Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Holiday Flashback

I’m a DumbShit----Who Knew?

It all started without warning. It was around four o’clock in the morning on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas, for all of you unfamiliar with English tradition) and I was startled from my slumber by a roaring wind howling through and around the eaves of the house. Once I figured out what in the hell it was, my immediate thoughts were about my boat tied up very loosely in the boat house in the back yard. I had used the boat during the Christmas week to view the various boat parades that happen with frequency in Florida as a boat parade is easier to have than say a snow ball fight. Having used the boat, I had not secured all the lines and so only had a bow and stern line deployed.

Under normal conditions having just the two lines tied to cleats on the dock would be sufficient. But when one is faced with 60 plus mph winds it isn’t sufficient. What I would ascertain later was that the leading edge of a cold front had raced into the area kicking up 60 plus mph winds with an attendant 8 foot storm surge. Not knowing this at the time I took my sorry ass down from the bedroom and decided that I had better go outside and secure the boat.

I put on a pair of shorts, took a flashlight and went outside on the back porch which leads down to the dock. The first thing I thought of once outside in the howling wind was “are you fucking nuts”? The temperature was in the high 40’s and I can only imagine what the wind chill was given the velocity of the wind. While I will admit that my first act should have been to go back into the house the sad truth is I’m just not that smart. Here I am in a pair of shorts—no shoes or socks—an Old Navy sweatshirt and the failing body of a 62 year old with the mind set of a 35 year old. Can you say “prescription for disaster?”

I rushed down to the boat house and dock to find three very real problems.

1) The bow line on the boat had already parted as the cleat had given way and was now in the water still tied to the boat.

2) The storm surge was such that the water was about three feet above the dock and the boat had blown up on the dock only secured by the stern line. Essentially the boat was now sideways on the dock.

3) Because of the surge I was up to my waist in water not sure of where the dock began or ended.

So—did I think this through any better at this point? Did I go through a mental calculation that a) I couldn’t see a thing-- b) I was freezing--c) The boat is insured—d) If I was not up to my waist in water I would blow away? No—my reaction was to figure out how to get up in the boat and right the bow and tie her off. I am an asshole!

I went around the dock stanchion and waded to the stern platform of the boat. From there I got on the boat. I doubled up the stern line and started the boat. I then put the boat in forward gear turning the wheel all the way to starboard using the stern lines as a poor man’s tugboat, driving the boat off the dock and keeping the motor running in gear I kept the bow right up against the forward boathouse stanchion. Now the trick was getting off the boat and rigging a set of bow lines. As an aside—I am now turning blue and can no longer feel my feet or face.

I went back to the stern and was going to once again use the platform to get off the boat. However a very healthy gust of wind came raging across the water which blew me off the platform and into the drink. I was immediately sucked out into the bay. From past experience with tides, I knew to swim parallel to the flow instead of against it. I was quite calm as I knew that eventually I would be blown across the bay to ground at some point and I could only ponder if the boat had enough gas to run for as long as it took me to get back home from where ever I was going to be blown to.

In addition to the question of how much gas the boat had was the issue of how to explain what had just happened. As long as the boat kept running with the wheel turned and the stern lines firm it wouldn’t go anywhere. But if it took a very long time for me to wash up on the shore then eventually the gas would be spent, and the boat would once again be sideways and up above the dock. I really wasn’t worried as these kinds of storms don’t last more than a couple of hours.

So, I did the side stroke for a while—took a leak in the bay (I really had to go) and began to laugh at what a complete and total ass I had been. All things considered this was really pretty funny. It’s really quite astonishing how calm I was. The bay wasn’t that calm as there were whitecaps in the bay and some pretty heavy rollers but nothing that I couldn’t deal with. What I thought about most was what in the hell was I going to say about my pet human trick I had just completed.

The good news is that I was only in the bay about 20 minutes before I found myself at the fringe of Homeport Marina. Getting out of the water was no problem but I was colder out of the water than in it. I knew that I was in a little trouble with hypothermia which in and of itself was amusing as I wondered if I was going to be the first guy to freeze to death in sunny Florida.

Knowing the Marina I got to an emergency phone located on one of the outside walls in a metal case and managed to get the Sheriff’s department. They were kind enough to give me a lift home inclusive of a very nice blanket for which I would have paid any price asked. The deputies were also a help in getting the boat secured and turned off once we got back to the house.

The end results were first a cold of monumental proportions followed by a little bout with pneumonia. I didn’t mind the sickness as I had earned it—but the ribbing I got from those in the neighborhood was much more humbling. I am now referred to in the neighborhood as Admiral Blowback. I guess that’s better than Admiral Dumbshit—which is certainly more appropriate.