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What comes around...

2010 Fay Jacobs

There's nothing like spending the day with old friends out on the water. And it was on the best kind of boat - somebody else's.

As a former boat owner I can tell you that Bonnie and I spent 13 years boating on Chesapeake Bay and we have pitiful 401ks to prove it. It was one expensive hobby.

So there I was, lounging on this boat, with no fiscal responsibilities, enjoying the water, the weather and the relaxation. Everyone aboard but me had a fishing pole and I can report that I caught as many fish as they did.

As we headed for a restaurant along an area called Kent Narrows I smiled, as this glorious September day reminded me of one from many years ago. Same captain, same crew.

Back then, our buds invited us for a day on the bay, to join them "to run the gas down in their boat," so they wouldn't leave it for winter with a full tank. We gladly accepted the invite.

"Let me just go back to the car for my camera," I said, as prolific back then with film as I am now with digital.

"The heck with it," said Bonnie, "for once, dammit, just go out and enjoy the ride without all the camera business."

Obviously, Bonnie was starting to view me as paparazzi, so I reluctantly agreed to leave the camera behind.

A half hour later, as we reached the middle of the Bay, near the famed Chesapeake Bay Bridge, I asked the captain how long it would take to run the gas down to an acceptable winter level. "I mean does it have to be empty on the gauge?"

"Well, said the captain, "the gauge is broken so it's hard to know, but we have plenty of gas, so let's just run around a while and head back."

At which point the boat's engine hiccupped, belched, bubbled, then quit. Apparently we'd had a lot less gas than the broken gauge was able to indicate.

"Crap," said the first mate, "we're in the shipping channel."

Now I don't know if you non-boaters understand what that means, but simply put, if a tanker came along we'd likely wind up in the drink like so much flotsam and jetsam. There's a lane in the middle of the wide bay, marked by buoys, that is deep enough for giant oil tankers and container ships filled with Mitsubishis. That's the channel. We were stalled in it, or at least perilously close to it and we'd all heard stories of small boats being sunk by tankers, or perhaps even scarier, being sucked to the depths by the undertow of a passing cargo ship.

Of course, we instantly grabbed the marine radio to call for help. The sheepish captain's face said it all. "Um, the radio is supposed to go to the shop tomorrow. It only gets channel 17, so I hope somebody is listening." By this time Bonnie and I were incredulous as well as scared, and re-evaluating both our relationship with our friends and sport boating itself.

So we put out a call on the radio and waited for a reply. Nothing.

In the meantime, Bonnie tapped me on the shoulder, pointed toward the horizon and said, "What's that?"

In the distance, beyond the bridge, a boat approached. A very big boat.

"What is it, a tanker?" Bonnie asked.

"I dunno, said the captain," it's tall, almost looks like a passenger ship."

"Yeah, I see several smokestacks," I said, watching the enormous blob lumber toward us, slicing the water, heading for the bridge. The thing was so big, in fact, it looked like Hoboken on a barge and I doubted it would fit under the bridge.

"Holy, shit," or a version thereof, said everybody.

We held our breath as this behemoth gained on us. Exactly how much trouble were we in? From the look of things, the monster vessel was hugging the left side of the channel and we, in the equivalent of a rubber bathtub ducky were off right. Maybe, just maybe, we would luck out. But then again what's the clearance required to avoid being sucked into the depths?

"My God, it's clearing the bridge by inches." I said, with the first mate adding "good thing the water's calm." Well, the water was the only one.

"Look at that thing!" "Holy Moly." "I'm peeing."

"Oh my God, it is a passenger ship, I've never seen so many decks in my life," I said, now looking at up at an increasingly steep angle, as the giant bow approached. Then, as we watched in dumbstruck awe, our eyes looked heavenward as the bow, with its massive anchor and chain, then the side, with its hundreds of staterooms and lifeboats, then the stern, pushed by its colossal propeller passed above us, regaling us with the giant lettering Queen Elizabeth II.

It was a passenger ship alright and when I realized, remarkably, that I was still afloat, I was pretty pissed not to have a camera.

We watched the ocean liner's hind end travel off into the sunset and frantically called for a tow, announcing our call letters into the radio.

Hooray! Somebody heard us on channel 17 and said "I read you, changing to Channel 16."

"No!!!" we yelled, too late, understanding that the rescuer was being polite, getting off the open channel and telling us to go to 16 for a private conversation. Only we had no channel 16.

We tried again on Channel 17.

Our hero came back. "Switch to 16. Over and out."

"Nooooo!" we hollered again, frantic to get out of the channel before Moby Dick or The Titanic came by.

On the third try he listened long enough to understand our dilemma. Whew. We told him where to find us and he promised to be out to get us as fast as he could.

Meanwhile, the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen, before or since, took place on the Western shore of the bay, framing the departing QE II in a pink glow and providing us with the show of our lives.

No camera. My spouse knew there would be consequences.

Finally, the Lucky 5 rescue boat appeared to haul our lucky four back to shore.

In the ensuing years, and there have been many of them, that captain and first mate have remained two of our closest friends, fuel emergency and broken radio not withstanding. They've purchased a new boat and, for the record, have kept it in tiptop shape. We've boated with them often and somebody always makes a snide comment about running the gas out.

So here we were, almost two decades later, heading back to shore from our fabulous day on the water, when a stunning sunset appeared.

"Hey team," I said. "How 'bout a photo." And they dutifully posed on deck, before the lovely setting sun.

I was using the fancy 8-megapixel camera on my new Droid phone. But the battery had gone dead. No camera. We all laughed.

What comes around, floats around.
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Fay Jacobs is the publisher of A&M Books, a successor to the legendary Naiad Press and author of As I Lay Frying - a Rehoboth Beach Memoir (now in its third printing), Fried & True - Tales of Rehoboth Beach and the newest book, For Frying Out Loud - Rehoboth Beach Diaries out in 2010.

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