The Anchorage Fire Department rescued two men — and two cats — from the waters of Cook Inlet on Sunday after rough water halted their attempt to reach Fire Island.
An emergency call came in shortly before 11 a.m. Sunday. The caller told a 911 dispatcher that he and a friend were trying to make it to the island off the southwest coast of Anchorage on a raft and an 8-foot skiff, but the endeavor proved too difficult. The men were using only the tide and two oars of different sizes, the fire department said.
"The gentleman who called worried they wouldn't make it to the island as the seas had kicked up and the water was getting rougher," the fire department said.
AFD Battalion Chief Mike Davidson said the raft started taking on water, but boating in the Inlet on either of the vessels is a "very hazardous endeavor." The rescue boat the fire department uses in the same waters has an enclosed cabin, Davidson noted.
That rescue boat and two jet skis were launched from the Port of Anchorage about 15 minutes after the distress call. It was another 20 minutes before they reached the skiff and raft.
The men had made it to within about a mile of Fire Island; they were 9 miles from Anchorage's small boat harbor, though Davidson said it is unknown where the men had launched from. The island is about 3 miles off the shore of Kincaid Park.
Inside the skiff, the larger of the men's boats, was a pet carrier containing two cats, Davidson said.
Despite the bumpy ride, the feline adventure companions were apparently calmer than the rescued men.
"According to my guys, the cats didn't appear to be in any distress," Davidson said.
The responding firefighters said 4-foot waves were washing over the bow of the rescue boat as the men and cats were being taken aboard, and "the sailors would not have made it to Fire Island had they stayed in the water."
The cats stayed in the carrier on the way back to shore, Davidson said.
Rescue efforts in Cook Inlet aimed at people trying to reach Fire Island from Kincaid Park are not uncommon, and attempting to cross the water can be deadly. Seas get rough quickly and boats take on water. People also trek across the treacherous Turnagain Arm mud flats, only to disappear under a swift-moving tide.
Davidson said he believes this is the first such response for summer 2017.
The skiff used by one of the men Sunday did not make it back to shore. It sank within 1 mile of the boat harbor as it was being towed by rescuers. A crew returned to the spot later and retrieved items left floating in the water.
"Cook Inlet waters are cold and hazardous," the fire department said. "Do not attempt to cross the Inlet in a vessel which is not oceanworthy in every weather situation."