Ten Haken, others survive capsized boat in Lake MichiganWORTHINGTON — A fun-filled salmon-fishing trip to Lake Michigan turned into a frightening ordeal for a Worthington family and a friend last week after their boat capsized, leaving them in the chilly water for about two hours.
By: Kari Lucin, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — A fun-filled salmon-fishing trip to Lake Michigan turned into a frightening ordeal for a Worthington family and a friend last week after their boat capsized, leaving them in the chilly water for about two hours.
“Number one, never ever underestimate the power of prayer,” said Lyle Ten Haken, one of the five men thrown from the boat when it flipped over. “Two, never take family and friends for granted. And don’t wear a pullover, hooded sweatshirt on the water.”
Lyle’s double-thick sweatshirt wouldn’t have become a problem on most fishing expeditions, such as the one he took on July 22 with his sons, Michael, Paul and Mark, and family friend Brent Gravenhof, all formerly of Worthington.
On that expedition, the boat turned over, and it turned over so fast Lyle had no time to remove the heavy shirt. None of the five boaters had time to grab a lifejacket or emergency equipment, let alone radio for help.
An estimated 5 to 10 seconds passed between the moment one of the Ten Hakens noticed how much water was on the boat’s deck and the moment all five men hit the lake.
Later, they found out why Gravenhof’s boat had so much water in it and what caused it to capsize two miles from shore on Lake Michigan.
A water-intake valve designed to restrict water in the boat’s live well had broken. That water overflowed and ran onto the deck too quickly for anyone to notice until it was too late. It gathered at the back of the boat, where the water eventually became heavy enough to flip the boat over.
The four younger men jumped free of the boat as it flipped. Lyle didn’t.
“When the boat flipped over, I was caught underneath the boat,” he recalled. “I managed to swim to the surface, which was a real struggle for me because I had too many clothes on.”
That double-thickness pullover sweatshirt that had seemed like such a good idea on land turned into a sodden, heavy anchor when Lyle hit the water, especially when combined with the rest of his clothing and shoes. Mark saw his father having difficulty staying afloat and assisted him in grabbing onto the hull of the capsized boat.
The first five to 10 minutes after the incident were hectic. They called out to make sure each had survived the boat’s sudden overturning. Then they began to assess the situation.
“My first thoughts were ‘where is everybody and is everybody OK?’” Michael recalled. “Then it was ‘what can we grab to use.’ I had started out using a lid to a cooler to float on.”
Fortunately for the Ten Hakens and Gravenhof, the boat didn’t completely sink immediately. Its nose stayed afloat, offering the five of them a resting place to cling to above the waves.
Those waves were between two and three feet high and the water temperature was around 72 degrees — unusually warm for Lake Michigan.
Two days later, the water was 58 degrees, and had it been that cold at the time of the accident, the boaters might have perished and almost certainly would have had serious hypothermia.
As it was, the water temperature wasn’t an immediate concern, but the men’s own gear had become a hazard. They had to be careful to keep away from their own fishing lines, which were heavy enough to cut them or entangle them and drag them down, if the boat sank.
None of them were wearing lifejackets, although they had lifejackets and safety equipment on board as required by law.
There had not been time to grab any of it.
Moreover, they believed an air bubble could escape from the partially-submerged boat and cause it to sink at any moment.
Later, they found out their boat had been designed to stay afloat no matter what, and in fact, it never did completely sink.
Shortly after the boat overturned, four items instrumental to the men’s rescue floated to the surface — three life jackets and an orange safety kit. The kit included flares, a bright orange and black safety flag and whistles.
Lyle, free of the bulky sweatshirt, along with Michael and Paul, took the lifejackets because they were the ones closest to where the gear surfaced. Mark clung to the boat using a T-shirt.
“We immediately struck a couple of flares and were in the water, holding the flares,” Lyle said. “The nearest boaters we could see were probably a mile away to the west of us.”
The flares were too close to the surface of the water to see, they realized.
Fortunately, Gravenhof had worn rubbery swimming shoes on the fishing expedition, allowing him to climb up the slippery hull of the capsized boat. There, he perched for more than an hour, flapping the orange and black rescue flag back and forth — to no avail. He was still too close to the waterline for other boats to see. They couldn’t get further out of the water with the equipment they had, but if they could drag up a fishing rod, they could attach the flag to it and make themselves more visible.
The problem: the fishing poles were still attached to the mostly-submerged boat.
They used a house key to cut a piece of fabric from clothing to make it easier to pull on the line without cutting themselves. Gravenhof and Mark found a line that seemed like it was still attached to the boat, and followed it down as far as possible.
Then Mark followed it under the water with his foot and swam beneath the boat to retrieve the fishing rod.
“When I brought that back up we were all pretty encouraged by that point, that was pretty exciting,” Mark recalled. “I wasn’t too freaked out going underneath the boat because obviously I knew I wasn’t going down too deep, and if I didn’t come up pretty quickly obviously somebody was going to come get me.”
They attached the flag to the fishing pole and Gravenhof resumed his precarious position on the hull, utilizing the pole to wave the safety flag further in the air.
“That was a big victory for us,” Lyle said.
Not long afterward, a sailboat started out of the harbor of Holland, Mich., heading straight for the Ten Hakens and Gravenhof. As the sailboat came closer and closer, the men in the water used the whistles, in hopes that the people on the boat, running motorless, would hear them.
The sailboat kept heading directly toward them. Gravenhof kept waving and finally, the sailboat dropped its sail and turned on its motor, an indication that people had finally seen the capsized boat.
Bill and Tina Kelsey, on their 37-foot sailboat, came to their rescue, first throwing another two lifejackets and then helping them onto the boat.
Leaving the capsized boat had to be done with care, because the five men still believed it could belch up its air and sink suddenly, dragging someone down with it by the fishing lines. They all swam away from the boat and were taken aboard the Kelsey vessel.
“And we offered another prayer, for our recovery,” Lyle remembered afterward.
Prayer was critical for all five men throughout their ordeal, Lyle said. More than once, they prayed together, keeping their mental and spiritual strength up.
“I honestly feel God has watched over us, because there were multiple times it could’ve ended,” Paul said. “The boat could have sunk. The water temperature could have been 20 degrees cooler. We could have gotten wrapped in fishing lines. That boat coming out of Holland Harbor could have taken a different course that day.
“There were so many things that came together. People say ‘You were lucky, you were lucky,’ but I think it was definitely God watching over us,” Paul said.
The Kelseys called the Coast Guard, who came and diagnosed the rescued men with mild hypothermia and encased them in warm woolen blankets.
Lyle credits his sons and Gravenhof for saving his life, and also credits Gravenhof for keeping the right safety equipment in the boat.
Michael too, warned anyone going boating to make sure to go with someone knowledgeable and experienced, like Gravenhof. Michael also believed good swimming skills helped them all survive the trip, though next time he goes boating, he intends to wear a lifejacket rather than simply keeping one close at hand.
“No more fishing unless it’s on Lake Okabena for us!” Paul said, noting they had been a little too complacent in not wearing lifejackets because they knew they could swim.
Swimming on Lake Michigan is not the same as swimming on Lake Okabena, Paul added. “You can’t be too comfortable out on the water because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Mark believed the experience brought the family closer together and said it was certainly “a family vacation we won’t forget any time soon.” He also cautioned boaters to at least know where the lifejackets are in their boats, although it would likely not have helped the group during their adventure.
“I’m very grateful and thrilled to be here, and I’m thrilled to be here with three of my sons, because it could have been very different. They saved my life and obviously did a fantastic job of saving their own,” Lyle said. “That’s what I did on my summer vacation.”