Friday, March 27, 2009

Fathers, Part 11

We had grounded our boat on the Featherbed Banks at high tide. As the sun dipped toward the western horizon, the water around us became shallower with the ebb. We radioed the Coast Guard. They would contact a private towing company to send a barge to pull us off the bar, but that would not be possible until the next high tide, at 3 a.m.

And so began our family excursion to Key Largo. It was the first time we had seen my father since my mother’s funeral. It had been a difficult time, but we seemed to be getting through it OK. In a way, this was our voyage out of mourning. We were anxious for it to continue. What if the barge did not arrive in time? How long would we be stranded? What would happen to us if the weather turned bad?

Darkness fell. In the faint light of a crescent moon, I could see sand poking above the still water off the bow. “I can’t believe the boat is still level,” I yelled to my father as I stood by the rail. “Look. You can see the bottom; it can’t be more than six inches deep here.” My father, wife and son came to the railing to see for themselves, and our weight was enough to cause the boat to list to starboard, nearly hurling us all into the bay.

We spent the rest of the night at a 30-degree angle, crab-walking the deck, the kids sleeping flush against the hull in the starboard bunks. My father and I did not sleep. We peered into the darkness over the stern, looking for lights, listening for the distant hum of engines.
The barge arrived sometime after midnight and anchored a quarter-mile away. My father conversed with the captain on the crackling marine radio. Slowly, the boat began to right itself. A couple of hours later, the barge moved within 100 yards, and men arrived in a dinghy to attach the tow line. And then, with a jolt and a hiss of sand against hull, we were free. Well, the rescue service was hardly free. The mistake proved to be a costly one.

We approached Key Largo as dawn was breaking portside, the two of us red-eyed and punchy from lack of sleep. It had been a difficult night, but we had come through it, and now everything was OK. And as we idled toward the dock the water was as still as a mirror, and the rising sun splashed its fiery light on the trunks of palms and through the portholes onto the faces of the children, still deep in sleep.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Best yet. -DBH