Two decades ago, a fellow fisherman taught Arthur Lawhorn how to catch bass at "the duck pond," Lawhorn's nickname for the lagoon at Roaches Run just north of National Airport. On Saturday, Lawhorn hoped to pass on his secrets to his Alexandria neighbor and friend, Ernest Cook.

The afternoon began warm and sunny. But shortly after 4 p.m., wind-driven water swamped Cook's flat-bottom boat, which quickly sank. Lawhorn was rescued, but Cook was still missing yesterday evening, according to U.S. Park Police. He is presumed drowned.

Friends and relatives of the two men watched police boats crisscross the lagoon yesterday near the spot where Lawhorn had watched helplessly Saturday afternoon as Cook went under in about 10 feet of rough water. The accident occurred in a waterfowl sanctuary just west of the George Washington Parkway.

Fishing from boats or along the water's edge on the Potomac River and many of its inlets has become a tradition for local residents. For some, it can mean dinner on the table. For others, including Lawhorn and Cook, it meant pure pleasure.

Cook apparently did not know how to swim, Lawhorn said, but the lagoon seemed safe enough to the two men, who carried no life preservers in their boat, Park Police said. Lt. Sidney Wiggins said yesterday that he knew of no previous drownings in that area in recent years. Added Lawhorn, "I've seen boats turn over and guys come back laughing."

Cook, who police said is 54 years old, recently bought a 12-foot aluminum craft and persuaded Lawhorn, 45, to join him and share his tips for catching bass, Lawhorn said. The men lived across the street from each other in the Lynhaven section of Alexandria.

"I said, 'Come on, I'll teach you about it,' " said Lawhorn, who said he felt an obligation to share his fishing lore with someone who would appreciate it.

Strong winds "came out of nowhere" about 4 p.m. Saturday and the pair tried to paddle toward shore, about 100 yards away, Lawhorn said. Water poured over the front of the boat, he said, and "there was nothing for us to do" as the boat quickly sank.

The rough conditions and his cumbersome clothing slowed Lawhorn as he paddled toward shore "hollering for help," he said. A man Park Police identified as Robert Murray jumped in a boat and started rowing toward the two men, and Lawhorn swam back toward Cook, Lawhorn said.

"I kept yelling, 'Help is on the way,' " and encouraging Cook to "dog paddle," but the more his friend battled the current the worse he fared, Lawhorn said. He said he watched in horror as Cook went under.

"I went down two times" in the cloudy, turbulent water, but could not find Cook, Lawhorn said. "The scariest part of the whole thing was being capable of swimming" but moving so slowly.

When Murray arrived, Lawhorn "grabbed the boat's ridges and just hung on and hung on," said the disabled Vietnam veteran, who does part-time home improvement work.

Lawhorn said he did what he could to save the life of his friend, who is married and has two grown sons. "A man has to do what a man has to do," he said. Yesterday evening, Lawhorn noted that from his living room, "I can look out the window and see the truck and the car {in front of Cook's house} and I don't see him any more."

He added, "I'm going to miss him."