NOR’EASTER DOWNWINDER ~ WHAT REALLY HAPPENED
Told By: Matt Jones, Nor’easter Downwind Paddler
This is a response to the articles published by The Patch & ABC News titled: 5 Paddleboarders Rescued
Friday was windy. Really windy. Myself, Brian Schmid, and Mary Howser decided to go for a downwinder. A downwinder, for those who don’t know, is when you launch upwind of your destination and essentially surf home. It is a one-way trip that is entirely dependent on windy conditions.
Friday had a small craft advisory and extreme wind gusts, but I, Mary, and Brian are all experienced, highly trained paddlers. Even with all of our experience, we decided to meet at the Capital SUP shop to go over our game plan, make sure we all had the appropriate safety gear and were thoroughly prepared for the conditions.
Mary and Brian were both wearing drysuits and I was wearing a 4mil wetsuit. We all had leashes, PFDs (life jackets), thick booties, and warm headwear. We were prepared to spend time in and on the water for a long duration of time.
We were initially going to go for a 9-mile trip but decided it would be a smarter move to shorten the trip to 5 miles to ensure that we had the necessary energy to make it home safely given the conditions.
We had been coordinating with 2 other experienced paddlers who we knew were going to start at the same time as us, but do the longer 9-mile run.
We launched onto the Severn River with the plan of heading south and turning right around the Naval Academy to end up back at Capital Sup on Spa Creek.The conditions were awesome in every sense of the word. Waves were big, the wind was howling, and a ton of fun was had.
The three of us navigated the largest, widest part of the Severn and were a few hundred yards away from reaching the Route 50 bridge when four large boats with flashing lights flew up on us.
Brian was about 100yds ahead of me and Mary and we saw him climb up into the back of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) boat. I assumed that something must have gone wrong, so I changed course to head towards the boat to make sure he was ok. Upon getting closer to the boat, it changed heading and came within 10 feet of hitting me. The officer driving the boat yelled out “We are terminating your voyage. Get in the boat”. Not wanting to argue, I pulled up to the stern of the boat, which was pointed sideways in the wavy conditions, and made my way on board and was followed quickly by Mary.
Once on board and after hearing that Brian was fine, we asked why were forced onboard only to be met with “we decided it was unsafe for you to be out here”. We went on to tell the two officers that there were two other paddlers on the river that had started farther north than we did, so we were all taken north to find them. After clumsily scooping up the other two paddlers (a process that took roughly 30min) we continued to head north on the river towards our launch.
After asking repeatedly what we were being charged with, we did not receive a concrete answer. Instead, we were met with “I’m not sure yet”, “Reckless something or other”, and “we’ll see”.
We had instructed them to where we had launched, where it seemed that we would be dropped off at. Instead, we were dropped at a different beach, still a ways south of our launch, and were met by three more DNR officers on shore. Upon our departure from the boat, we were assured that one of the officers would give one of us a ride north to get our car and warm clothes.
Once on land, the DNR officers refused to drive any of us to our car and did not let us leave the parking lot to get the car under our own power. After collecting our names and information they retreated to their trucks to look us up and write us tickets. While this may sound like a quick process, we were standing in the parking lot for over an hour.
***Keep in mind that we were all dressed to stay warm while exercising and in the water. By this time, we had been out of the water, exposed to cold winds on the boat, and unsheltered from more cold winds in the parking lot for a grand total of around 2.5-3 hours. ***
After a while, we were presented with our $320 tickets for “negligent operation”. When we pressed the officers to find out what law or rule we had broken they responded with “it’s subjective and up to our discretion”.
All three officers then got into their cars and left us there.
The only reason we were able to get back to a car was because of a very nice woman named Tina who was walking her dog nearby and come by to ask if we were ok. After explaining our situation, she volunteered to take our keys and drive our car back to us.
(If anyone knows a Tina who lives near the Severn School, has a teenage daughter, and a yellow lab named Molly PLEASE let me know so we can thank her!).
When Tina returned, we got the car warm and threw the few paddlers who were the coldest in to warm up while the rest of us loaded up all of the boards and gear as quickly as possible. All five of us crammed into the car and departed to head home, get warm, and talk with friends and family.
-No one was rescued. All 5 paddlers were forced out of the water and onto the DNR boat
-No one was lost or missing. We all knew each other’s relative positions on the river and informed the officers.
-No one was cold while paddling or in the water. We all became cold due to the long amount of time spent exposed to the wind aboard the DNR boat and standing on the shore.
–No one was reported missing. There were numerous friends and loved ones that knew we were all on the water.
-All 5 paddlers had on gear warranted by the conditions. This included leashes, coast guard approved PFDs, wetsuits or drysuits, warm headgear, thick booties, and boards suited for the conditions.
-The definition of negligence: failure to take proper care in doing something.