Where's Phil?

Published: January 2012

In the last issue, Seaworthy mentioned two BoatUS employees who were vying for the coveted "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" award. The first was Scott Croft, who narrowly avoided being run down one night on the Hudson River by recognizing that five blasts from a tug's horn means DANGER. The other nominee was Pat Piper, whose 24-foot sailboat was dragged around backward by a huge fish that he never landed. Shortly after the October issue went to press, we received a late entry from Phil Pomponi, the chief financial officer at BoatUS

Late afternoon on Reindeer Lake: Where’s Phil?

The story began when Phil and two of his sailing friends went to Reindeer Lake in Northern Canada on a fishing trip in late August. The trio stayed in one of those camps where guides pack lunches, steer the boats, bait hooks, and explain how a reel works. In Phil's case, that was helpful because he's definitely not a fisherman. Phil is, however, an accomplished sailor who put a lot of thought into equipping his 44-foot sailboat, including installing the latest electronic safety gizmos. His first question to the guide was, "What happens if something goes wrong — do you even have VHF radios aboard your boats?" The guide answered, "Nothing ever goes wrong."

You can guess where this is going.

The first time Phil went fishing, the boat was bouncing across a large expanse of open water when its small outboard sputtered and died. Apparently someone back at the camp put the day's supply of gasoline into the wrong boat's tank. Phil and friends eventually drifted to a heavily wooded island where they narrowly averted being rolled over in the surf by using a bait-cutting board and an old paddle to coax the boat into a small cove. (This is a story unto itself.)

A few things to keep in mind: Reindeer Lake is roughly the size of the Chesapeake Bay and has over 5,000 islands. Reindeer Lake also has a lot of bugs. The northern edge of the lake is only 100 miles from the Canadian timberline, which means that in late August — the very end of the fishing season — it gets dark early and is cold at night. Finally, it's helpful to remember that Phil is an accountant — and not very outdoorsy.

Now, back to the action: Once safely ashore, the guide made a fire to signal any would-be rescuers, who weren't likely to notice a boat was overdue until late in the day. Even so, the fire idea would probably have worked but the wind was blowing 15 knots and the smoke — remember, they were on a lee shore — was being blown back into the woods. As the hours ticked by, Phil wondered what sleeping in the woods without a tent or sleeping bag would be like with who-knows-what sniffing around for a meal.

Just before sunset, they heard a boat's engine somewhere off in the distance and the guide began piling damp pine needles onto the fire. The smoke continued disappearing into the woods. The sun was directly in front of them, however, which meant that for at least a few more minutes, they'd be basking in bright sunlight — and much more visible to anyone on the lake. It was their only bit of luck that afternoon, but the timing was perfect. Phil took off his yellow foul-weather jacket and waved it over his head. The sun reflected off the jacket like a giant spotlight. It worked; the sound of an engine grew louder and soon they saw a boat heading directly for their island. They were saved!

As a sort of epilogue to the story, Phil — the non-fisherman — went on to catch (and release) the largest pike (48 inches) caught on Reindeer Lake in 2011! So, with regrets to the other two BoatUS employees whose gripping stories were published in the October issue — Phil wins the 2011 "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" award.

To comment on this article, please contact Seaworthy@BoatUS.com.