Saturday, March 16, 2013

Escape from Alcatraz, Part II

Early up this morning, I wrapped up this item, at least in draft form. "Out past the breakers I killed the engine and we anchored in water so still that it could not be the open ocean but must be a bay, which was confirmed by the short anchor line needed. After a short time we sat in the cockpit, the air stinging with diesel fumes. “What the hell was that?” John laughed.

I sipped from a canteen and said “I just about drove us straight into the rocks.” My body and mind seemed to vibrate at a high frequency. I sat back and drummed the fiberglass hull with my fingertips.

Later we re-checked the anchor and talked over a plan to go in in the morning. When I woke hours later in my little plywood bunk, it was to a strange thrumming sound, a vibration I entirely new to my senses. The cabin light was off and I heard John say 'What was that?” “I dunno. Did we hit something?”

“We're not moving. We're anchored.”

“We better be!” I said.

Again, a thrumming, like a giant, plucked bass string, but much bigger and slower. Again. I did not move, listening carefully and trying to feel the sound, perhaps link its sensations up with something deep in my memory. John's mind assembled an explanation. “Maybe we hit a submarine cable? Maybe a cable came free from the sea floor, floated up and banged the hull?” he said, and then he said “Surely not!” “Could it be a submarine?” I asked. It was a ridiculous idea to be struck by a submarine in this shallow bay, but it was a strange situation. Our minds raced. One of us asked if it could be a whale, or dolphins playing. None of these fantasies sounded right.

I went out on deck with a flashlight. We sat motionless in a thick fog and I could see only a few feet off the boat. I pointed the light down into the water, which was flat and glassy, showing no motion. Thrummmmm.

“I dunno, John--I don't get it!” Something soft but immense seemed to be bumping the hull. Another thrumm, this time accompanied by a clinking sound to my left. I turned and laughed, seeing in the flashlight beam a guy-line vibrating, a metal fastener on it clinking on the mast.

“It's a guy-line!” I called down to John, “it's a vibrating guy-line!” We were still now, but a swell must have passed under us in the dark and transferred energy to the guy-line, giving it motion. John laughed from below as I cinched a line to the guy and tied it stiffly to a cleat.

In the morning there was no wind and we motored slowly landward through a thick fog, rising and lowering with a lovely softness on long low following swells. John held a chart at the bow and gestured for me to turn left or right as he spotted buoys that came up suddenly out of the fog. Then we punched through the fog to see that we were well in the harbor channel, perfectly positioned in the incoming sealane. The harbor entrance was constructed of two parallel miles of boulders a thousand yards apart, pointing straight out to sea. I watched green water swell up over the lowest of these boulders like thick flowing glass that drained off slowly, leaving sparkling green and white sea life speckled on the black rocks. Dozens of masts stood above the wooden docks, tipping this way and that a degree at a time in slow but certain motion. A ragged wooden tall ship, a black-painted schooner in disrepair, gave the site a piratical feel. An ugly smokestack stood high above a power plant adjacent to the harbor. There was a heavy odor of oil and damp seaweed. It was nearly noon but nobody was out on the boats or docks and I recalled Moss Harbor's seedy reputation of a place where maritime drug smuggling had all but overtaken a collapsed fishing industry. We slowed and turned in towards an open slip, passing a heavy iron pipe standing up out of the water, apparently a wreck not yet salvaged, an obstacle ready to rip open a fiberglass hull like ours. We probably wouldn't have seen it if we'd come in at night.

John stepped off the Annie B at the perfect moment and whipped the ship's lines to heavy dock cleats, fastening the sailboat to an appendage of the land. I stepped onto the dock, which moved somewhat but, being fastened to land, moved less and differently from a deck at sea. A hundred yards down the dock we stepped back onto the still Earth." (c) 2013 Cameron M. Smith

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