Sunday, July 20, 2008

King Neptune Slaps Me Upside the Head

A phone call today reminded me of a story from long ago but never forgotten. It was a still day one summer in the Florida Keys. White cumulus clouds tinged with the green of Florida Bay reflected on their undersides, calm seas, and clear waters beckoned. I had a 19 ft. Lightning class sailboat, a wooden classic, docked at a friend's house, right on the bay. There was no one around, so I took her out by myself. The winds were light or nonexistent.

I spent most of the afternoon snorkeling behind the boat, secured by a twenty foot line tied to one of my ankles. The water was warm and comforting and absolutely clear. There was almost no wind, so I wasn't alarmed when the line worked off my ankle. The boat had hardly moved all day, even though the sails were still up. I saw an interesting shell, and swam down for a closer look. Somewhat alarmed, I saw the end of the line shooting away along the bottom. Must be a slight gust of wind, I thought.

I surfaced to see the boat sailing out into the bay. Not a problem, I thought. I can easily catch it. I started swimming after it, only to find that as soon as I got within reach of the line trailing in the water behind her, it would zip ahead just out of my reach!

Still, I didn't panic, and kept swimming after it. With someone on board, the boat had the tendency to come up into the wind and stop. (They call this "weather helm.") Not to worry. I put on a great attempt to swim as fast as possible and to grab the line. Once again the boat shot forward in a gust of wind, just out of reach. It soon appeared that without any weight on board, the boat was perfectly "trimmed," and sailed in a straight line as if she had an auto-pilot!

I kept swimming behind her, just out of reach. A couple more times I mounted a valiant effort, swimming as fast as I could, just missing her each time. By now I was starting to get tired, and realized that I had a problem. It was upsetting to realize I had to let the boat go, and start to figure out a way to save myself. I was at least two miles offshore, and the tide seemed to be going out, so I would be swimming against a current if I tried to make it to shore.

I thought about shouting for help, but realized I was so far out no one could possibly hear me. The nearest place I could get out of the water, except for the distant shore, was the marker at Sawyer bank, by my best guess a mile and a half away. I figured that was my best chance and so began the slow swim out to the marker, as my boat disappeared into the rays of the setting sun!

It took almost two hours to get out near the marker. As I approached it, I saw a boat pull up nearby, and two guys started fishing. I swam over to them. "Little far offshore to be snorkeling out here, ain't it?" one of them said.

"See that dot out on the horizon?" I said. "That's my boat. How 'bout takin' me out there."
They clearly thought I was crazy, but let me climb aboard, and soon we were near the sailboat, still zipping along as if sailed by King Neptune himself.

"Thanks!" I shouted, and dived overboard, this time reaching the sailboat. I climbed on, brought her about, pointed it back to the dock, and collapsed in exhaustion. When I got back to the dock about 9 o'clock I told my friends what had happened. They had a good laugh and poured me a shot of brandy, just about the best shot of brandy I ever had.

Moral of the story: Many, but basically don't ever do anything so stupid!

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