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Topey takes command

Melissa Topey • Jul 29, 2013 at 9:56 AM

The water was moving 22,000 cubic feet per second. Normally, the Sandusky River moves at about 500 cubic feet per second. 

The ride was about to get wild. 

Say goodbye to grandpa's pontoon boat, and hello to Capt. Brian Edwards' airboat on the Sandusky River. 

On a recent Thursday evening, Register photographer Luke Wark and I joined Edwards to get some firsthand experience with airboats.  

Edwards, a certified instructor with the Airboat Training Service of North America, is also a Ballville Township volunteer firefighter and the GIS system administrator for Sandusky County.

After he gave Wark and I some safety lessons, we hopped into the massive red airboat and shoved off from the River Front Marina. 

We took our seats, ready to motor down the Sandusky River. We idled from the marina a short distance so we could sort of connect with the river's waters. As we approached, we could see the raging currents and the swollen water, all the result of the strong storms that had hit the area just a few days prior.

There was a lot of debris in the river, including a few trees that hadn't been there just a few days earlier, Edwards said. Bald eagles, egrets and blue herons flew above us, while invasive Phragmites, cattails and other aquatic plants marked our trails.   

As we drove through the water lilies, the smell was amazing.  

We soon made our way to a part of the river that was more sheltered and tranquil. 

I was about to be schooled on how to drive an airboat — and on how to rescue someone.

Edwards walked me though a basic course on how the boat works. Push the rudder control stick forward, it turns to the right; pull back, it turns to the left.

I had to show him I could maneuver the boat efficiently. I barreled through the water, taking care not to pitch anyone overboard as I made my turns. Edwards, in fact, made himself comfortable alongside Wark at the front of the boat.

I had just become one of a handful of people in the country that has driven a 16 foot airboat with a 780 horsepower engine. The feeling of driving that boat is amazing.

Edwards instructed me to drive up onto a tree floating in the water, then maneuver us off it. I pulled it off without any problems.

Onto the lifesaving. 

Wark got out of the boat and onto a small wooden platform, where I had to rescue him. (Wark also managed to get some incredible pictures of me maneuvering the boat, with water spraying behind like we meant business.) 

I had to come around the wooden platform and maneuver myself into position, approaching the platform from the side of the airboat. No head-on approach, Edwards said.

I slid the airboat up slowly and easily, stopping right in front of Wark so all he had to do was simply step aboard.

I saved him from untold dangers. My first water rescue was a success.

Had Wark been unconscious in the water, we could have placed a net into the water, catching and hauling him into the boat like a fish. 

If you get a chance to see any local rivers from an airboat, be the rescuer, not the rescued. 

It's much more fun to drive. 

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