Jaime Day was relieved to see his sailboat friend tied up at the Niagara-on-the-Lake Sailing Club Monday night, but not until after a harrowing five-hour wait in the dark, as the Niagara Regional Police marine unit struggled to get the boat to safety.
He was feeling even better Wednesday afternoon, waiting for the father of the 37-year-old man from London, Ont. to come and get his son and take him home.
On Monday, Day said he had been watching the boat with his binoculars from the golf course, and knew it was in a precarious position. He was going back and forth on the phone with the Canadian Coast Guard and the police unit, and the fellow on the sailboat was saying he wouldn’t leave his boat, but convinced him to allow it to be towed to shore.
“He was in pretty bad shape. He said he wasn’t suicidal, but he was a martyr.”
Day had taken out a boat to talk to the man in his sailboat more than two months ago, and had been in touch with him since, first by phone or email, and then, on a VHF radio.
At one point, Day had helped get him to Navy Hall dock, thinking he had assurance from the federal government that he’d be allowed to stay for the winter. He had been tied up for just a short time when Niagara Regional Police arrived and told him Parks Canada said he had to leave, which he did. In the meantime, though, Day and his wife Lorraine had picked up large quantities of water and food for him, so he was well-stocked with supplies.
The story he and his wife shared is of a man who prizes his solitude above all else. He had repeatedly told Day he would not leave his boat, and that if anyone tried to get him off, he’d go back out into the river. .
They describe him as a man who seems a genius from the way he talks, but definitely struggles with mental health issues, and lives in his own reality.
This weekend, the sailboat had been carried past Ball’s Beach and into the lake, where it was anchored. Although there was water around the boat, it was surrounded by ice.
Day, the commodore of the sailing club, was thinking he’d have get help from some of the members and go out and get him themselves, if necessary, so he was grateful to hear the NRP marine unit was going to put a boat in the water and go out to get it.
“If we’d gone out, they would probably have had to rescue us.”
It was dark by the time the NRP boat, a 30-foot inflatable with a hard bottom, was in the water at the sailing club. Day says there were sailing club guys trying to break the ice around it with two-by-fours, and once it was in the water, the police used the propellor to break up the ice around it to get out into the river. It was also about -16 degrees, and windy, says Day.
The police made their way to the sailboat, but the man onboard wasn’t strong enough to pull up the anchor. In trying to do it from the police boat, the line got wrapped around the propellor, and it took some time to get it untangled, said Day.
During that time the two boats had drifted, completely surrounded by ice, and even once the sailboat was tied to the police boat, they were being pushed toward the U.S. side.
It took them about another half hour to get into open water, and make their way to the sailing club.
Even after a slow and difficult trip to the dock, the boat safely tied up by the gas pumps late in the evening., there was still the ordeal of getting the police boat out of the water, when the man in the sailboat, despite what he had just gone through, told the police he was going to go back out again.
Day says, “kudos to the guys from the NRP, they really handled it well.”
They said they couldn’t leave him knowing he might head out again, and having come in a pick-up truck towing the inflatable, hard-bottom boat, they decided it was time to call for assistance, and get him to the hospital.
Sailing club guys helped get the boat out of the water, police well-trained to handle the situation got the man off the boat, into a police car, and to the St. Catharines site of the Niagara Health system, where he was being cared for until his father arrived.
Wednesday afternoon Day was at the sailing club packing up all the man’s belongings on the sailboat, waiting for the man’s father to arrive to pick them up. “I’m hoping if he has everything from the boat, he won’t feel he has any reason to come back to it.”
His father was then going to get his son from the hospital and take him home to the mental health unit of a London hospital, said Day, who by Wednesday had learned a little more about the man he befriended last December from his father, that he is a genius who had finished his thesis on astrophysics for the University of Waterloo about two years ago, until mental health problems resurfaced. It was then he went out to buy his first sailboat. This was his third, the other two grounded and abandoned in Lake Erie.
Day can’t say enough about the NRP who rescued the man, getting him safely to shore under very difficult conditions.
Better still was getting him to the hospital, which had seemed like an impossible task short of arresting him, which was unnecessary, but it’s where he needed to be, in good hands, until his family takes over. “They did a really great job,” says Day.