Jamie Richards usually ventures out in an aluminum boat and with someone else when setting markers on Lunenburg County's Fancy Lake year-after-year.
The 61-year-old Hebbville resident broke that streak April 3, choosing to go it alone and tow a buoy behind his kayak to his own mooring block about 500 metres offshore. The decision proved ill-advised, and potentially deadly.
"I put myself and a lot of other people in a bad situation, which I feel terribly about," he explained to LighthouseNOW during a telephone interview days after he was rescued. "It's a life lesson."
Richards paddled out from his Catidian Place property overlooking the lake before 5 p.m. with the orange buoy in tow. A one-and-a-half metre long rope tugged the orange ball, about 50 centimetres in diameter, which was attached to a one-and-a-half-metre long rope linked to the kayak by carabiner.
He told his wife of nearly 40 years, Nancy Wilcox Richards, of his plans before departing.
"I was going to do this one marker and come right back."
By the time he reached the mooring, Richards noticed some attachments were snarled, so he twisted himself around inside the kayak to loosen things in the back. It was at that point the kayak capsized and Richards went into the drink. Fortunately, he was wearing a lifejacket.
Afloat in the middle of a frigid lake and far from shore, Richards admittedly is "not very good" at swimming. He contemplated swimming to shore, thinking he might be able to make it, "but 'might' wasn't good enough," he said.
"I knew I wasn't getting to shore."
Instead, he secured himself in place with the tow rope and latched his hands onto the buoy and his water-logged kayak. He yelled for help several times, unsure anyone would hear him.
Luckily, Nancy saw him. She either saw the kayak capsize or a moment when her husband splashed the water to draw attention.
"If she wouldn't have noticed, it would have been a different situation altogether," Dennis Hynes, the fire chief of Hebbville's volunteer fire department, told LighthouseNOW during a phone call.
Emergency responders, including Hebbville firefighters, responded to the cold water rescue.
Two volunteer firefighters adorning water rescue suits paddled out to Richards in Troy Russell's fibreglass boat. Russell is a neighbour of the Richards family and offered his boat to rescuers, who took him up on the offer as crews were "trying to save every minute we could," Hynes said.
Two more firefighters followed in the department's inflatable watercraft to Richards' location.
After a couple of attempts, rescuers, whom Richards said were Chris Kennedy and Tanya Larkin, helped pluck his hypothermic and soaked 5'10", 180-lb frame from the water.
"It's nice to see all of our training come together and work flawlessly," Hynes noted, "and the result was a successful rescue."
There had been ice on the lake in the weeks prior to the incident.
"I was pretty cold; there were some shakes going on," Richards said, who had been in the water an estimated 40 minutes.
Paramedics were waiting on shore with a stretcher and a warm ambulance. Richards said the paramedics started removing his wet clothes and applied heating pads and engaged in other treatment. At the South Shore Regional Hospital in Bridgewater, more measures were taken to boost his body temperature. He spent the night there and was released the next day. The paramedics "were fantastic," Richards said, and "the care I received at South Shore Regional Hospital was Cadillac service."
What was going through his mind as he bobbed in the lake, not knowing if help was coming? He said it involved a chat with a higher power.
"I'm not really a religious person, but I did have a brief conversation with the big guy above," he admitted, " and all I said was, 'I'm not ready. I'm not ready to go yet.'"
He plans to use the traumatic experience as a chance to help his local fire department advance its water rescue capacity.
"I'm grateful to be alive and I owe my life to a lot of people: First and foremost my wife Nancy," in addition to firefighters, his neighbour, and others. "I'm just happy to be here."
Richards has no more plans to repeat solo kayak excursions to set lake markers.
He said he will revert back to the safer and more reliable method he and a friend carried out problem-free for so many years.
The friend visited him after the ordeal, and the two were able to share a light moment, but Richards realizes the end result could have had dire consequences. The incident serves as a cautionary tale for those who work or play on the water, he suggested.
"My buddy, who normally helps me came over," Richards recalled with a chuckle, "and said to me, 'I don't know whether to give you a hug or a kick in the ass.'"