Lost at sea

By | August 8, 2015

The names, the events and the characters of this cautionary tale are all fictional. Any resemblance with actual person or event is purely coincidental! This is not a rendition of event occurring during the Mass Open held in 2015 at Gooseberry Island… just saying

The fog was thick and promised to hold all day even though the sun was out in force. Justin could barely see a hundred yards.

His kayak was anchored on the wreck of a sunken barge a mile and a half from Gooseberry Island. It was not an impressive span, except Justin didn’t know in what direction the island was. Given the distance and the width of the land mass, it would only take a ten degree error to miss it.

Fortunately Justin was not alone. There were the twelve kayaks anchored around Justin. They were competitors of the Massachusetts Open Spearfishing competition. The twelve other freedivers had compasses, Justin did not.
Without a compass or a GPS, Justin had no reliable mean to venture safely away from the barge by himself. To hit the island he had to take a precise northern course while compensating for the outgoing current. If he missed the island, the mainland was at best three miles away, but it could be as much as fifteen. In other words, you did not want to miss Gooseberry Island.

Competing in the New England fog was a little stressful to start with. Every time any of the freedivers surfaced, they would look for parts of the protruding structure of the barge. The unspoken nightmare was to be taken away by the current or losing your way while spearfishing. This far from shore, getting lost without a kayak could be fatal.

Even as the day progressed, the sun couldn’t pierce the humid air to provide a bearing. The wind had changed direction since Justin had followed the other spearfishing competitors to this remote spot, four hours before. The waves might have offered a rough estimation of the course to the shore had Justin been able to establish their direction relative to the island on his way to the barge, but he hadn’t. To his credit, he could only have done so with a compass.

Justin could have asked another diver for directions, or a spare compass. Better, nothing in the rules curtailed him from following the other divers as they made their way back to the weight station. The other divers would not have minded. This was a small regional competition and everyone was there for fun. Any of the divers learning he had no compass would have been very alarmed. No one in his right mind would have let him leave the barge without one.

All divers had to be at the beach in front of the parking at exactly two in the afternoon. Getting to the area late was the classic way to get disqualified, a lot of competitors did. That day Justin had enough fish to get good results, but somehow didn’t consider this could be for nothing if he got disqualified.

Against all competition and self preservation logics, Justin continued diving while the other divers got on their tiny boats and paddled away. Most divers left with a comfortable time window since it was difficult to estimate the time it would take to get back. It was at best a forty five minutes ride to the staging area. That’s the time it would take a good paddler in clear visibility to get there. Most of the divers would take over sixty minutes.
The kayaks did not all go away at the same time. Justin could have followed the ones leaving later, but he continued diving even when he saw the last kayak lift its anchor.

The last guy to leave had been surprised to see Justin’s boat still anchored. He had waited two extra minutes to see what was going on, but this being a competition, he had finally respected Justin’s right to miscalculate.
The last diver did not suspect Justin was without a compass… They had all left in the fog! And a compass is a competition requirement, just like the knife and the dive flag. It was unimaginable that someone would venture out in the New England fog without a compass! Hell, the last diver to leave the barge had a GPS tucked inside his kayak, just in case.

Justin had seen the last diver paddle away. He was not entirely oblivious to the difficulty created by the fog. Yes, he should have followed the last guy, but at least he saw in what direction he went! He thought. That would surely do! Wouldn’t it?

By one fifteen Justin had his gear inside the kayak and was ready to cast off. Somehow, with all the work involved in getting his gear back in the boat, the two dives it took to free the anchor, he had lost track of the precise direction the last kayak had taken.

That’s when Justin channeled his native Huron blood, and let himself be filled with the wisdom of mother earth for direction. Justin meditated on this for a while, and finally received a clear path in his mind… “This way cloud child!”

The first paddle strokes gave the lad some respite from doubts. Action emboldens the hearth!
In seconds, the wreck disappeared behind him. It was nothing but a speck of protruding metal to start with. Ten minutes later he could not have gotten back to it to save his life. That’s when it occurred to Justin his ancestors were mostly Russian Jews and Irish folks, not Iroquois. It would be an understatement to say he now had some misgivings about his course. But there wasn’t much he could do about it. By keeping the wind on his back he couldn’t stray too far from shore he thought, perhaps not the stretch of shore he aimed for, but that wasn’t entirely the point at this juncture.

Paddling in the fog, in the midday humid summer heat, without water, was not pleasant for any of the competitors, but it was especially trying for Justin since he also had to deal with cold sweats. After the first hour passed, he knew he wasn’t going to hit Gooseberry Island. The mainland was at least two miles further, so there was a chance he would see land before long. That’s if he was heading in the direction of Gooseberry Island. Otherwise, he’d be lost at sea.

The thirst became an ever pressing discomfort that mined him physically and mentally. He would have killed for water, or some form of liquid. That was another thing he’d forgotten. He only had Coors Lite in his truck and never considered asking for water.

Soon Justin was ravenous, and when the kayak bumped into a dead seagull, he grabbed at it and sunk his teeth in the feathers. The feathers stuck in his teeth and the taste of rotten sludge spilled in his mouth. He sucked as hard as anyone could have but all he got was a mouthful of oily and salty ooze. Some would argue he had resisted the salt water only to manage doing worse, but that’s not giving any points for creativity and effort.

The second hour of toiling in the fog was the most disorienting. It was a moment of pleading with invisible beings and doubts. Who had convinced him spearfishing was a good idea? Sure, spearfishermen get to wear sexy skin tight suits, handle manly spearguns and trot around with long fins. No kidding they get all the girls… Sounds great until you spend nauseous hours marinating in your urine, waiting for some slimy fish to swim in front of your speargun, only to get lost at sea… and what was his girlfriend doing with that old friend from school? Does he have to look like Ryan Gosling? Why is she smiling so much when I get back late in the evening?

The third hour was acceptance. He wasn’t going to make it. They’d find his kayak with his dried body on a beach somewhere in Morocco or Portugal. He always wanted to visit Europe. With his luck, he’d end up in Labrador, far away from civilization and the yellow kayak would be located in a century or two. Perhaps his mummified remains would find their way to a museum where he’d be displayed next to the exhumed bones of Emilia Earhart, the “other” great American disappearance.

After eating his last totaug, Justin lost consciousness. His kayak became his funeral float. With the fog, it looked quite dramatic. Torches at each end of the scupper would have been a nice touch.
It was about time he stopped paddling in the wrong direction. Ultimately, it was the wind and the current who took him to shore.

The little girl who found him was not the panicky sort. She hit his face with a piece of wood to see if he’d move. When he opened his eyes, he was on a beach, surrounded by families. A pod of sunbathing teenage girls rolled their collective eyes when he stood up on his wobbly legs.

It took some doing from the Massachusetts club president to get Justin out of jail, in a gurney. The sunbathing girls had panicked when the thirsty man ran toward their cooler. They tazered, peppered and shot him twice before they calmed down, but otherwise Justin was ok.

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