DEWEY BEACH – A longtime resort physician says he is lucky to be alive after a windsurfing trip last week left him stranded in a Delaware bay for hours.
Last Thursday evening, Victor Gong – an Ocean City emergency physician for 30 years – went windsurfing off Dewey Beach. But his hour-long excursion soon turned into an overnight adventure when the sail detached from the board, leaving him stranded in the Rehoboth Bay for roughly six hours before making it back to shore on the other side.
“I was planning to go out for an hour, launch at 6 and get in by 7 because it gets dark by 7:45,” he said. “I did a few runs coming back in, but coming back my sail dismantles from the board and I couldn’t surf back in.”
Gong noted he made several attempts to reach land in the hour that followed. When the current had prevented him from swimming to shore, he tried to reattach his sail, but to no avail.
“I then decided to blow my whistle …,” he said. “Nobody heard it.”
At that point, Gong said he was forced to let the tide take him out farther into the bay.
“I could see all the lights to the north, south and east of me so I could at least know which way I was drifting,” he said. “Once I got halfway into the bay, there was no turning around. I couldn’t swim because it was too far, but at least I knew I was moving.”
When his car was located in the parking lot off of Towers Road bayside near midnight, Dewey Beach seasonal police officers reported the overdue windsurfer to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police.
The agency was joined in the search by the Dewey Beach Police Department, Delaware State Police, Delaware State Police Aviation, U.S. Coast Guard Station Indian River, and U.S. Coast Guard Aviation.
Gong said as he floated along the bay, he tried to keep calm.
“I prayed to God, as we all would probably do, and thought about my loved ones,” he said. “I even thought of some weird things, like a couple of jobs I was applying for.”
Gong said he was fortunate in many ways. He noted the winds had prevented him from drifting through the Indian River Inlet and out into the ocean. His girlfriend had also called his cellphone when he did not return from his trip.
“She woke up in the middle of the night, called the phone, and the cop happened to have my phone with him,” he said. “They saw my truck and it was open. They had the phone waiting for somebody to call. They told her, and she thought she was having a dream. She coordinated everything and called all of my family. Some of them drove from New York and Virginia. It didn’t sound too good.”
After drifting for roughly six hours from his starting location in Dewey Beach, Gong arrived at Bay City off Long Neck in the early morning hours Friday.
“I managed to get to the first house and nobody answered …,” he said. “I go to the second house and nobody answered. So the guy had a car there, a nice new Range Rover, and the back door was open. So I went in there and got warm.”
Around 7 in the morning, Gong made contact with the resident, who let him use a cellphone.
“I called my girlfriend and she was in tears and emotional …,” he said. “It phased those on the shore more than me. They suffered more than I did, really.”
DNREC reported Gong was located at 7:45 a.m. Friday and transported back to his vehicle by Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police officers.
Gong said he was fortunate to avoid both drowning and hypothermia. In addition to having a whistle, he was wearing a lifejacket and wetsuit.
“You have to prepare before you go out,” he said. “You have to remember with hypothermia you can get it in 80-degree temperatures. It doesn’t have to be 20 or 30 degrees, it’s the cooling effect of the wind and everything else. Pretty much you are at the mercy of the weather and God.”
Gong said he was initially embarrassed by the situation and asked police not to release his name to the public. Since the incident last week, several local and national media outlets, including The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post and NBC News have reported on the story.
But Gong – who trained in emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins University – said he has since realized his experience could teach others a lesson in preparation and safety.
“I was lucky, and I guess God was on my side,” he said. “So I feel like I owe something, but I’m not sure what it is yet.”
Windsurfers (also known as sailboarders) and kiteboarders are reminded that they must have a life jacket and a sound-producing device, such as a whistle or horn, when underway.
Additional safety tips for board sports include informing someone of your expected course and when you expect to return; not straying too far from shore; wearing a wetsuit to avoid hypothermia; looking out for and avoiding other vessels and their wakes; and staying aware that your sail can block your view of other vessels.