Archived Story

Hard work and quick action

Published 8:57pm Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Folks who live along Bennett’s Creek were happy to see the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredge Currituck at the mouth of the creek in the Nansemond River earlier this month. The dredge’s presence there was a sign that work to carve out an eight-foot-deep channel was near its end, and that’s extremely good news for people who had found it all but impossible to navigate the creek at anything other than high tide.

With an eight-foot channel at low tide, just about any recreational or work boat that would be likely to need to navigate the creek will be able to do so again, something that has proved increasingly tricky since Hurricane Sandy dumped rain and silt into the creek. The hurricane helped ensure federal funding for the project, and the dredging project, in turn, helped move forward the Craney Island expansion, as many tons of dredged material were moved from the bottom of Bennett’s Creek to the pad that is being built for a new shipping facility at Craney Island on the James River.

That’s good news, but it’s nowhere near as good as the feelings of relief and gratitude one James River boater must have felt the evening of Sept. 16, when he saw the dredge motoring toward him near midnight.

As they were finishing their work on Bennett’s Creek, crewmembers of the Currituck turned their attention to the trip home when they noticed a red flare in the night sky as they headed toward the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel. Heading toward the source of the flare, they shone a searchlight into the area and soon saw a man shivering in a small, rubber raft.

After rescuing the man, giving him dry clothes and sitting him down in the engine room, the warmest spot on the dredge, the crew learned he had launched his raft when his boat had lost power in the middle of the James River. He had tried to make it back to the marina from which he’d launched earlier, but he had been overcome by the river’s currents.

The story ended happily with the reunion of the boater and his wife at the Corps of Engineers’ district office in Norfolk. It could easily have been much worse, though, as the man already had begun to exhibit some of the signs of hypothermia, and the currents and often-choppy conditions of the James could easily have swamped his rubber raft.

The moral for boaters is to stay with their vessels as long as possible and be sure to have flares or some other emergency beacons handy in case of an emergency. Kudos to the Corps of Engineers’ crew for its quick help — and, of course, for its hard work on Bennett’s Creek, though that work now somehow pales in significance, compared to saving a life.

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