Our Usual Good Luck
Usually, when I went fishing, it would be in my twelve foot aluminum Sea King boat which I kept “docked” on top of my Chevy van; I had a twelve horsepower Johnson outboard motor for it. This time I kept it where it was because my son, Kevin, and I were visiting my cousin, Bart in Ridge near Point Lookout at the mouth of the Potomac River. Bart kept his sixteen foot boat with a twenty five h.p. outboard tied to his pier; we had the use of it for a few days. His boat gave us a lot more room. Bart was working and couldn’t join us. Kevin and I were well supplied with my tackle. We had ice, beer, sandwiches and snacks and plenty of bait: squid, bloodworms and minnows.
It was early October, Indian summer, and the weather had been perfect, in the low 80’s, the fishing excellent. We had been catching plenty of sizable bluefish, flounder and trout, as well as white perch and spot, the smaller of which we used for bait. Depending on the wind and tide we could go out on the Potomac and drift toward the Chesapeake Bay or fish on the Bay, adrift or at anchor. We had been dressed for summer fishing, taking along only a light windbreaker.
Our vacation together was coming to a close, so we wanted to get as many hours on the water as we could. The best fishing times, other things being equal, are early morning and evening, coming onto night. Neither Kevin nor I are morning people so we would usually get aboard around noon, after a good breakfast, and get underway planning to fish as late as we wanted to.
This day was no different, starting out. Stopping every half hour or so to fish for a while, we made our way out onto the Bay. We were having our usual bountiful good luck and the day was balmy, warm with only a slight breeze, just enough to keep the mosquitoes away. Toward evening we went back inside the Potomac and anchored about a mile off Point Lookout harbor. Gradually, the temperature began to drop, the wind rise, which is not unusual. By dark we had put our windbreakers. It was getting chilly, but we were catching lots of fish and we didn’t want to quit.
The temperature continued to drop; the wind continued to rise. By seven thirty we were definitely cold and decided to call it a day; we had brought no warmer clothes. When I pressed the starter button the starter worked, but the outboard motor wouldn’t start. I checked the gas can; there was plenty of gas; I had topped it off setting out. I kept trying the starter and the motor kept not starting. I didn’t think it was flooded; just in case I let it set for as long as half an hour before trying again. Meanwhile our teeth were chattering. Then I’d grind away at it, pause for a while and then try again. Finally the battery went flat. We took turns hand pulling on the starter cord. No luck. We were stranded.
Meanwhile the wind was way up; there were whitecaps and the temperature felt like it was steadily dropping. We had given up on fishing; it had stopped being fun. To get out of the wind we lay on the deck, below the height of the gunnels. The temperature was probably in the low forties and we tried to joke about getting hypothermia while probably getting hypothermia. It was cold, cold, cold.
There were lights of no other boats on the water. After checking the shore lights I got a start; we were adrift. We had been tied short on our anchor at low tide, but the rising tide had lifted our anchor off the bottom and the wind was blowing us out toward the middle of the Bay. We had lost whatever windbreak the land might have afforded. I quickly played out more anchor rope until we were again secure; the water was much deeper here. Although I had caught the situation in plenty of time, the worst case scenario, short of capsizing which was unlikely, would have been to have drifted into the shipping channel.
Personally we felt we were in a worst case scenario. We told jokes all night through with slurred words through chattering teeth. We described mashed potatoes with a lot of warm gravy; we imagined down sleeping bags full of hot women. We did everything we could to keep our minds off our misery; it didn’t work, but what else were we to do? This was one of the longest nights either of us had ever spent.
Finally, with first light, the fishing boats began coming out from Point Lookout. We stood in the boat shouting and waving our windbreakers. They came toward us, by us and away from us. There was no doubt they saw us; there was no doubt they deliberately ignored us. Most were charter boats, taking their parties out for a morning’s or a day’s fishing. There were other work boats: commercial crabbers and probably oyster tongers. There were a lot of private fishermen in craft of all sizes. All of them passed us by despite our signals of distress. It would have cost them money to come to our assistance. We cussed like sailors. Our arm waving did warm us up a bit, and with the sun and change of tides the rough sea abated and the temperature climbed.
We probably signaled for help for about two hours. By then it was the beginning of another nice day. Finally, a small boat with a single fisherman came to our aid and very pleasantly said he would be glad to tow us in to port. At the dock he refused any payment for the rescue mission, saying he hoped we’d do the same for him. We assured him that we would and it was true.
I called Bart at work and he said he would pick us up and make arrangements to have his motor repaired. We ate a warm breakfast with a lot of gravy on the biscuits and all, once again, was well with the world. How soon we forget. Ha! Thirty years later now I remember it as if it were yesterday.
®Copyright 2014 Jack Scott. All rights reserved.