Its mid-January and on Lac Leman in Switzerland it’s a clear sunny morning and +1.5°. A great morning for a row with my mate Craig. Forty-five minutes later I find myself upside down in 5°water, my feet trapped in my form fitting rowing shoes, and the first thing that pops into my head is the sensation of being back at Bilgola beach and staying under a series of large waves and having to hold my breath. Stay calm and think about what you need to do next.
Under water I eventually get my feet out and come up for air. Then take a breath and asses what just happened. I can see Craig close by looking to see if I am okay. “I’m okay mate”. I know that I need to get back in the boat and get to shore and get dry and warm fast. Craig and I figure I’ve got about 15 minutes max before I’m in danger of my body shutting down due to the cold.
Heaving myself up onto the hull of the overturned skiff, it becomes clear what happened. The freezing temperatures had affected the locking mechanism on the gate that holds the oar securely in place. At the catch, the bow (left) oar simply popped out and I instantly had nothing in my hand and over I went.
Paddling the boat back to shore like a large Malibu surf board, it took about 8 minutes to get to a place where I could turn the boat over, empty out the water, secure the oar in place, get in and row to the nearest harbour. Easier said than done as my feet and hands were beginning to seize up. The cold was seeping in and taking hold. Craig was clear and kept talking to me, he also was alert to where to go. We eventually got to shore, 15-minutes had passed by the time Craig heaved me out of the boat and searched for somewhere to get dry. A member of the local sailing club was alerted. Craig got me under a hot shower and called in Jeroen, another member of the crew to bring down some dry clothes. Although I was clearly showing signs of hypothermia, exhausting the hot water supply extinguished the cold and steadied the shivering.
Today I was reminded again of how the “being” of a great team is so important. Both Craig and Jeroen went into action so fast and with clear intent, they no doubt saved me from going deeper into a dangerous hypothermic state. They stayed calm and just did what the knew had to be done.
A little while after all of this, we are all sitting down eating breakfast and drinking coffee, laughing, debriefing the situation and learning from what happened. There was a collective consciousness between us. Its simply amazing what can be done when you have the right crew and an abundance of trust.