A stranded 17-year-old kayaker was plucked from an islet off Oak Bay on Monday night by an off-duty marine towing operator with a gut instinct and a big heart.
The Oak Bay High School foreign-exchange student was out for an early-evening paddle when she got caught in strong currents Monday night that pulled her toward the open ocean.
After several failed attempts to paddle to shore, she grabbed onto the “last rock before Washington,” said rescuer Tim Johnston, who pulled her onto his boat about 9 p.m.
Johnston, who works for C-Tow Victoria, and his wife, Sarah, were walking on Willows Beach in Oak Bay when they took note of a girl’s shoes and kayak dolly on the shoreline.
When the couple returned from walking their dog, it was growing dark and the tide had receded, revealing that the kayak keel marks had been left at high tide.
The dolly and shoes were still on the beach.
The couple then overheard a host family saying their student hadn’t turned for dinner and their kayak was gone.
Johnston alerted the Victoria Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre about 7:45 p.m. Meanwhile, Oak Bay police had been contacted by the family.
Police departments from Oak Bay, Saanich and Victoria, along with the Oak Bay fire department, up to three coast guard boats and the Oak Bay Sea Rescue Society began searching for the missing kayaker.
A Cormorant helicopter and fixed-wing Buffalo were on standby.
With a gut instinct of where the girl might have ended up, Johnston and his wife jumped in their boat, moored at Oak Bay Marina. They were determined to check every rock and marker from Mary Tod Island eastward.
An hour into their search, the couple thought they heard a faint response to Sarah’s calls.
“We stopped three times, shutting down engines [to reduce the noise] and narrow down on her location,” Johnston said.
They found the teen on the last in a grouping of rocks between Oak Bay and Discovery Island. She was dry with only cuts to her feet.
The couple helped her into their boat, warmed her up and took her to the marina’s fuel dock, where friends and family were waiting.
The girl was examined for injuries and a coast guard vessel retrieved her kayak.
“She was quite calm and very thankful, and a little embarrassed,” Johnston said. He said he only did what he hoped someone would do for him or his family.
The girl had a life preserver but no communication device or paddling partner.
She also didn’t have a route planned and didn’t leave her itinerary with family or friends — including her launching point and destination, police said.
A text to a friend about kayaking was the only lead, police said.
Johnston credited calm seas, a full moon and the help of several emergency resources for a successful end to the story.
On Tuesday, others credited Johnston.
“He did pretty much everything on his own, just being a Good Samaritan,” said Capt. Dave Mansi of the Victoria Rescue Co-ordination Centre.
Oak Bay police spokesman Rick Anthony said “that could have saved this girl’s life if she was in distress in water.”