by Ed Collins/1995
I sold my aluminum boat because it was too much work to get on top of my van. I replaced it with an inflatable, which is easy to manage.
My new/used boat is only ten feet long, and according to what people say, very seaworthy. It sits low to the water, and on choppy days you get a little wet.
I explained all this to Gary before we put it into the surf next to the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. He seemed to be the adventurous sort and didn’t appear worried. Nevertheless, we did get wet as we bounced over the incoming waves. It was a warm Fall day, and even at 7am, the water felt refreshing.
“That was easy,” said Gary, when we were safely beyond the breakers.
The air and sea were still as Gary and I sat on the boat with our lines in the water. We were less than a mile off shore, on the edge of a kelp bed. Gary is a retired school teacher who works from time-to-time as a fly-fishing guide in Central California. He plays and teaches tennis; we have a lot in common.
After a couple of hours of chatting but not catching fish, we decided to go for breakfast. I cranked up the motor and headed for shore.
“I assume you know what you’re doing,” said Gary, as we got closer to shore.
I can’t remember if I answered him as I studied the waves and considered the timing of our re-entry.
The waves seemed small and forceless as I slowly motored in. Gary was sitting in the front of the boat and I was sitting in the back on top of the side.
I remember looking back and seeing a small wave catching us. It didn’t appear the wave was big enough to put water in the boat, so I thought we could just ride it in, like a surf raft.
I was wrong. The moment the wave caught the boat was the same moment it turned sideways, throwing us out. I don’t remember the next moment but I remember fumbling for my glasses as I headed for what I thought would be a nose-dive in the sand. I thought the boat had been capsized.
I caught my glasses at the same moment my outstretched hand hit the ocean floor.
When I came up, the boat was two arm-lengths away and right-side up.
The motor was still on. I dove for it. And missed. Then I took two steps in the boat’s direction.
It was headed west.
I turned to check on Gary. He was standing in chest-deep water, wiping saltwater from his eyes, looking as serious as death. We both looked at the boat. It was headed west. It was going straight as an arrow. I looked at Gary.
“Shit Ed, what are you gunna do?” he asked.
I was stunned. My mind raced. I looked in disbelief as My Boat was headed west. I was helpless to stop it.
Driver-less, it maintained its course––straight. Maybe when it runs out of gas…It’ll be 10 miles out then. How can I get there? Who can help me? If I could hitch a ride. Nobody’s here. It cost $1000. Shit.
About then I noticed that it was slowly starting to turn to the left. Maybe …
Sure enough. My boat made a huge circle; like a boomerang, it was heading back to me.
“Attaboy,” I said, as Gary and I stood in waist deep water, staring West.
I calculated that I would have to go in deeper and farther north to intercept it.
I missed it by three yards. I could swim as fast as it was going. I looked at Gary who was watching and offering moral support. My boat headed out over the waves again.
Suddenly I realized that this was dangerous. As My Boat made the big sweep I started thinking about how lucky I was that the propeller didn’t cut me while I was in the water. I looked at Gary; it was obvious that he had already considered this.
Looking beyond Gary, I noticed a small group had gathered on shore to watch the My boat and the two jokers trying to catch it. I also noticed a lifeguard watching us.
The second attempt was no better than the first. This time My Boat just teased me as it passed, still a half-dozen yards beyond reach.
When I turned toward shore I noticed that the lifeguard was now in the water with his surfboard. “If it comes back again, let me get it.”