inland." Nothing. "God, I'm getting farther away and I'm all alone. Help me." Nothing. (God lesson learned, coming in separate blog.)

I have no idea how long I floated; my family said it was a good hour from when the jet ski first quit. So I can barely see my brother on the shore anymore. He's asking people in the houses on the shore if they have boats, jet skis, anything. Nothing. He did find a lady with binoculars and they could see that I was still sitting there. We decided if it had been a Saturday or Sunday or even a holiday weekend, there would have been other boats or jet skis out to help, but this Friday afternoon we had nothing.

About that time, I look north and see what appears to be a boat with a flashing light on top coming my way. YEA! I'm saved! When my brother sees that, the lady gives him a ride back to camp since the family has no idea where he's at now.

So the boat is coming my way but they're heading closer to shore than out to where I am, so I start waving my arms. I've floated much farther out than originally reported. They see me and turn my way. What relief! As they get closer and swing around, I see that it's the Oceana County Sheriff's Search & Rescue boat. Not that I care who it is, I just want to get out of the water.

They make a couple passes to pull up beside me but it's so choppy that they end up throwing me a line and pulling me to them, rather than running me over. After they get me aboard (I practically leapt aboard, I was so happy to not be on that jet ski), they circled around to hook the jet ski up and take us to the lovely port of Pentwater.

As we turn and head north (the direction I had become so familiar with), we pass my parents' beach area and see little tiny people all standing out there. I was wondering if it was my family and come to find out, it was. Once they saw me drifting away, they loaded up the Jeep and dune buggy and left the park. My dad sped into camp, towing my sister in the dune buggy, unhooked the buggy and jumped back in to check on help. My mom and sister-in-law Charissa were not with the party at the dunes so they had no idea what was going on. From that point, everyone headed to the beach to keep an eye out for me as I floated that direction. Fortunately, the boat found me by that point and the family just watched me head to safety several miles north.

Once we got to Pentwater, headed up the channel to the dock reserved for the sheriff's boat, my feet had thawed a bit and I lamented the fact that I hadn't put any sun screen on.... Reaching the dock, I saw mom and dad, Jason and my nephew Zack all standing there waiting on me. I get ashore, turn in my police blanket and wait for my brother and dad to look over the jet ski. They get into the engine and get it started but think it's really low on fuel and with all the waves, it wouldn't start because there was no good balance. Lucky me.

This adventure makes me the first Chapman to be rescued by claim to fame and my gift to the legacy. It's a rather funny story, but only because I wasn't hurt or hanging in the 50-degree water waiting for help. The fact that I was just sitting there, floating, makes it funny. Of course, while I was out there...not so funny...much more scary. Never a dull moment with the Chapmans...makes you want to join us, doesn't it? We now have water rescue under our belts, so you can feel that much safer with us. And my brother's decided that the second jet ski he's wanted would be about more than would be a buddy system for safety, too.


  1. Very funny Jaq (although I'm sure not at the time)! However you can't actually say make this statement "This adventure makes me the first Chapman to be rescued by sea" as Lake Michigan is technically just a big lake. But with the choppy waves and being completely surrounded by water, you could have been running a pilot for Gilligan's Island or something. Sorry! (Hee hee)

  2. Jackie, Don't listen to Eric! You were rescued at "sea" considering there have been too many shipwrecks in LK MI to not be scared to death! You deserve your title, and you sounded heroic under the circumstances (cool headed and prayerful), which is about as brave as one could be. I'm just glad you're safe. BTW, there are a lot of much smaller lakes around in which to jet ski! HA!