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Monday, August 1, 2011

Merrily Rowing Along without a Light and Getting Busted for It.....

Well I should have known better and it was bound to happen... I got intercepted by a U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat for rowing my inflatable dinghy without a light the other evening. I was indeed in violation of the law and I'll be the first to admit that the interception was most appropriate.

It happened on a dark, overcast, and moonless evening when a sizable power vessel suddenly appeared from out of nowhere only to then stop right alongside of me. I'd heard that boat coming but had initially assumed it was but one of a number of the brightly yellow-colored Sea Tow vessels that routinely tie up along the pier.

All of a sudden I'm hearing someone calling out to me, "Hey Captain, where is your light? Do you realize that no one can see you out here?

It was then upon looking over at the vessel and reading the bold lettering alongside the hull of that boat that I realized that it wasn't a Sea Tow vessel calling out to me but rather a U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat with at least four uniformed crew members aboard.

I remind myself to be completely truthful and respectful to the officer aboard that boat and not to mouth off some random, catty comment that would most assuredly land me in even more trouble.

I tell myself to "suck it up", "you've been caught", "you're in violation of the law", "comply with all instructions", and lastly to "keep all responses factual yet concise".

Once again I hear the officer calling out to me, "Did you know that you are legally required to have a light on while operating your dinghy at night?"

"Yes officer, I did know that".

(That's it, keep it short and completely truthful I think to myself.)

"Then where is your light?"

"It's aboard my boat along with my other gear that I removed earlier today when I took my outboard motor in for servicing."

("Oh crap, I hope he doesn't ask to see my life jacket now", I again think to myself).

What I don't bother explaining is that my crappy light has been inoperable for some time now and is completely rusted out and has been disassembled with all its various parts rattling about the bottom of a tote box somewhere aboard my boat.

"Then why don't you have your light?"

"I hadn't anticipated going back out to my boat tonight."

(Tonight being the key operative word here because I had indeed initially planned on heading back to the boat on the Marina's last scheduled shuttle run of the day... but that was before I decided to have a few cold ones in a sports tavern here in Coconut Grove.)

"And why not?", the officer then asked.

"I had planned on spending the night at a friend's house but that didn't work out".

(Well so much for being completely truthful, but what-the-heck, my lady-friend happens to live on the other end of the state on Marco Island and besides, she won't ever know any different, so I'll just throw her under the bus and save my own ass if I can...)

"Where is your boat at?" the officer then inquires.

"It's out in the mooring field on mooring ball number forty-eight sir", I respond.

"All the way out there?"

"Yes Sir..."

"I can't allow you to row out into the channel without a light." he emphatically states.

"I was planning on avoiding the channel and rowing among the boats in the mooring field" I lamely respond.

"No one can see you out there, you don't have a light".

An awkward silence then sets in... at least for me anyway.

(Well, are you going to give me a ticket or what?, I think to myself.)

I dip an oar into the water and the officer immediately calls out.

"Where are you going?" only that in retrospect his question sounded more like a "Where do you think you're going, sonny-boy?" upon which I respond.

"Well Sir, you've made it very clear to me that I will not be allowed to row on out to my boat without a light. I'm going to row on back to the dock, tie-off my dinghy and then go sleep in my car for tonight."

(Uh oh, tone it down I say to myself... Don't get ahead of yourself.)

The officer then matter-of-factly instructs me to wait a moment while he reaches into a compartment aboard the boat.

(Oh well, I guess I'm going to be issued a ticket and I've got it coming. At least I'll be back on my way one way or another, I think to myself.)

With that the officer bends a small plastic tubing with both hands, leans over the railing and then proceeds to hand it over to me. The contents of that clear tubing lights up and produces a bright glowing green light.

"Here, use this... he says to me."

"I appreciate it Sir" I respond.

(The officer couldn't have been more than half my age and I'm thinking that I must have worn him out calling him sir so many times...)

And just like that the Coast Guard vessel, along with it's crew members, powers up and continues on its way without so much as another word spoken. Not even so much as a "Be careful out there" or a "Row safely" or even a "Beware of drug runners running blind out there" or some such.

And with that I'm once again laboriously rowing on past the various vessels tied up along the pier and on towards the channel marker marking the entrance to the harbor.

Soon enough I'm rowing on past that channel marker and on out into the open channel with winds blowing a good fifteen knots from out of the east.

There's a good amount of chop in the water and rowing that inflatable directly into the teeth of that wind is a b*tch. I'm now having to make short, quick strokes to make any forward progress.

In hindsight I should have said "screw-it" and perhaps borrowed one of the many hard-dinghies tied up alongside the dinghy dock. It would have made rowing out to my boat a lot easier for me and I certainly would have made it a point to return the thing before noon the next day. I'm sure the owner of that hard dinghy wouldn't have had any objections.

I stay clear of the channel and row inside the mooring field markers just like I had earlier informed the Coast Guard officer that I would.

I do this not because I fear being observed by that Coast Guard patrol boat that had earlier admonished me, but because I've often seen and heard many-a-fishing trawlers and Motor Vessels racing through that channel late at night with the throttle wide open.

Well before long all that rowing has me mentally beaten down. All I can think about is of safely making it out to my boat without getting too wet from the occasional swells splashing up inside my dinghy.

I do eventually make it out to my boat. I must have been rowing for a good forty minutes or so and am most relieved to finally tie the dinghy's painter off to a stern cleat.

My efforts to step onto the swim-platform are deliberate and purposeful yet my hands are still somewhat moist from not having completely wiped my hands dry. I feel my hands slipping on the aluminum railing as the boat rides up and down each ocean swell.

I do nevertheless somehow manage to successfully climb aboard my boat and seat myself inside the cockpit. I'm out of breath and while stretching my weary arms, I think of my one and only prior encounter with the U.S. Coast Guard.

This encounter occurred all the way back in '89 while aboard S/V BratCat and happened a day after dropping an anchor off of Christmas Tree Island in Key West.

It was a bright, clear, beautiful morning when I heard the sound of a motor vessel rumbling nearby. No sooner had I poked my head out of the companionway to see who was passing by so closely when an officer aboard that Coast Guard vessel inquires where I had sailed in from the previous day.

I explain that the boat had been tied up to the docks at Turtle Kraawls in Key West the past two months but not before thinking to myself, "Why is that a concern of yours?".

With that the officer responds, "okay" followed by a "have a good day" and waving a goodbye while he and two other officers, who had been standing alongside, crouch down out of view.

Suddenly a fourth officer who had previously been out of view, stands up and also waves goodbye, only he happened to be cradling what surely must have been a bad-ass military assault weapon... something akin to the ones used by Navy Seal Team Six when they pumped Osama Bin Laden full of bullets.

(Memo to self: Get your dinghy light fixed.)

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