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Mark Gunderman

Mark Gunderman

I have written this column before and I am going to write it again, because it bears repeating.

I was saddened to hear the report of two fatalities on Lake Wissota this weekend. For the record, nothing I write here should be construed as to suggest that the victims of the most recent tragedy had somehow thrown caution to the winds or were guilty of unsafe behavior. As I write this, investigation is still underway, and this column is not about them.

The news brought back memories of previous tragedies, ones that I was called upon to report on for the Herald.

I recall one of them when I take notice of a bench overlooking the big lake and the island on the far west end of the wayside that provides the entrance to Ray’s Beach. It was placed there by a grieving family in memory of a loved one.

I recall another when I pass a certain spot just past third bend up Paint Creek and see a white cross high on the shore. Out of respectful memory, I do not cast a line into the waters there.

Covering such stories affected me, emotionally and behaviorally. And I admit I am going to boast here, for I see from observations that not many people in boats – particularly the fishermen – take the precautions that I take.

I am one of the few fishermen I ever see on Lake Wissota (young children fishing with adults excepted) who wears his life jacket. I am alone in the boat, most of the time, so I have extra incentive to take the precaution, as there is no one left on board to help me should I go in the water.

It’s not that I don’t know how to swim. I just don’t know how to swim with a prop blade sticking out of my skull. That’s an exaggerated way of saying that if you accidentally enter the water, you don’t know what circumstances may interfere with your ability to get yourself to safety. Especially at my age, I know that I could easily throw my back out on the way down and have little resistance to sinking.

And when I am operating the boat with the outboard, I have my kill switch engaged. That’s a switch below the ignition key that you connect to a line that goes through a belt loop and connects to the key. If you’re thrown overboard by hitting an obstruction in the water, the line triggers the switch and kills the engine. I told a DNR warden once that I use mine. He said he never did and didn’t know anyone who did.

As I mentioned last week, I am not fond of night boating, and one of the reasons is the memories of truly horrific accidents that have happened at night.

When I am out at night, many times I see a power boat being operated at full speed, skipping across the water with barely anything but the prop in the water. The operator cannot easily see in the darkness what may lie in front, even if another boat has its lights on. I have seen boats travelling at high speeds after the fireworks on the 4th, despite the number of other boats out there slowly moving back to their docks. Common sense says slow down at night.

Am I overly cautious taking precautions that others seldom do? Frankly, I don’t care if I am. I got this way because I wrote and edited too many stories about authorities pulling from waters the bodies of men (and it’s almost always men) who thought it couldn’t happen to them.

I have no idea what happened to the men who died on Wissota last weekend, and I have no idea what happened to the man whose body parts were located after he took his sailboat out on Lake Pepin last weekend and became a victim of some horrific accident. But we can minimize the occurrences of such tragedies with safety precautions and common sense.

So, this week’s column isn’t much about Wissota wonders, I know.

But there are family members living in this area who may gaze upon the waters of our local treasure and not see wonders so much as they recall loved ones and wonder what their lives might be like today. Don’t put them through that. Enjoy the lake safely.

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