BEAR LAKE – By Ellen Cook, Headliner Media Specialist – July 23, 2021
It was supposed to be a fun holiday weekend in Garden City at the family cabin. They were supposed to enjoy “Ronda’s Cousin Camp” with Grandpa and Grandma Martell and Ronda Menlove, who had ironically chosen the camp theme of “Be Strong.” Boating, surfing and wakeboarding were all on the docket for what was supposed to be an ordinary day on the water.
But what was supposed to be and what happened, according to Marisha Menlove of Tremonton, “was scary but also faith promoting and faith building.”
The drama unfolded on Thursday, July 22. The day started out in true pioneer style with a handcart trek to Legacy Beach at Bear Lake. The group of 11 children, ages 3 to 13, and three adults had plans to spend the day on the water. They even brought along a large tube to pull behind the craft, a 2021 Malibu fitted for 15 adults, and driven by its owner and Marisha’s brother-in-law, Curtis Ward, of Idaho Falls.
Marisha said they spend the afternoon doing all the activities they had planned. Soon, however, clouds began to roll in and the winds began to pick up. The group decided it was time to head back to the beach, but the low level of Bear Lake made it impossible to get close enough and the now three-foot waves made swimming to shore with so many young children, even with all of them in life jackets, just too dangerous.
“The waves were getting so big and there was a sandstorm on the beach,” she said. “We decided to try and make it to the marina instead.”
The marina was about a mile - and a lifetime – away. The closer the boat got to that harbor the bigger the waves grew, some shooting higher than six feet over the bow. About 10 other boats were struggling to make their way to safety, too, some of them trying to steady themselves in the wake being created by the Ward craft.
“We were taking on water,” Marisha said. “There wasn’t a whole lot Curtis could do. He has had tons of experience and is out on the water several times a week. In fact, we all have had experience in storms. You just manage them and get through.”
They were doing just that, letting the bilge pumps handle the incoming waves, and keeping the youngsters warm by the heater. Then the electrical system failed, and the engine quit.
“We started sinking, taking on too much water. Initially the kids started screaming and crying,” Marisha recalled. “But Curtis was so calm. He told them all to get in the tube tied to the side of the boat. That tube was our miracle.”
That tube was to have been deflated before the group headed in, but a request from one of the children to keep it up so she could ride it into shore proved to be the lifesaver. Marisha said her 13-year-old nephew “turned on his Boy Scout” and helped usher the rest into that floating haven. “He was so cool, calm and collected.”
Pretty soon ten of the children were huddled together in that tube. But it was still attached to the now nearly submerged boat.
Marisha said both she and Curtis struggled to get the knot holding the tow line to the bigger craft untied but could not. They were afraid when the boat went under completely, it would take the group’s protection down with it.
“We just couldn’t get it undone,” she said. “Then as the boat sank, the rope just came free out of nowhere.”
The nephew also had his cellphone and placed a call to Ronda on shore to tell her the situation and asked her to call 911. Then he, and the three adults stayed in the water and held on to the miracle tube.
“It seemed like an eternity,” Marisha said, although, according to the time of the call, it took rangers only 15 minutes to find the group.
“Time seemed to stop in that moment. I don’t know if it was shock or just my way of coping. But I wasn’t scared. I’ve been in storms before. But this time in that tube we were all calm. It seemed to just be floating on those waves, like there was a bubble around us. It didn’t even tip. The boat couldn’t handle the waves, but the tube just floated,” she added.
When the ranger came to the rescue, he told the now-safe group that those waves were reaching up to 10 feet tall and were some of the biggest he had ever seen at Bear Lake.
Safely back on shore Marisha said they all still marvel at what could have been and what was.
“We know there were angels all around us,” she said with conviction. “I remember thinking this is scary, but you are fine, the rescuers will come, you are fine. We were all so calm; we were all together. We were strong. And that tube saved everybody’s life.”