Anyone who has spent a lot of time on the water knows that sooner or later things may go south.
It may be running aground on a sandbar and having to wait hours for the tide to float the boat or forgetting to put the plug in a boat when launching from a boat ramp, but regardless of what it might be, the ocean can and will throw you a curve ball at some point.
Since the fish still aren’t chewing, I thought I might share a couple of my better “gone south” tales while on the water. Like that retro TV commercial said, “It isn’t nice to fool Mother Nature.” Ain’t it the truth!
Years ago, local architect Wayne Windham, his pet Chesapeake retriever and I headed off to go duck hunting south of Daufuskie Island. It was 4 a.m. in January, and boy was it cold, probably down around freezing. We had Wayne’s boat loaded down with dozens of duck decoys, our guns and provisions we might need that day.
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Because the ocean was fairly calm, we decided to run along the ocean side of Daufuskie Island because it would cut considerable time off the run to our hunting location. As we neared the south end of Daufuskie, I moved my foot and realized water was in the boat. But before I could say anything to Wayne, the boat began to roll over on both us. It was just that quick.
In the pitch black we hit the freezing cold water. Both of us had on chest waders that immediately filled with water so swimming became almost impossible. To make matters worse, the tide was outgoing, making progress toward the beach that much harder.
Luckily I had grabbed my waterproof backpack as I went overboard, allowing me to wrap my arms around it for floatation. With adrenaline pumping, we finally started to make progress – that is until Wayne’s big Chesapeake decided our swim was a game and began crawling up our backs pushing our heads under water. I was terrified.
Remember all of this was happening in the dark, so it was nearly impossible to make heads or tails of where we were and just how far away from the beach we were. When my foot finally touched bottom, I started thanking God like I had never ever done before.
Soaking wet, we sat shaking uncontrollably on a piece of driftwood recounting how close to death we had come while deciding our next move. It was then that I opened my backpack and inside was a bottle of Old Mr. Boston’s Rock n’ Rye whiskey, a staple we always carried with us on cold duck hunting days. Passing it back and forth, we emptied that bottle as we made toasts to life before each sip. We never did find out what caused the boat to sink, but at least we were both alive.
Thinking back I am beginning to think duck hunting in the winter is dangerous to your health. With that said, this time I was duck hunting with local builder David Donnell on Turtle Island, located just south of Daufuskie Island.
The potholes we hunt on that island are hard to get to no matter what the tide, so we decided to anchor the boat far enough outside the surf line so the falling tide wouldn’t leave us high and dry when we decided to head home. After a fairly good shoot, we gathered up our decoys and headed toward the boat. But when we got to the top of sand dune near the beach, there was no boat in sight! Stunned, we thought it had floated away, until David saw a small section of green aluminum bobbing in the waves. Once again it was pretty darn chilly, but that didn’t stop us both from running through the waves.
As we got to the boat, it was completely submerged. Grabbing the anchor line we let the waves help us push the boat to shore. Everything in the boat was gone, including the gas tank. To make matters worse, sand was a good 10 inches deep in the bottom of the boat.
Using items found on the beach it took us an hour to scoop out most of the sand, and then we went looking for the gas tank. About a quarter mile down the beach we found the tank, but in that time the outgoing tide was close to leaving us stranded. We didn’t know if the engine would even start since it too was submerged, but when David went to hook up the gas tank, he realized the black gas line was also missing. Heading in different directions we searched for the gas line, but neither of us could find it.
Cold and wet, we were in big trouble. No radio, no phone and no gas line.
Dejected and walking in shallow water toward David, I felt something bump my foot and looking down I saw what looked like a black snake come to the surface and disappear just as quickly. Reaching down, I felt around and grabbed that snake and it was the gas hose! We couldn’t believe it.
Using logs under the boat as rollers, we struggled to catch the receding water almost at the same rate as our progress toward it. Exhausted, we finally floated the boat, hooked up the gas tank and the engine started on the first turn of the key! Somebody was definitely looking after us.
So expect the unexpected if you spend a lot of time on the water. The ocean is to be respected – maybe feared is a better word. She can take you in a heartbeat, so don’t test her because she will win ever single time.