Wednesday, August 5, 2009

So far, most of our cruising time has been spent in the Atlantic Intercoastal Waterway (ICW).  A little like the interstate highways that we are used to driving our cars on, the ICW allows boaters to travel up and down the eastern seaboard and gulf coast without ever having to venture out into the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico.  Because the ICW is inland and protected, boaters don't have to worry so much about the large waves and stormy weather you might have out on the ocean.

The ICW is essentially a mish mash of rivers, lakes and man made canals that connect to form a dedicated path from Texas to Maine.  It was started back in the 18th Century and is continually being updated and maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers.  Sometimes it is referred to as "The Ditch" as many parts were literally dug out of the landscape with bulldozers and backhoes.

We really like traveling the ICW.  There is so much to see.  Sometimes you might find yourself alone, quietly traversing a nature preserve.  A few miles later you might be among the hundreds and hundreds of multi-million dollar mansions that have been built right along the shore.  At ten miles per hour, we have plenty of time to rubber neck all the sights.  Nothing is passing us by too quickly.

However sometimes ten miles an hour can be a problem.  Like the drivers around here, no one likes a following a slow poke and we are definitely slow pokes.  Most of the other boats that we see on the ICW are powered ski boats and runabouts.  There are a ton of jet skiers and a fair amount of commercial barges and tows.  They like to travel at nearly twice our speed. Sometimes the ICW is fairly narrow and like a two lane road, you just have to slow down and wait until there is an opportunity for you to pass.  That's the theory anyway.

In our real life experience, that is not always the practice.

When boats are underway, they leave a wake behind them that can often be quite large. Depending on the size and speed of the boat making it, a wake can cause quite a thrill as it knocks you and your boat around.  Boaters are supposed to slow down to a 'no wake' speed as they pass one another as their wake can be quite dangerous.  In my limited experience, most boaters try to slow a little but frankly, many don't slow at all.

The other day we are making our way merrily down the Ditch just outside of Topsail Beach, North Carolina.  It was beautiful sunny day that had brought just about every boater in the county out for a day on the water.  Normally, we try to keep to the right as much as practical so we can stay out of the way of those who want to pass us.  This morning however, we found ourselves in a narrow section and had no choice but to run down the middle.  Moving over towards the side would have put us dangerously close to hitting the bottom.

Out of nowhere came this fairly large power boat... about a 24 footer I would say.  He passed us off our starboard side by about 5 feet doing easily 25 miles per hour.  Before I could even react, Maya was thrown into a 30 degree bank and heaved heavily to port.  I was able to right the ship quickly however if someone was standing near the rails or on the aft deck, they could have easily been swept overboard.  My first reaction was to catch up with that guy and give him a piece of my mind.   You know, like road rage.  That thought quickly passed as he would be back in his marina and on his way home before we could ever catch him.  I got my binoculars out and noted the name of his ship.  Ironically his boat was called the "Ding Dong".  I tried to hail him on the radio, but it was to no avail.  He was gone.

My second reaction, (which thinking back should have been my first) was, 'where was Kim?'  I thought she had gone down to the Salon as she had left the flybridge (where I was) fifteen minutes ago.  However, she could have been anywhere at the time when we were thrown by the wake.  
I couldn't leave the bridge to look for her so the first thing I did was yell.  I knew that probably wasn't going to work as the engines are noisy and you can't hear much while underway.  Even if she did hear me, I doubt if she would come running as, well.... we have been married almost 25 years and that kind of thing just doesn't happen anymore. 

The next thing I tried was blowing our horn.  The horn on MAYA is pretty loud and I thought that if Kim heard it, she might wander up to see what all the fuss was about.  If that didn't work, I was going to have to turn around and go look for her.

You know, the greatest fear I have as the pilot of the boat is that someone might fall overboard and I wouldn't know it.  I would keep on truckin' along oblivious to the event.  With only the two of us onboard, there is no one to be a lookout.  If someone went into the drink and you didn't see it, it would be dicey finding them again.  Now we have all this fancy safety equipment and unfortunately we keep it nice and safe on the couch right next to the flybridge helm where it can do absolutely no good.  If Kim had fallen in, I knew she wouldn't be wearing a floatation device as we had never put them on.  It was just plain dumb on our part.

Now this all happened in the space of about one minute, so I don't want you to think that I was speeding on down the ICW while contemplating Kim's fate.  I slowed the boat down to a stop and looked back to see if I could spot her bobbing around in the water behind us.  At ten miles per hour, if she fell in she would only be about 200 yards or so away.  Just then I heard the salon door slam and the sound of her footsteps coming up to the flybridge.  "What the h***  was that?!?" she exclaimed.  Apparently the wake had caused everything to fall out of the refrigerator and spill out onto the galley floor.  Kim had been downstairs cleaning up the mess and didn't hear my calls.
I told her about the guy in the speedboat and how his wake had made us roll like that. I think she was mad about it too, but as always she was the cooler head about these things and just let it go.  I also reached over and gave her a life jacket and said that as the captain, from now on, I am requiring all crew members to wear life jackets while underway.  That part about being the captain didn't carry much weight, however when I explained the part about her falling overboard I think she agreed with me.

In the future, I have to remember to replace the word 'captain' with the words "your loving husband".  If I ever fall over the side, I want her to turn around and come pick me up.