Last night a boat was blasting up channel at a pretty good clip. The night was black as pitch. The wind was picking up. He traveled with lights ablazing. Looked and acted like a commercial water taxi but it was the wrong time of the year and definitely the wrong time of the night. So, I watched.
At first I used my binoculars but then shifted to my night vision monocular. Even with that, I could barely make him out. It was very, very dark.
There is a lot of flotsam and logs in the water in the winter. Tons, actually. One cannot go more than a hundred yards without seeing something large half submerged. Reduced speed is essential. At night, crawling is the proscribed way to go even if you have headlights as this boat did. He zoomed.
About a quarter mile away the boat came to an abrupt halt. All the lights went out. Then I saw a small flashlight wandering around what I assumed was the engine area. But it went dim pretty fast. So, I continued to watch mostly nothing – just a blur, actually.
Boats hit stuff all the time out here. It is very common. Typically, the bit they hit gets caught in the prop or between the engine and the transom and the operator is obliged to stop and clear it. Sometimes the impact is hard enough to ‘kick’ the outboard leg up and so time is taken to reset everything and check it.
Typically an impact that hard also requires the operator to change underclothes and just sit for awhile until the blood pressure and heart rate settle down. If the engine survived the impact there is a brief conversion to Christianity and a few ‘thank yous’. A spiritual moment is a spiritual moment.
Just as often the impact makes even more of an impression and the leg is no longer functional. Sal once hit a heavy deadhead at a relatively slow speed and ripped the leg right off the head of her engine. It is an occupational hazard out here made less by slower speeds but never eliminated.
Our guy was clearly ‘dead in the water’.
When such an event occurs, it is obligatory on the nearest assistance to render it. No one needs to be left to the sea in the winter in the night. I was contemplating my choice of layering (clothing under wet gear) when I saw the boat start to move again. This time considerably slower. This time without any headlights. Our hapless boater had presumably used the kicker he had like the one most carry to get mobile again. The kicker is the term given to a small auxiliary motor that used to be used primarily for trolling but is now often carried as an emergency back-up. And this, he had presumably deemed, was just such an emergency. Good decision.
I watched as he slowly made his way North. After a few minutes he was gone, disappeared into the deep blackness of night. All I could hear was the wind beginning to howl, the rain picking up and the increasing slap of waves on the beach.
If he was moving – even at that slow pace – he would be at the community dock before I could get dressed and out there. So I was relieved of duty. And I was just as relieved not to have to go out.
But, in the eight years we have been here, I have only had to respond maybe four or five times. It’s not onerous. Sometimes it is inconvenient and, in this case, it may have been uncomfortably wet and cold but it is something everyone out here is prepared to do. We are each other’s back-up. We are plan C.
Plan A is to go swiftly about your appointed rounds with your boat humming along nicely. Plan B is to complete your tasks on auxiliary power (as he had done). Plan C is to wave your arms, send out a message on the local VHF channel and/or hope for a neighbour to pass by. Plan D is to phone the Coast Guard. And, in really bad weather with your VHF radio not working, Plan E is to contemplate your likely placement in the afterlife.
Sadly, a few guys run through all their plans every year. It can be dangerous out here.