YORK BEACH, Maine — During the Nubble Light Challenge several weeks ago, two swimmers had made it as far as the gut between Sohier Park and Nubble Light when their strength gave out. Coming to their rescue that morning was Jeff Patten, head of the town’s ocean rescue squad, on the town’s newly acquired jet ski.
“They were right in the middle of the gut and it was getting rough,” said Patten, who acts as the Nubble Light Challenge safety director. “No boat was able to make it in. I got her on the back of the jet ski and transferred her to the comfort boat, and her partner to the Coast Guard boat. And all was well.”
That jet ski is going to make a significant difference in water rescue operations for the town for years to come, said Patten, because of its quick response time and maneuverability. That’s important, because in the changing summer landscape in York, swimmers are not the only people using the beaches these days.
“Every year there are more people with paddleboards. So you get a weekend athlete who wants to try it, and he finally gets up and says, ‘This is easier than I thought.’ So he paddles to the Nubble, but coming back there’s a 4-knot wind and all of a sudden he’s down on the board and trying to paddle in. And that can be tiring,” said Patten.
So it is now the responsibility of the ocean rescue squad — lifeguards, as most know them — to keep an eye out not only close to shore but farther out as well. The jet ski is going to change response time significantly.
“Now,” said Patten, the lifeguard “has to leave the beach. And on a busy summer weekend, there’s one guy for every 1,000 people on the beach. So 1,000 people don’t have a sentinel. Then you have to get out there. Depending on the seas, you can be tired by the time you get out there, and you have to pull the victim in.”
The jet ski can reach the victim in just seconds, and if it’s needed at Short Sands or Harbor beaches, it can travel there in three to four minutes.
Patten said since the Challenge began again several years ago, he has been riding in a boat owned by Cape Neddick summer resident Douglas Chamberlain, who volunteers his boat for the swim. Before long, talk turned to how a jet ski would be a rescue aid.