Crime

Bellingham couple’s strange route home leads them to two kayakers stranded on buoy

Melinda Sweet and her husband, Bob Gudmundson, owners of Desire Fish Co., rescued a pair of kayakers stranded near Squalicum Harbor on Friday night.
Melinda Sweet and her husband, Bob Gudmundson, owners of Desire Fish Co., rescued a pair of kayakers stranded near Squalicum Harbor on Friday night.

A couple whose fishing vessel was in the right place at the right time helped rescue a pair of kayakers stranded near Squalicum Harbor on Friday night.

Bob Gudmundson and Melinda Sweet, owners of Desire Fish Co., were headed back from Anacortes, where they sell fish a few days every week, Sweet said by phone Saturday afternoon. The pair set out in Desire, their 37-foot gill netter, about 5 p.m., and were hit with heavy winds as they drew closer to Squalicum Harbor.

The weather forced the couple closer to shore, deviating from their more typical track in deeper water, Sweet said.

Around 7:20 p.m., Gudmundson and Sweet suddenly noticed they were cruising close to an unlit day marker, used for guiding vessels, about 400 yards from shore near Squalicum Harbor. They veered away, but soon heard whistling and screaming from the direction of the marker. Sweet ran out the galley door.

“I said, ‘Bob, there’s people out there,’ and I couldn’t believe it because it was pitch black,” Sweet said.

The couple stopped and helped both kayakers, a man and a woman, onto the boat. Sweet described them as in their early 20s. Both were wearing life jackets, she said.

To come on it suddenly and realize we were there to help these people and how swiftly we were able to help them, it just felt like it was an opportunity to do good, and it was very heartwarming.

Melinda Sweet, owner of Desire Fish Co., who helped rescue stranded kayakers

The pair told Gudmundson and Sweet they put their kayaks in the water off Glass Beach earlier in the day when the weather was clearer. As conditions deteriorated, the pair tried to return to Glass Beach but were overpowered by the wind and waves.

Both eventually fell out of their kayaks, Sweet said. They each hoisted themselves up on the boats with their legs hanging off the side and tried to kick their way back to shore, but it eventually became too dark to see where shore was.

The pair was in the water for about 15 minutes, they told Sweet, before they happened upon the day marker.

Soon afterward, a woman called 911 to report hearing screams for help near Squalicum Harbor, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew Nelson with the U.S. Coast Guard’s Bellingham station.

The Bellingham Police Department notified the Coast Guard, which then dispatched a crew to begin a search, Nelson said. But another call came in before they left explaining that a passing boat had rescued the kayakers, and the search was called off, he said.

The pair’s kayaks were later found washed ashore near Zuanich Park.

The rescue was serendipitous, Sweet said: Had it not been for the poor weather, she and Gudmundson would not have taken the unusual route so close to shore. And if the day marker had been equipped with lights, they would not have come so close to it, she added.

“It was a lovely bunch of synchronicity,” Sweet said. “To come on it suddenly and realize we were there to help these people and how swiftly we were able to help them, it just felt like it was an opportunity to do good, and it was very heartwarming.”

Kyle Mittan: 360-756-2803, @KyleMittan

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