March 30, 2006
Orinda, CA - On Saturday, March 25 the Saint Mary's women's rowing team hit a batch of bad weather during a morning practice. As the varsity and junior varsity eights were making their way back to the docks, white caps started forming in the open water. Head coach Pasha Spencer moved ahead of the boats to check out the rough water, and when she returned to the boats, she gave instructions to both teams on which direction would be the best route to shore.
As she addressed the boats, the varsity boat had taken on water, but was fine. The varsity eight boat, controlled by senior coxswain Amy Bellman rowed to the nearest shore. With limited control of the rudder, Bellman instructed her rowers to steer the boat into the wind. The varsity boat was able to ride the waves and power through to a protected cove of the reservoir.
With the varsity boat heading to shore, Spencer focused on the JV boat by passing out life jackets to the rowers now in the water. The junior varsity boat had taken on too much water as it reached the deck. Spencer instructed the boat to stop rowing, told them that they were swamped, to untie, get into the water, and hold onto the boat.
The rowers were quick to assess their teammate and who needed to be the first to get to shore. Four student-athletes were pulled into the launch by Spencer and were taken to the nearest shore. Upon reaching land, Spencer contacted assistant coach Tom Fries, who called the SMC Athletic Training room office to check on emergency procedures and if they could supply blankets and support.
With the varsity eight boat safe in the cove, Spencer headed to the dock to drop off four student-athletes and team moderator Rebecca Proehl. After dropping off the first set of student-athletes, Spencer headed back to JV boat. By now the wind had picked up even more, creating more frequent swells. Spencer reached the five remaining student-athletes that were in the water, moved them into the launch and headed to the closest shoreline.
Upon reaching the shore, Spencer determined that the water was too rough to drive through with six people in the launch. Spencer decided to stay on shore and keep the team together and hike back to the dock. After securing the launch and the two boats in the cove, the team started to hike back to the boathouse. After reaching the first hill, Spencer called Fries again and instructed him to call for an ambulance. This decision was reached because of the distance the team was from the boathouse and the time that the team spent in the water.
The Orinda Fire Department, the ambulance, and search and rescue arrived at the reservoir. Search and rescue organized boat trips to pick up and return the student-athletes to the boathouse. Head counts were taken at the boathouse and all student-athletes were accounted for and no student-athletes suffered injuries or hypothermia.
On Sunday the coaching launch and junior varsity boat were retrieved. Minimal damage was sustained to the bow of the JV boat. No dents, punctures or major scrapes were evident on the junior varsity boat. The junior varsity team met at the dock on Sunday to bail out their boat. The winds picked up again on Sunday, so the varsity boat did not get picked up until Monday morning. There was no damage to either the varsity boat or its oars.