“It was incredible to see how everything had come together. It was almost like a surprise,” Viñales told CBC Radio on Friday, after he plucked a family of three from the cold waters of Lake Superior, which is just a few feet from their capsized sailboat off Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula.
Vietnamese-born Viñales, 45, was born in Vietnam and returned after high school to Ontario, where he met his wife, Danielle.
The two of them began building their own sailboats.
After the severe storms that caused landslides and flooded homes in the northwestern United States earlier this month, the province of Quebec set up a “Safe Boating, Snowy and Deep” ad campaign to encourage people to exercise caution.
The family of two adults and their 6-year-old daughter were on board a sailboat going between Caisse Nationale d’Habitation and Na Walcott Islands when it ran into bad weather on Wednesday evening, French-language newspaper Le Soleil reported.
The force of the waves and the power of winds pushed the boat, its sails blown away, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) northward towards La Motte Island, near the Canadian border with Quebec.
Conditions were so bad that French meteorologist Michel Dussault, who saw the capsized boat, told Le Soleil: “It was like a car trying to pass over a beach.”
The father – named in the media as farmer Philippe Chagnon – called emergency services to report that he was looking for his family.
Just before midnight, they were spotted, having surfaced in high seas in 120-metre waves.
Firefighters and fisheries officials who were waiting at the scene quickly hoisted the father and his young child to safety, while Viñales spent 20 minutes carefully pulling the two youngest children, aged 6 and 3, to safety.
Although locals can be found across Lake Superior, the small isolated islands surrounding the North Shore of Montreal are prone to bad weather.
Part of the North Shore of Montreal is under a freeze watch this weekend as temperatures are forecast to remain below freezing.
“There are islands between Gaumont and La Motte Island, all of which have their own beaches. That’s where it happened,” said Fire Chief Raymond Dubois, who added that he and his colleagues carried out several rescues in the area this week.
Of the 20 “Safe Boating, Snowy and Deep” posters distributed in Quebec by the provincial government to promote the message, almost 10,000 were purchased over a three-month period.
By Justin Pelletier