Floating the Boise River is a great way to spend a hot weekend afternoon with the family.
When done right, it’s safe and easy. But as the Boise Fire Dive Team found out last month, it can turn hazardous fast.
The dive team’s raft capsized as its members were rescuing two girls stranded on a log near Veterans Memorial Park bridge. It all turned out well, in part because of the team’s skills and the life jackets the girls were wearing.
I, too, was reminded recently of how quick a leisurely float can turn into a similarly scary episode. I also saw the cooperative spirit of rafters and other floaters when one of their own gets into trouble.
I was floating in my fishing pontoon boat that I had recently patched. It was the shake-down cruise before I went back to evening fishing floats that I had not done for years.
The float started out OK. I had placed the oar frame on backward, which made the craft lean a little too far back. But it wasn’t really a problem until the patched pontoon had leaked enough air to affect steering.
One floater came alongside me and offered to pump it up. But a set of rapids was coming up and I told him I would catch him afterward.
I know — now — that I should have stopped then. But I had no problem in the earlier diversions, so I headed for big waves on the right-center.
The leaking pontoon turned my boat just as I entered the rapid. The wave flipped the raft, sending me into the ice-cold water.
Swimming in rapids after a boat turns has never been a pleasant experience for me. Nearly 20 years ago, I swam in Rubber Rapids near the bottom of the Middle Fork in an inflatable kayak. I had floated the entire river, running through more than 90 Class 3 and class 4 rapids over five days without incident.
But swimming Rubber was so discombobulating that I forgot the very simple instructions for getting through the last big rapid on the trip, Hancock. I swam there as well. After that, I was glad to get on a raft and give up my kayak for the final few miles to Cache Creek landing.
On the lower Boise River several years later, I was hunting from my pontoon fishing boat for pheasants and ducks with Jeff Barney. I read the currents wrong and got sucked into a strainer that flipped my boat just above the Snake River.
Underwater and holding on to a log, I had to decide whether to drop my shotgun or save myself. I dropped the gun. Barney talked me through my self-rescue and helped me ashore.
So, back to summer 2012: I came up from below my leaky pontoon boat in the swift current, feeling like I’d been waterboarded. I blew the water from my windpipe and tried to hold on to my boat.
I had a life jacket on, and it helped. But I couldn’t hold on to my boat in the current on the rocky-bottomed river and I had to let go.
A rafting father with two sons allowed me to climb out of the river into their boat. Downriver, another rafter had gathered up my boat, oars and even my hat.
He pumped up the pontoons and I was on my way thanks to the kindness of strangers. I won’t be using the pontoon boat again until I patch it right.
But Boise fire officials won’t have to tell me again about safety on the river.
“The river,” said Boise Fire Battalion Chief John Peugh, “is always unpredictable and potentially dangerous.”
Rocky Barker: 377-6484