Much like Gilligan only planned on going on a three-hour tour, longtime kayak fisherman Mike Diaz didn’t plan on spending more than 12 hours in the Long Island Sound when his vessel took on water and left him stranded near the Connecticut shore.
Veteran fisherman Mike Diaz, who has frequented the Long Island Sound from his kayak for 12 years, spent 17 hours in the water during a recent venture, when his kayak sprung a leak and his dry box got wet, leaving him alone in the area with no means of contacting the outside world as a storm came to the area.
On Oct. 7, last year, Diaz set out on a late season trip, launching from his usual spot at Lloyd Neck Beach with other boaters. The weather was mild through the early autumn and Diaz wanted to squeeze in another outing before winter.
Diaz said that he spent the day bottom fishing, paddling around the Sound with other boats in the morning before making his move out toward deeper waters in the afternoon. He attempted to return to the shore at approximately 5:30 p.m. that day, knowing a storm was approaching, which was when he found that the center console of the kayak had begun leaking.
“The plan was to bring the kayak to a nearby beach, drain it, and follow the shoreline back (to Lloyd Neck Beach,)” Diaz said. “When I got about 100 yards from the beach, the kayak tipped over, and I tried to leash it to me, figuring I could swim the last 100 yards to the shore, but with the tide running the way it was, I could not get back to it.”
When Diaz went to his dry box in an effort to call a roommate to let them know of the peril, he found that the dry box was no longer dry and the phone was dead. Thus began Diaz’s 17-hour adventure in the Long Island Sound.
“I knew there was a clock ticking, and so your thoughts begin running into thoughts of hypothermia, and ‘am I going to be found dead on some beach somewhere,’” Diaz added. “I was able to shake those thoughts and decided that I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.
“In the middle of the night, in the black of water, in the dark of sky, you’re a very small piece of this world. You’re like a little tiny dot floating in the water.”
Diaz went on to untether himself from the kayak and made efforts to keep himself afloat, he said. Eventually, the lights on the vessel shorted out and he continued to attempt to swim toward Connecticut beaches, but the tide kept pulling him to the middle of the Sound.
The only thing that Diaz credits his survival for is his lifejacket.
“Then, that lighthouse appeared and changed everything,” he said. “I started swimming toward it, and at 11:34 in the morning, I put my hand on the rung of the ladder and knew in that moment that it was over.”
According to officials, in the Northeast, there were 54 recreational boating deaths in 2017. Thirty-nine of the 54 people who died were not wearing a life jacket and 19 out of the 54 deaths involved a paddle craft.
“It would be easy to throw your hands up and give up. To say that ‘the world is against me,’” Diaz added. “But just by not giving up, and figuring out what the next thing I needed to do - which was to stay afloat - here I am. I wanted to live for me, not to be selfish. But I wanted to live and I knew I needed to stay focused, so I placed my vision on staying afloat and getting out of the water.”
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