The afternoon we pulled into Illahee State Park, we took a mooring buoy and relaxed in the peace and quiet that this park is known for. I replaced the dinghy line with a new shorter line, and then we had a nice meal and an adult beverage. About an hour before sunset I got ready to take Taco to shore and I moved the dinghy into position to get in. While I was getting ready, the line to the dinghy, (it’s called a painter) came untied. In disbelief I watched it drift past. I made an attempt at catching it with my foot, but then it was moving past the stern and out of reach.
I looked at Sherlene, she looked at the dinghy, and then at me. I may have said a curse word or two, because there was no question in either of our minds that I was going in to get it. She said: “If you’re going to go get it, you’d better go quick.” By this time the dinghy was twenty feet behind the boat.
I jumped in.
It wasn’t a picture perfect arching dive. The water was 48 degrees, so it was more of a plodding jump, feet first, braced for action, as if I were wading into a fight and I knew I was going to take a hit and wanted to be ready.
By the time I swam to the dinghy and grabbed the painter I was forty feet out. The current was moving at a pretty good clip. I really didn’t think about any of that though. By that time my body had adjusted to the shock of the cold, so I turned to the boat with my painter in hand and started to swim.
I’m a pretty good swimmer, and I am comfortable in the water, but as I swam I didn’t put my face down and swim like I know how, Instead, I kept my head up like a child that is learning to swim.
I swam, and I swam… and I swam. The boat wasn’t getting any closer.
As I did this, Sherlene put out the boarding ladder so I could get back on. She even took a few pictures. Nothing to worry about here.
I don’t know how long I swam, but eventually I had to switch to a different stroke because I was getting tired. Side stroke, back stroke, I looked up and I could see I was losing ground.
Now, I put my face in the water and swam with everything I had to get back to the boat. About ten strokes in I look up and I am still losing ground. I’m exhausted.
Sherlene was getting concerned, but so far she was just trying to encourage me to swim harder.
She certainly wasn’t ready for me to turn to shore, roll over on my back and gasp, “Come get me.”
With real concern, she asked “What should I do?” “Come get me” was all I could say.
From that point on, my struggle was over, and Sherlene’s was just beginning. While I was swimming toward shore, my dinghy dumped into the next buoy down the line, about 300 feet away from where we had moored. I couldn’t take that one, but I aimed for the next buoy, the last one before I had to get to shore, or be swept out into the channel. I grabbed my buoy about 200 yards from Sherlene as she was swinging into action.
Sherlene takes an active interest in the operation of our boat. She knows how to start the engine, she knows how to drive the boat, she has watched as I tie up to the buoys, but she isn’t entirely comfortable doing all of that by herself, under pressure.
About the time I was grabbing my buoy, I could see she had taken down the cockpit awning, started to engine and was already on the bow releasing the lines. What I couldn’t see was the struggle to lift the ring, and the attending half inch thick chain four feet up so she could hook it to the bow roller and untie. Thoughts of hypothermia fueled a rising terror as she screamed for help to anyone that could hear.
I saw her come back to the cockpit and put the engine in gear.
I saw her run back to the bow and release the buoy ring because she had forgotten to let it drop back down, and then I watched her gun the engine and turn to start a wide loop to come get me.
At the same time, I watched as a sailboat shot off the dock about a half mile away and come out to standby and help.
I watched as Sherlene made the big turn, slowed down and eased up along side me as pretty as you please. It was a thing of beauty and anyone that has ever handled boats will know how difficult that can be, especially under pressure.
A few seconds later, and I had climbed up the ladder she put out and we were motoring back to our mooring ball.
Several people called from different directions and I assured them I was ok, but as we were approaching the buoy I saw red flashing lights on shore, and a voice called out asking us to come to the docks.
When we got to the docks there were about ten or twelve people waiting to see my smiling mug. I threw them some dock lines and asked: “So.. what else were you guys planning to do with your evening?”
While we chatted back and forth about my health and well being, Sherlene began to unwind from the pressure she had been under. As I was telling everyone about the amazing job she had done she broke down and started to sob. It would be well into the next day before she could talk about it without crying.
We both learned lot. There are several things we could have done differently, even after I made the wrong decision to jump in after the dinghy.
We are both thankful everything turned out well, and I am proud once again of what Sherlene can do when the chips are down.