Friday, December 16, 2011
My Most Incredible Christmas Eve Ever!
I had just finished eating a peanut butter sandwich and a can of soup for breakfast in an attempt to use up the last of the food stamped, “Best if used before Oct. 2004”. It was Christmas Eve day, 2004, and I had no further plans until the phone rang. It was a friend who had just purchased a new boat. He thought it a grand idea to travel in his boat from Oak Harbor to a Coupeville pub for a beer and asked if I would be interested in joining him. I looked out over the cove and it was one of those rare moments in December when there was no wind, no waves, and no ice. “Sure”, I said without any thought. I threw on a sweatshirt and was soon on my way to the marina in Oak Harbor.
My friend was just backing down the boat ramp when I arrived and I offered to run down the pier and tie the boat up as it floated off the trailer. It was an easy job. The boat turned out to be just a small aluminum boat with an outboard motor. It was the kind of pleasure craft you had to steer with your arm behind you. I remember now him calling the craft a “Bass boat”. I thought of turning back and going home, but against all better judgment, felt committed and climbed aboard for the journey to Coupeville and Toby's Pub, which offered the promise of a rewarding beer and large platter of fries.
500 feet outside the harbor, and just past the sand bar, we found ourselves in deep trouble as we entered the Saratoga Passage. There were logs floating everywhere and of all sizes. Old growth to small young pines, they were all bobbing about and gently sidling up to the boat. I found a smaller branch afloat, and pulled it up into the boat. Soon I was the gondolier of Washington waters. I stood in the front of the boat and pushed aside each log as they bumped up against us as if squeezing us to extract the last dry space. Turning around would have been quite impossible and we both thought it would improve when we entered Penn Cove. We were wrong.
Hours later and exhausted from pushing logs aside, and growing weary of listening to the dull thuds and moaning sounds of log against logs against metal, we arrived safely at the Coupeville pier and could not get off the boat fast enough. We walked the pier to Toby's Pub and rejoiced as soon as the heat from the furnace hit our face as we entered through the swinging door. It wasn't obvious to ourselves or others one short hour later, that we were two idiots who had consumed one too many beers as we headed down the pier to drift among the logs for the journey home.
There was some trouble at the onset as the outboard motor sputtered and stalled. This it turned out was due to the cooling water intake in the engine being clogged with seaweed. I stated I was a pro at fixing that, and volunteered to run back to the bar and get some toothpicks. I returned to the boat , passing the toothpicks to my friend as he leaned precariously over the rear of his boat, arm in the water, clearing out the seaweed clog from the tiny hole in the outboard motor. “Hurry up”, I said, I'm freezing”! “Get in the boat then and put on my coat”, my brave friend said. I spotted his jacket on the floor of the boat where he had thrown it to keep it dry while working with his arm in the water. I jumped onto the boat only to lower the outboard end to the point where my friend got dunked under water headfirst and clear up to both shoulders! Now we were both freezing; my friend soaking wet under his returned coat and me standing against the evening with only a sweatshirt. We had miles to go and a sea of logs to navigate. We also had a deadline to worry about. Sunset in our part of the nation was at 4:15, a time that was rapidly approaching.
The trip home was as perilous as the trip earlier, except the tide was retreating and the logs were a bit thinner, flowing out to sea in our same direction. Still, my branch pole was essential for pushing away the logs to insure our safe passage and we began to finally realize that the whole round trip was the dumbest venture ever. We also realized that hypothermia was kicking in and we were talking jibberish. It was almost sunset's end as we approached the sandbar and entered Oak Harbor too cold and numb to even stir an ounce of excitement or relief. The logs hindering our speed up until now, suddenly disappeared, as we entered the harbor chugging past the buoy into the safe harbor.
The sun decided to drop while we were still about an 8th of a mile from the dock.
What happened next, was nothing short of a miracle. The water turned as black as oil, and the sky turned so red that it appeared the water had exploded into a raging fiery inferno. I dropped my pole into the black and my friend cut the engine and we looked at each other, and the sky and then at the water and we knew, unspoken, we would never have a moment like this in our lives again. And then, as if it hadn't been enough to have seen some god face to face, Canadian geese descended all around us from the sky and landed in the water almost without a sound.
The silent flock, as if the escorts of Neptune himself, drifted with us safely into port.
Sadly, our incredible experience that night was to be the last for my friend as he passed away a few short months later. It would have been the last time that I too ever saw a sight like that had it not been for this photograph I found one day on the internet. I do not know the name of the person who took this photo, but will forever be grateful to them for capturing a similar moment and letting me see the miracle we experienced one more time.