By Todd Ceisner
Chris Flint figured he was giving himself plenty of time to get back to check-in on day 1 of the Lake St. Clair Bassmaster Northern Open. He left his fishing spot at 4 p.m. and planned to have an hour and 15 minutes for the ride back to the ramp.
Nothing went according to plan, however.
Shortly after leaving to head back to weigh-in, Flint's boat (a Triton TR21) began taking on water at an alarming rate, so much so that he and co-angler Brett Walker had to abandon the vessel and climb aboard a nearby channel buoy ("Buoy number 26," Walker recalled) in Lake St. Clair until a Coast Guard boat arrived.
Both men were uninjured and the boat, which did not completely sink, was towed back to shore and later repaired. It was a harrowing experience, both men said. Flint is a police officer in Canton, N.Y., while Walker is an electrical contractor from Kansas City, Mo.
"The guy who was with the TowBOATUS boat told us we were the 27th boat that sunk this season that he's personally had to tow on St. Clair," Walker said.
'When it Goes Bad, It All Goes at Once'
After catching what he called a "good bag of fish," Flint and Walker began their journey back to weigh-in, stopping at one point to let their fish relax in the livewells.
"When I took off, we speared a wave so there was a bit more water in the boat," Flint said. "I also noticed one of the bilges had quit. I started watching the clock while I was messing with it, but I got it cleared and got back on plane.
"All of a sudden I felt the boat was getting heavy," he continued. "I've been in it long enough to know when it doesn't feel right. I turned and looked back toward the battery compartment and water was shooting out of the holes where the extension cords come out for charging. The faster we were going, the faster the water was coming in. It just seemed like when it goes bad, it all goes at once."
Both men attempted to bail the water out, but it was no use. They secured their lifejackets and started calling 911. Flint's phone was dead and Walker said he had 10 percent battery life left on his.
"If I hadn't have gotten through to 911, there's no telling how long it would've taken them to find us," Walker said.
In the embedded video below, footage that Flint provided to BassFan shows his bass boat nearly submerged as well as the arrival of the Coast Guard boat and the ride back to the ramp.
"It filled up pretty quick," Flint said. "Luckily, we were about 100 yards from a shipping buoy off the main channel of St. Clair. My main concern was getting over to that so I could get my co-angler on there."
Flint was able to maneuver the boat over to the buoy, allowing Walker to get off the boat.
"I swung back around and made it up myself," Flint added.
They wanted to the tie off the boat to the buoy, but were afraid it would sink and potentially take the buoy down as well, so they let it drift.
The Coast Guard arrived in 20 minutes, Flint said. A local sheriff's boat and a Tow BoatUS craft also assisted in recovering the boat.
"There was only one other boat that came by – a pleasure boat – and I don't know how they didn't see us," Flint said.
Flint said he has an "ungodly fear of water" that stems from an incident when he nearly drowned as a child so breaking down by the buoy was probably the best thing that could've happened.
"My big fear was the boat going down and he and I would just be bobbers out there," he said. "The buoy gave us some peace of mind. We could just hang out there for as long as we needed to. All I could think about was, 'I don't want to be floating out here for hours or days."
What Went Wrong?
Once the boat was towed back to shore, a closer inspection revealed that the gasket that seals the top section of fiberglass to the hull had come loose and several of the screws that are hidden by the rub rail around the exterior of the boat had broken or come loose.
"It was only an inch or so," Flint said, "but the top part had pulled away from the hull just enough. When the rub rail pulled off, the water hit the shell and it separated."
"It wasn't that it was that one wave we speared that did it," Walker said. "It was the repeatedly hitting of waves throughout the day separated that gasket. We couldn't tell from being in the boat so we didn't know. I couldn't notice it when we got off the water. We were looking underneath for a hole."
Flint brought the boat to the Triton service trailer the following day and he said within a couple hours, all of the repairs were made to the boat and motor and he was able to tow it back home to Potsdam, N.Y.
"They took out the old screws, put it back together, sealed it and it was ready to go," he said. "What was frustrating was just 3 days before that I had to have the power head replaced on the motor. I thought that was as bad as it would get.
"Full marks to those (service crew) guys. Where I live, we have very limited boat mechanics and the stuff that these guys can do it would take weeks in my area to get it done. I didn't realize it would be that easy to fix. My main concern was getting the water out of the motor, but the guy said it was not that big of a deal."
Flint said he plans to launch the boat today on the St. Lawrence River as he prepares to fish a tournament on the eastern end of Lake Ontario on Saturday.
"I'm definitely a little nervous about it," he said, adding he's received a ton of support from strangers and friends alike through social media after they heard about the incident. "I've received a ton of private messages from people I don't know offering me gear or a boat or making sure I was okay."
See the below gallery for additional photos provided by Flint and Walker.