August 9, 2009
On July 12th my son and I went fishing in my small (14 ft) Carolina Skiff. The sky was filled with high clouds and the sun stayed behind them most of the day. My little boat has a flat bottom, designed mostly for lake use, but safe enough to use in tidal water if the waves aren’t very big. We went to the mouth of the the tidal river that runs by our house, threw out the anchor, put our fishing lines in the water and immediately started catching fish (Spot & Croaker). We, probably, caught around 40-50 fish as we drifted slowly across the small channel. The tide was high and our drift took a couple of hours. As we got into shallow water (6-8 ft), I decided to start up the engine and move back across the channel and repeat our drifting pattern. My son, who at 6’3” weighs around 250 and me at 5’10”, weighing around 200, had the boat setting pretty low in the water. So we had 450 lbs setting from the middle of this small boat forward. In the back was a 75 lb outboard motor and 5 gallons of gasoline. As you can tell, the boat was not as balanced as it should have been.
Just as I started moving the boat slowly across the channel a large speed boat went hurling by, sending several large wakes toward us. Since my bow was only a few feet above the water, the first wake came splashing into our boat. At that point I was not worried. I said to my son, “ I need to take my shoes off this water is getting them all wet”. Then comes the next wave! The boat tilts to my left and, as we lean to the right to counterbalance it, the water comes crashing to the right as quick as a flash. I still wasn’t expecting anything tragic (I never said I was the brightest bulb on the tree). But, before you could say “Johnny Mack Brown”, the boat was perpendicular and we had to jump into the water. The boat flipped completely over in approximately 15-20 feet of water.
The situation looked dire to me. Although we had life jackets on board (within arm’s reach), the boat flipped so quickly I did not have time to reach for them and they were trapped underneath the boat. I quickly looked for my son and located him around 10 feet away, dog paddling to stay afloat. The closest land involved a swim of at least 30 minutes. I figured that I could swim that far because I run and lift weights 6 days a week. I suspected my son would never make it. I also knew that he would never go to the bottom of that river alone. My first glance at the overturned boat showed nothing that we could hold onto. Then, I remembered the boat had a lip completely around it. I swam over and, thanks Dear Lord, there it was, about a foot below the surface. I yelled to my son, who was struggling to stay afloat, telling him about the lip. He swam over and my panic quickly abated.
We scrambled to the top of the overturned boat and sat there waiting for a boat to go by. The channel was about ¼ mile away and, shortly, a boat goes speeding by as I wave frantically. The boat is rocking back and forth with the waves and we are constantly shifting our weight so we will not be thrown back into the water. I reach for my cellphone, attached to my belt, and tell my son, “I’m gonna call home”. “I don’t think your phone will work Ace” he tells me (that’s the nickname we have called each other since he was 17). Sure enough, it was dead as a door nail. I continued to wave, excitedly, as boats go flying by in the distant channel. About 20 minutes later, two couples in a boat see us and come over. For some reason, they never come closer than 20 feet, afraid, I guess, that we may pose some danger to them.
The guy driving the boat calls the Coast Guard and in about 10 minutes they show up with 3 people aboard. They come within a few feet, but never offer to take us aboard, although I feel we are still in some danger (the boat is still pitching back and forth). They are more concerned about asking question than saving our lives I guess. In a few more minutes, Boat Tow US shows up (sorta like the wrecker that cruises the interstate looking for stranded cars and $$ for towing you to his shop). He immediately says “Let’s get you fellows safely aboard and then we will talk about your boat”. What a relief it was to be standing on something so solid.
I asked the fellow if he could get my boat upright and tow it back to our pier. He said he could. He flipped the boat, the Coast Guard picked up the stuff we had floating around and handed it to us. They said they would be in touch in two weeks, that they would have to make a report if the damage was over $2500. I have not heard from them. Anyway, 1.5 hours later we are setting at my pier and the Boat Tow US guy whips out his clipboard and says “okay, set down here beside me and let’s figure out what you owe”. Now, I’m calculating in my head the bill will be somewhere between $250 – $350. Not so! At $250/hr the bill is $500. But wait, he normally charges $100 per foot for salvaging the boat and, he assumes, the boat is 19 feet long, so $1900 more is due.
“Look”, says I, “the boat is 14 feet long and I only paid $200 for it. That lie spilled from my lips without me giving it any thought (I not only disappointed God, but on reflection, myself). The final bill was $862.50. As he left, he looks down at my boat and say “You need to get rid of that thing”.
The boat motor was scrapped, a lot of my tools and my three best fishing reels are at the bottom of the river. Fortunately, my son and I did not make that trip to the bottom with them. My son is already planning a trip 60 miles off the coast on a “Head Boat” that takes people out to fish in deep water for great big fish. He invited me to go with him. I declined. I have had enough excitement for a while.
I feel I must tell you that my son would never agree with me on the danger as described above. He cheerfully says, “ this will be something we talk about years from now”, as if it were an adventure instead of a near tragedy. My wife’s mother is not aware of this near tragedy and we have no plans on telling her. As for me, I have become painfully aware that life, as I know it, can change in an instant. I have new motivation to deeply enjoy everything good that happens and to cherish each and every day.