By Sue Botos
When Rocky River resident Bill Cran and his friend Rick Gill set out on Lake Erie last week on Cran’s boat, they had no specific plans in mind. But rescuing a pair of canoers was probably the last thing they expected to be doing.
“We were heading out and just winging it,” said Cran, 50, in a recent interview, adding that depending on the weather, possible destinations included a Lorain restaurant, or maybe Put-in-Bay. A quickly developing storm, however, changed their course.
“We got to Avon and decided to turn around,” recalled Cran, who said that they stayed out on the lake so Gill, a new boater, could experience the high waves and wind. Cran, who has been boating most of his life, said his boat, a 26-foot Glacier Bay catamaran, “Cat Tales” was well equipped for heavy seas, and that he often uses it for ocean fishing trips.
“A 50 knot wind did hit us and we thought it was time to go,” said Cran, adding that the waves were reaching up to five feet, some even larger.
When reaching the mouth of the Rocky River, Cran said he noticed commotion on the shore, with several rescue vehicles pulling up and people shouting. “There were people waving to get my attention and a guy was pointing down the beach,” recalled Cran, who noticed a person in a kayak.
“I thought he was the one in trouble, but he was standing by a (swamped) canoe and no one was coming to their aid,” he said.
“By the time we fished them out, they had been in the water for 45 minutes. The one kid looked like a deer in the headlights,” he said of the two males, 20-year-old Brian Dean of Cleveland, and his 16-year-old companion. Both were wearing life jackets.
The rough seas made the rescue even more difficult. “What should have been a two minute trip from where they were to the mouth of the Rocky River took all of 25 minutes,” continued Cran, who said that they tried to tow the canoe, but lost it in the waves. It was eventually recovered by the Coast Guard, which by this time was assisting the rescue.
Rocky River and Lakewood police responded to the distress call, but the canoe was too close to shore for the Rocky River Marine Patrol boat to assist. Lakewood police aided with an inflatable craft.
Cran said the two young men seemed to be in mild shock and were glad to be on the boat. However, they seemed to be more concerned about the canoe than their own safety. He added that he used the opportunity for an impromptu boating lesson. “We told them they need to check out conditions before they go out,” he said.
“When you’re in the water a lot, the odds are in your favor that you’ll see something like that,” said Cran, who runs a 50 foot commercial boat in Conneaut called Big Bertha. This vessel has a storied history, according to Cran. When under a different name and owner it rescued several people, as well as Coast Guard swimmers off the Lake Erie shore during a blizzard in 1977. He added that this boat, as well as Cat Tails, was a documented vessel. He explained that the designation means the owner does not need to purchase registration, but in time of war, the government can take the vessel for defensive purposes.
Despite his heroics, Cran remained modest. “It was really no big deal,” he said.