Capsized in a Storm

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“Capsized in a Storm,” Ensign, Oct. 1995, 66–67

Capsized in a Storm

The Scouts had been planning a July expedition to Lake Shoshone in Yellowstone National Park for months, and at last it was here. I too was excited. As ward Scoutmaster, I looked forward to spending prime time with my eldest son, David, an Explorer who shares my enthusiasm for fishing.

Arriving early one morning at Lake Shoshone, I thought it looked as beautiful as the Garden of Eden. We were welcomed by clear skies and a slight wind. I was itching to get David and my fishing pole on the lake, but we determined we should wait for the wind to calm.

By 3:00 P.M. the air settled and everyone scrambled for the canoes. David and I were so immersed in trying different lures and casting out spinners that we neglected to see the approaching, ominous clouds. At last a strong blast of wind got our attention, and I glanced up and was alarmed to see that the sudden storm had made the lake as turbulent and frightening as a battlefield. I thought at first that we were the last ones on the lake. Before heading for shore, however, I scanned the stormy lake once more. Off in the distance I saw an overturned canoe. Seconds became eternities as David and I struggled with the paddles, forcing our canoe against the waves.

As I paddled, my mind raced back to the night before, when our camp had received a surprise visit from a park ranger. We had asked him about the area, and out of curiosity, I had asked him how someone in an upright canoe could rescue a friend in an overturned canoe. We listened as he gave us step-by-step instructions.

Reaching the capsized canoe, we saw our friend Joel Holley barely able to hold his head above the chilly waters. Immersed in forty-degree water, his athletic, 275-pound body was already becoming numb with hypothermia, but true to his character he mumbled, “Hey you guys, don’t worry about me. Save yourselves.”

I was determined to get him back to shore and I knew I had to use every split second without error. One mistake by me or David, and our canoe would also capsize. I realized then that our lives depended on our memory of the park ranger’s earlier instructions. I asked Joel to use all his remaining strength to hold on to the side of my canoe while David maintained its balance. As I prayed for help, in my mind I could actually see and hear the park ranger detailing what I should do. I maneuvered the capsized canoe perpendicular to mine, slid it over the top of my canoe, and, as quickly as I dared, turned it right side up. With David keeping our canoe balanced, I slid Joel’s canoe back into the water. Moving the canoes parallel, I told Joel to get over to the side of his own canoe opposite our canoe and climb in. After being in that frozen abyss for more than fifteen minutes, Joel should have no longer been able to stay above water. Nonetheless, with frozen fingers and a numbed body, he fought for movement and struggled into his canoe.

By the time Joel was in the canoe, it was nearly full of chilling water, and he began shivering uncontrollably. I tried to encourage him as David and I helplessly bailed water from his canoe with our baseball caps. Realizing we were totally reliant on the mercy of Heavenly Father, I bowed my head and vocally prayed. I asked for the winds to cease, the sky to clear, and the waters to calm so our friends on shore could hear us. No sooner had I finished praying than the winds ceased, the sky cleared, the waters calmed, and we saw a rescue canoe on its way toward us.

As emergency care was given to Joel on the shore, I glanced at David. With unspoken words we shared the gratitude of witnessing God’s love through an answer to prayer.

Illustrated by Gregg Thorkelsen

Illustrated by Dikayl Dunkley