Friday, August 31, 2012
This past Wednesday, as I do most Wednesdays, I took an outrigger canoe (OC-6) out with a team of people. I've been steering the boat, so I sit in the bench in the very back. Since I'm steering, I'm more or less responsible for the boat and the paddlers, so I've been taking my iPhone with me, just in case I need to call for help.
Of course, there's a good change of a huli (flipping the boat over) on the outrigger, so I purchased a waterproof phone bag in which to put my phone, so that if I got dunked, it would survive. Despite the fact that the bag color option was only "camoflauge", I liked it because it also claimed to be buoyant. Fast forward to Wendesday night. I put my phone in the case, put the case in my pocket, and I remember thinking "boy, that doesn't feel very secure in there, I hope it doesn't fall out", but, last time I felt that way, I just managed to adjust the bag such that it was below the level of the side of the boat, and all was fine. Of note, the boat is narrow in the back; the bench I sit on is only a half-inch wider than my hips.
We left the Riverplace Marina, just south of the Hawthorne Bridge, and headed south to go around Ross Island. We took a break just south of the Ross Island Bridge, then paddled hard down the Holgate Channel to the houseboats on the south side of the island, where we prepared to turn around and return along the main channel. It was then that I noticed that my phone was no longer in my pocket - it had fallen out sometime in the past 45 minutes!
PANIC HIT ME IMMEDIATELY.
An iPhone 4S isn't inexpensive, and trying to replace one would be prohibitively expensive. I was trying not to freak out, but I let the other five paddlers know what was going on and asked if they wouldn't mind heading back the way we came, in case we could find it. I asked if anybody else happend to have a smartphone, and, thankfully, a fellow paddler had his iPhone with him in a dry-bag. We paddled back, pulled up next to a houseboat so we wouldn't drift, and I started using his phone.
I had long ago enabled the "Find My iPhone" feature on my phone, which would force it to check in, give me the location, and allow me to force it to make a sound. However, I was a long way from a computer. Fortunately, I was able to download the Find My iPhone app and sign in with my iCloud account. I held my breath as I clicked on my phone.
... and it checked in! I could see that, only seconds ago, my phone gave its location as a small area just south of the Ross Island Bridge (about a mile and a half downstream), close to the east bank of the river. We immediately paddled back north along the Holgate Channel.
The minutes seemed like hours, but I did my best to keep up centered in the current, paddling hard to get the boat downstream as quickly as possible. I envisioned my phone continuing to float past the bridge, into the construction area where the new Caruthers Bridge is being built. Perhaps it would get lodged against or even sucked under a barge? I was trying not to panic, and steeling myself for having to jump in the river to try to fetch my phone - assuming we could find it!
Finally we approached the Ross Island Bridge. I fished my friend's phone back out of his dry-bag and checked for my phone's location again. It hadn't moved much! It was still just south of the bridge, and looked like it was very close to the shore. We approached, and I saw a few people hanging out on the rocky shore - not normally a place that's terribly accessible. We steered the boat slowly toward the bank and I started looking for my phone.
One slight issue with the Find My iPhone app is that it's very good at telling you where your phone is, but it's not as great at telling you where you are in relation to it - you don't show up on the map, just the phone. The app told me - within about 5 feet - where my phone was, but it took my a second to realize we were floating about 20 feet past where it was supposed to be. We backed up the boat - and I spotted it, bobbing gently against the rocks!
We pulled the boat close, being careful not to ground it. I was all set to jump out, when a gentleman happened past where we were looking, only 10 feet away. We got his attention, and pointed him to my phone (which, with the camoflauge, he didn't immediately spot, even though it was nearly at his feet.) He picked it up - and started draining some water out of it. My face fell - the phone was active, but had it gotten soaked? Would it be permanently damaged?
He was kind enough to toss it to us in the boat, so we didn't have to get out. We thanked him as the phone was passed back to me. I quickly opened it up, and found that, while damp on the inside, the phone wasn't soaking wet. It was as if it had been in my pocked in a rainstorm. Still, I quickly powered it off, intending to dry it out.
After we got back and celebrated retrieving my phone, I took it home. I put it in a bag of rice to help dry it out. Then the 36-hour wait began, as I didn't want to risk turning it on early.
This morning, I finally pulled it out of the bag. I plugged it into my computer, keeping my fingers crossed. It started up... and connected, synced, and started to charge! I quickly ran through a battery of tests: phone call, text, GPS, phone - they all worked! The thrill was a natural high.
In the end, it was a great deal of luck, but had I not purchase a buoyant dry-bag, the phone wouldn't have succcessfully floated on the Willamette for an hour or so. Had I not thought ahead to enable Find My iPhone, the amazing technology wouldn't have enabled us to track it. But had my friend not brought HIS iPhone, we wouldn't have found it... and that doesn't count all the other terrible things that could have happened to it. Like I said, planning, technology, and a whole lot of luck!
Update: after writing this, I looked up Evans' Branch, the company that made the dry bag. It appears they're no longer in business. Their website goes to a default Apache web server page, and the phone numbers are not answered by anyone who's ever heard of them. Tragic, 'cause I was going to call and thank them.