Charter boat crew fishes sailor out of rough Lake Mich.

Dana Bonney has been running a charter fishing service out of Grand Haven since 1984 and has been a captain since 1987, but he's never had to handle a situation like he did last week. "This is the first time I've ever had to pull somebody out of the water,' he said. Bonney, his brother Rob and their customers were heading back into the Grand Haven channel on their charter fishing boat, the Danel, late Saturday afternoon. They were coming in earlier than usual because some rough weather hit before it was expected.
Becky Vargo
Sep 2, 2011

 

With waves up to 6 feet, all of the charter fishing boats were heading back to the channel, Bonney said.

“We would have never gone out if we had known it was going to be here that quick,” he said.

It turns out that it was a good thing they did.

Just short of the pier heads, Bonney noticed a 23-foot sailboat off to the side without its sails raised.

“It didn’t seem right to me,” he said. “The wind was over 20 knots.”

So Bonney steered his boat closer to the vessel and saw people looking over the side. Then he noticed a man floating in the water with a small seat cushion.

“He had a sail and a rope in his hand for quite awhile, until he tried to climb up a rope ladder, but it was too rough,” Bonney said. “That’s when they threw him the seat cushion.”

Bonney said the sailboat was having trouble maneuvering around in the rough water, so he motored in closer.

“We got to 10 feet away,” Bonney said, “and Rob threw him the ring and pulled him around to the back of the boat onto the platform. ... My brother was right on with the throw. With conditions like that, you have to approach from downwind.”

Rob went to retrieve some steps, but Bonney said the man in the water was getting tired.

The brothers and their customers — Javan Mallery, Randy Chamberlain and Chamberlain’s son, R.J., all of the Allegan area — pulled the man into their boat and made sure he was OK.

Their “catch,” Joe Doyle of Muskegon, said he didn’t feel like he was in danger once he had the cushion. “But I don’t know how long I would have lasted in those 5- or 6-foot waves,” he said.

The sailboat Doyle was on, Whisperski, is owned by Tim Michalski of Muskegon. They had sailed to Grand Haven “in perfect weather” and had lunch at the Tip-A-Few, then were headed back home late in the afternoon when the wind whipped up.

“I was on the bow, trying to hold down the sail,” Doyle said. “With a combination of a 5- to-6-foot wave and a strong wind gust, I ended up overboard.”

Doyle said the three people left on the boat did everything they could to try to get him back onboard, but every attempt failed. They threw him the cushion, but a big wave pushed him away from the boat and he couldn’t get back.

Doyle said five minutes later, he saw Bonney’s charter boat.

“I was really glad they spotted me and got me aboard,” Doyle said. “They took great care of me.”

The two boats met back at the Chinook Pier docks and Doyle rejoined his friends. The group waited an hour, then tried to leave again — but it was still too rough, Doyle said, “so we decided to spend the night.”

Bonney said it was a pretty emotional experience for him.

“When he was back in the boat, I was pretty shook up,” he said.

A couple of days after the rescue, Bonney chuckled as he showed off a text message he had received from Doyle.

“Just wanted to thank you and the crew for saving my butt,” the text read. “Thanks again, Joe Doyle, your big catch of the day.”

Bonney prides himself on his safety record. There’s been a couple of close calls, but nobody has gone overboard, he said.

“We do a debriefing before we go out,” he said. “We talk about where the life jackets are and show (customers) the life ring.”

 

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