Norfolk man survives 24 hours on a raft in the Chesapeake Bay

A Norfolk man thought he was going out on his raft for just a few minutes...

NORFOLK - NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- A Norfolk man thought he was going out on his raft for just a few minutes on the Chesapeake Bay, but a few minutes turned into 24 hours.

 “All I thought about is, ‘I don’t want to die out here,’” said 49-year-old Wes Schoonmaker.

Schoonmaker got caught in the current, before washing up on shore. He couldn't believe something that he loves so much, the Chesapeake Bay, almost killed him.

It was around 10 a.m. Saturday when he decided to take out his eight foot, solar marine inflatable raft in the area of Willoughby Spit.

“Before I knew it I was way out in the bay and nothing I could do to fight the current,” said Schoonmaker. “I paddled as hard as a could to shore but I just wasn't getting anywhere. I saw the Chesapeake Bay passing me by, the bridge tunnel passing me by.”

Waves tossed the raft back and forth, as Schoonmaker held on for his life.

“Because if it capsized it would be too much, the waves were coming left and right, I couldn't fathom how to get the boat back up and back in,” said Schoonmaker.

He said a large ship passed by with a boy standing on the deck, but his cries for help were just too far away to be heard.

“I said, ‘hey, help, SOS,’ and he just looked at me, I can’t understand why the ship just passed me by,” said Schoonmaker.

As darkness fell, the fear of hypothermia set in.

 “My legs were shivering and I had no strength in my legs and upper body trying to hang on to the oar locks,” said Schoonmaker.

To make matters even worse water was constantly seeping into the boat.

“I had to paddle out the water with each hand,” said Schoonmaker.

He said it was the longest night of his life, freezing and alone, in the middle of the bay. He was being pushed in all directions, so he turned to prayer.

“Because I know I wasn’t promised tomorrow when that sun went down so I was trying anything,” said Schoonmaker.

Then around 10 a.m. Sunday morning Schoonmaker’s prayers were answered. The raft was heading right toward the beaches of Machipongo, about 32 miles from where he started.

“I thought it was just God and me and God steered me toward the shore, good shepherd he took care,” said Schoonmaker. “I dragged the boat onto the shore and I took a sleep, I took a little sleep on the shore.”

A married couple who live nearby ended up finding Schoonmaker, and he is expected to be okay.

“His wife brought me out some water and some zucchini bread and she let me use her phone and I called 911 and told them who I was and if you are searching for me you can call off the search, I made it,” said Schoonmaker.

© 2017 WVEC-TV


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