ESSEX - A potential disaster on Lake Champlain turned into a memorable outing for a Vermont man as a handful of Essex residents came to his rescue.
Michael Jackman, a business owner from New Haven, Vt., was treating four of his friends to a day on the lake Sept. 26 when the engine failed on his 22-foot center console motorboat, leaving them suddenly stranded in Whallons Bay.
Jackman's boat was one of very few out on the lake that day as the boating season was nearing a close. Waves swelling to four or five feet pushed the drifting boat toward the rocky shoreline.
"I've been living on the lake for 47 years, and it was as rough as I'd seen it," said Wayne Bailey, an Essex resident who organized efforts to help Jackman and his crew.
"All I did was what anybody else would have done, which was to try to find a boat to tow the disabled boat to safety," said Bailey, a retired State Police trooper.
Bailey was cleaning firearms at his home on Lakeshore Drive with his friend, Frank Walls, early in the afternoon Sept. 26 when he received a call from his neighbor, Andy Dolan, alerting him to the distressed vessel.
"Frank and I drove down to the John McBride property," Bailey recalled. "The boat was only a couple hundred yards offshore."
Bailey and others called to Jackman, encouraging him to come and tie the boat to McBride's dock. Jackman and his friends, all experienced boaters, used two anchors to "crawl" toward the dock and threw a tie-line to their rescuers.
"We didn't know anybody, and they didn't know us," Jackman said. "If we wouldn't have tied to that dock, we would have been on the rocks."
With the boat tied safely to the dock, Bailey went a couple miles north to the Essex Marina, where he found Tom and Sue Martini, an Essex Couple who happened to have their boat out that day.
"They were going to take that boat to Burlington within the hour and put it away for next summer," said Bailey, "but they said they were more than happy to help a boat with a damaged motor."
It took just 20 minutes for the Martinis to reach Jackman's boat and tow it to the Essex Marina for maintenance.
"In two to three hours, they had us on dry dock," said Jackman. "Everybody was so nice, and they wouldn't take a dime."
Jackman and his friends drove back to Vermont that evening, returning the next day with a second boat to help guide Jackman's boat back to Basin Harbor for the winter.
"It all just came together so nicely," Jackman said. "What could have been a disastrous day turned into a wonderful event."
Jackman said he is extremely thankful to the kind strangers in Essex who helped him and hopes to return to Essex next year to treat them to a night on the town.
But next time, he said, he'll come over on the ferry.