Kayak outing turns treacherous

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Darnell Ferreira

Man chronicles his heart-wrenching struggle to survive

Hello. My name is Darnell Ferreira and well, this is my story. Some of my co-workers thought it would be a good idea to share it:

PAMLICO COUNTY — It was Saturday March 25th, 2017, and a beautiful day to catch a river kayak ride prior to running/walking with my co-workers in the annual New Bern Easter Seals Glow Run.

The Launch:


I had plenty of food and water packed in my backpack, an extra cooler bag with ice packs, and my cell phone and crackers — and even more water in the watertight flotation storage bin aboard the vessel. I had my one extra bag tied around one of the straps of my life vest — just because there was no additional storage room aboard the kayak itself. 

All gear and paddle in hand, I slipped in the water at Bear Creek just above Alligator Point at 1300 hrs and smoothly glided down the marshy shoreline towards the mouth of Bear Creek past Garden Point and on to Sanders Point taking in the breeze and a wide variety of birds along the way.

Once I capped Sanders Point I could see a few boats, including a shrimping vessel heading out to Pamlico Sound. I caught my eye on a sail boat sailing along the opposite shore near Bryan Shoal at Bryan Point. As it was still gorgeous weather with very little waves, I decided to join them across Bay River and I set out with a good stride for what I targeted as Hogpen Creek.

Having crossed all of Bay River (at a very wide point), I did go ashore just long enough to relieve myself and grab a gusto of water, plus add a weather-all jacket to my donned apparel underneath my life vest with extra bag attached. 

Click on map to enlarge

Trouble develops:

I knew it was time to set back for Bear Creek as the wind and waves had picked up a bit. I quickly got back aboard and started first working against the wind and waves just to stay afloat — within the swells. I could see I was wearing myself out quickly trying to get the momentum I needed to get back up to Bryan Point — to ultimately turn and head back towards home.

I decided to go ahead and make my turn. After successfully turning and getting myself into the current with the wind now behind me I started my trip back across Bay River. Only now, it was it was white-capping! The wind was powerfully pushing me back against the surf. I had to really dig in hard on the port side just to stay upright. I was still handling the wind and waves but the burn in my arms, calves and diaphragm from exerting so much energy was exhausting me – and my muscles were certainly feeling very fatigued as well.

The capsize: 

Just about the time I thought I would make it back into the channel to really start closing the distance between shores, the wind blew up a great gust into my bow — on an upswing of a wave – and before

I could get her back into the surf to ride the next white cap wave, I was immediately rolled over into the chilly Bay River. 

From this moment on, I knew it was going to be a tough ride home! I had to keep my senses about me and try to regain control of the kayak! I was able to retain much of my gear (though drenched) and kept my oar bungeed to the vessel’s stern. I rolled the kayak over and so began a ritual of attempts to get back aboard and get her going again – all to no avail

My numerous attempts to regain the integrity of my vessel ended with my very first attempts to yell for help. Nonstop I yelled, as I tried just getting up on the half sunk, semi-floating kayak. To get myself out of the water — enough above the waves and between swells to yell at my lungs’ loudest capacity, all while flailing my arms and thrashing in the water!

Fear and cold:

Then, I remembered where I was, and that there are much larger and ‘hungrier creatures’ than my tiny morsel of a snack self, and decided just to yell very loudly until nearly losing my voice. When I realized this was having no effect on my current situation, I calmed down a bit. My heart was racing and I was already getting very cold now.

I took an inventory of my remaining gear and mistakenly decided to remove my vest (just for a minute) so I could untie the extra ice bag with water that was attached to me. The waves and current were incredible, and unrelenting. Fearsome Bay River decided to claim my ice bag, and my life vest as well! Slowly pulling them away from me, and swallowing them deep.

It was then that I first began to cry a little bit and realized I had to stay with the only flotation device I had left — my kayak. Even though she was mostly under the water, she did stay afloat — but it was truly hard to keep control of her under the surf with white caps in my face.

I could feel my body getting colder and colder. 

All I could do now was to stay afloat and swim in-between swells with kayak in tow towards Sand Point. It was a struggle to stay warm, but even though I could not feel my toes, I continued kicking both sideways and scissor chop strokes as quietly as I could as to not arouse anything from the depths of the frigid dark water beneath me.

Every so often I would see a boat (or a plane once), then a huge barge too, but as hard and loud as I yelled or waved the paddle, none of them saw me! 

Thoughts of death:

I became sad a few times thinking that I would never make it back across the channel and to another shoreline. There was a river loon that stopped by for a little bit and even sang his song for me a couple of times. I found the loon’s tune to be comforting, if only for just the moment. He finally left me, giving flight and heading for exactly where I wanted to get to — the other side!

There was also a seagull that just before dusk flew with me for a short time and hovered and spoke with me a bit. It was nice and I was glad to have her company then. I did not realize how much she meant to me, or how emotional I really was, until she started to fly off towards one of the most beautiful sunsets I think I have ever seen.

I cried out for her not to leave me until I was closer to shore. “Please, please do not leave me,” I cried. She disappeared and soon, the sun did too below the horizon of cold waves, which continued to toss and batter me.

I thought about my family, friends and co-workers and patients and patrons, and if I would ever see any of them ever again. I cried and looked back – I could see the shoes on my feet through the water behind me, and nothing else following me, thankfully! All this, as it got darker and darker!

After ingesting a little water during my pity potty routine, I was not so sure at that point if I was going to make it or not.

Continued on next page . . .

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