The best laid plans.
I awaken with a start and I instantly, if not clearly, begin to run through a mental checklist Where is the boat? The wind is still blowing, I can hear it. No water in the boat. We are still in the water, I can hear waves against athe boat, but we are no longer rocking.
We are at an angle, but not much of one, maybe 15 degrees. There may still be time.
Yesterday had been heaven. The estuaries at the mouth of the North fork of Washington State’s Skagit River were ideal for my boat. Shallow, slow, deserted. My 13 year old son, Alex, and I had spent the afternoon on a small island in the river. Footprints in the sand showed that our only neighbors were deer and a sauntering Great Blue Heron.
As we approached dinner time we headed into the maze of canals that make up the estuary. We had purposefully waited until low tide to enter. Last years river journey had shown us the folly of losing track of the tides. We weren’t going to get stuck in the mud again! If you head in at the lowest tide you know exactly what the lowest points will be.
Alex was in front on snag patrol. At its deepest this first main channel was perhaps 18 inches. At this depth, an encounter with a small stick could be a problem, but if we keep the speed down there should be no problem.
Estuarries are an entirely different eco-system than the river. At first glance the scale seems larger than the sometimes confined feel of a river. This is wide open space. To our right we could see a slight mist over Puget Sound perhaps a mile away. To our left the the low grasses of the estuary stretched for miles toward the south fork of the river. No trees, just the labarynth of channels and the tall grass that holds the little islands together.
We dropped anchor at a point where the main channel began to split into five fingers of water, all too shallow for even our boat. We tried to head down the deepest of them, but the path was one inch short of our four inch draw. I hopped overboard and pushed us back into the main channel.
Dinner was chicken and dumplings. For some reason food tastes better on the river. Alex has the typical tastes buds of a junior high kid, any hint of spice is normally amplified and the consistancy of the food has to be just so I don’t quite know what that “so” is, but he is usually very adament about it! I think the closer the food is to corn dogs the better. But this dinner was one of the best Alex had ever tasted! A week later the same dinner at home went virtually untouched. As in real estate I guess the three magic words are location, location and location.
Dusk brought hot chocolate and marshmallows while the wind began to rise along with the tide. By the time the first stars were appearing the wind was howling at 40 miles per hour.
Building your own boat is a wonderful thing. No birth is met with more anticipation, no christening more joyous. Like in your own young children you are blind to their faults and marvel in their capabilities.
But this wind was a truer judge of character, a more impartial judge of the true limitations of my creation. When you read of the tall ships of the last century you can almost hear the wind singing inthe rigging. The rigging of my little ship was was limited to an anchor line and two unused dock lines, yet my boat was in full song. The tune rose and fell with the wind as the gentle lappng of waves against the hull began to sound more like kettle drums in a symphony.
In it’s own way it was beautiful, but how would my children do? Would my boat withstand the storm, and if not, would my son withstand the wind and waves that we may find ourselves in?
For now the wind was just another part of the adventure for Alex and I wanted to keep it that way. We hunkered down into our sleeping bags and talked of the day. I hoped he would quickly fall asleep while I wondered how long I could stay awake.
Perhaps my pride in my creation made me blind, but I wasn’t really too concerned about the boat breaking up or even getting “holed’ as it is blown into a snag. I was more concerned by the little island next to me. I was in exactly the wrong place. The wind was clearly driving me into the island, more a shelf of sand and grass really, not much larger than the boat itself.
Not long as it turned out. I awoke with a start at midnight and something wasn’t right. Clearly we were aground but which ground and where was the tide? The boat was lisrting about 15 degrees and there was some subtle sense of solidity that told me were weren’t afloat any more.
I jumped out of bed, slithered really since I was in a sleeping bag trying not to wake Alex, but also trying to get outside as quickly as possible. As I burst through the rear hatch into the storm it was instantly clear I was now on top of our little island. Clad in only underwear and a t shirt I jumped onto the island landing in maybe two inches of water. I wasn’t hard aground, but clearly the tide had carried me over the island and the water was now receding. I threw myself against the side of the boat shoving against the wind to get the boat back into ins natural element. In spite of the wind the boat made easy progress sliding down the slippery grass and floated free again. No danger of the boat floating away from me, the howling wind was doing its best to shove me back on the island again.
I jumped into the boat and started the outboard, unsure of what to do next.
To be continued