Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sailor Survives 13 Hours of Treading Water

For Jim Nelson, Sunday started as a normal day on Green Bay, part of Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes of North America.

'I just wanted to do a little sailing. I've been a sailor a long time,' the 56-year-old Wisconsin man said.

Nelson's dramatic survival has made headlines after he treaded water on the bay without a life preserver for almost 13 hours while he waited for rescue.

His sailing trip lasted about four hours, when Nelson stopped to head back to the dock. He failed to lock his boom in place, and it swung around, knocking him into the water near Long Tail Point.

'I surfaced, and I was looking around for my boat, and the motor was running and the sail was up, and there was the boat going off to the southeast,' Nelson recalled, 'and I thought, ah man, not gonna be a good day.'

It was 2 P.M. when Nelson started swimming toward the eastern shore of the bay. He fought the current for a while, then alternated between floating, swimming, and treading water.

'I'd swim a little bit and then I'd rest. I'd do a dead man's float, you know, where you lay on your back and just let your limbs... but obviously that's not a very good way to make progress towards land.'

A search wouldn't begin for another five hours, until Nelson's boat was discovered adrift about the same time his wife called authorities to report her husband hadn't returned home.

It was almost seven hours after that -- after 2 o'clock Monday morning -- that Nelson would be spotted by a Coast Guard helicopter about four miles north of the mouth of the Fox River.

'I was getting the waves over my legs, and they were crashing down on my chest, and then the water coming up to my face, so I must've swallowed 50 gallons of bay water. Yuck,' he said.

When night came, the only light Nelson had was from the moon and a buoy.

'It was flashing the green light, and I knew that if I could make it that far, even though the rescuers may have given up, I could hang on to it and wait for first light, because I know they would get back out.'

But help came before that.

'I stopped and I looked, and here the helicopter was coming back towards me real slow, so I started treading water to keep my head above water, and I'm waving my arms frantically, and the pilot turned his light on and flicked it a couple of times to let me know that he saw me.'

Minutes later, a diver was in the water to help lift Nelson into the helicopter.

'I will probably never feel anything like that in my life. It was just such a relief, and knowing that they weren't going to find me in another type of condition, because that probably was a very real thing.'

'Two rules that will be in effect from now on is: number one, wear a life jacket; number two, never sail alone.'

While he talks like he's taking this in stride, Nelson says after this experience life is a little different.

'I learned a lot about myself, too. Inner strength, faith, and probably the knowledge now that I have to appreciate what's around me.'

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