NAPLES — Two East Naples teens were thankful after being rescued nearly a mile offshore Monday night after their canoe capsized hours earlier.
A series of mishaps left 16-year-old Juan Cabado and 19-year-old Julian Solarte in the Gulf of Mexico without a paddle or life jacket — it took a few strokes of luck to help save them.
“We accepted that it may have been our last day,” Cabado said. “We were afraid and were drifting and drifting.”
Solarte and Cabado set off Monday afternoon near Bayshore Park in a canoe, according to Naples fire officials. The two paddled toward Gordon Pass when they faced 2- to 4-foot waves and strong currents.
Cabado, a Naples High School student, said the waves were too strong.
“The canoe just kicked over,” he said.
Solante and Cabado tried to grab their stuff and swim to shore, but the current was too strong.
Instead, they spotted the canoe, pulled it up, but were unable to turn it upright.
Clinging to the canoe, without their cell phones or life vests, they were taken northwest by the current, where they were adrift for about four hours.
“At first we were quiet,” Cabado said. “It was horrible.”
Boats passed them by, he recalled, but were never close enough to flag down.
They eventually climbed on the top of the canoe and awaited their fate.
With darkness approaching, the teens’ luck turned when Spanish tourists watching the sunset spotted them with binoculars near the Port Royal Club, according to officials. After the tourists called 911 shortly after 8 p.m., firefighters launched from Naples pier on the city’s fire boat.
As night settled in, the firefighters were able to track the teens near the place where the callers spotted them at sunset with the help of firefighters onshore guiding them by radio and power flashlights. The teens were picked up at 8:24 p.m.
This was the second water rescue in Collier County in two days.
If 20 more minutes had passed, McInerny said, the darkness may have been too much to overcome.
“If we had not made the successful grab tonight,” McInerny said on Monday, “it probably would have been a different story tomorrow.”