One Night on the River
One night in 2003 or 2004, three friends decided to visit the Old Bank Bar in Lake City. Coming from Pepin, on a windless night, we decided to take the speedboat rather than the sailboat. Burgers and fries and beer, oh my! Sometime long after midnight, we left Lake City and headed back to Pepin, throttle wide open, the only boat on the flat lake with the full moon rising behind us, the only sound the scream of the engine.
Then suddenly, silence. The engine, with no warning, came to an abrupt halt, and the boat slowly did the same. The three sailors looked at each other and shrugged. Now what? Captain Dave, with his almost-useless-on-a-powerboat crew at hand, tried the various things one does to restart an engine. At one point we even held up the tattered canvas cover to see if we could catch a breeze. No go, we were stranded.
“Who can we call to come get us?” the crew asked.
“No one. Let me take a 20 minute power nap and then we can make a plan.” and with that the Captain curled up on the back bench seat and was quickly lightly snoring.
Philip and I sat back and attempted to enjoy the stunning evening on the lake. No wind, a full moon, and the gentle motion of any boat on water soon lulled us into thinking everything would be fine. Off in the distance they could see the lights of Deer Island. Everyone’s safe, we’ll figure it out.
Twenty minutes later their Captain was awake and ready to go. A paddle was located, and the wooden cover from the floorboards where the skis were kept was quickly determined to be a second paddle. The Captain wrapped a ski rope around his chest, tied a bowline and into the water he went, swimming and pulling the ski boat behind him, headed for shore.
The crew paddled, and the Captain swam, and that’s what we did, for three hours. All offers to switch places were refused as he felt this was his boat, his responsibility, and he was the hero of this story. As we neared shore it occurred to the crew that while we might arrive on shore about 5 a.m., we were still three miles from town. It was decided that we could call one person who we knew would be up at 4 a.m., and would keep the Captain’s secret.
Sure enough, we landed around 5 a.m. and our friend was there with a pickup to cart us the remaining distance to town. When the Captain made it back out to the boat later that day the trouble was found, the boat had run out of gas! Now the crew and chauffeur were REALLY sworn to never tell the tale, as the Captain was too embarrassed to admit to the public that the great sailor had made such a simple mistake.
Fifteen years later the story can now be told, of the Captain who swam for 3.5 hours without a break, to make sure everyone in his boat was returned to shore safe.
This is Your Captain Speaking
Do you know the one about the night Captain Dave fell off the bow of his boat? Well, grab a seat and I’ll tell you the story.
There were six of us that night, David, myself, Kristin and her husband, Steve, and two friends of theirs, Mike and John. We grabbed a bottle of wine or two and went out on Messenger, David’s 30” sailboat, to enjoy the sunset and the company on Lake Pepin.
We put up all the sail, and there was enough wind to move the boat along nicely. I was at the helm, in my second year of sailing, still learning yet able to hold her steady. David trusted me enough that he went to the bow and climbed up on the bowsprit with his glass of wine. Kristin followed him, while the rest of us carried on in the cockpit at the back of the boat.
At one point I realized the lake was getting shallower and I needed to tack so I yelled to Kristin that I needed her to come back to the cockpit so I could turn the boat around. Instead, David said she could come on the forward part of the boat, outside of the foresail, next to him. He was in the middle of a story, you see, and his glass was full, and surely there was room.
Well, she grabbed the forestay and stepped forward, at the same time turning back around to face the rear of the boat. David, unfortunately, neglected to grab the forestay and fell backwards off the boat, into the chilly water 6 feet below.
Kristin started screaming, while I turned to Mike, or was it John, and told him to find David and to keep him in sight as the sun was setting and I had no idea if he was hurt or not. I then yelled to Kristin to “Shut the hell up!” and she did, immediately.
There was a second of silence, and then about 100 feet off the stern we heard his voice, “This is your Captain speaking….”. David was fine, although he did waste a glass of wine in the dunking.
I turned the engine on, brought the sails down, turned the boat around and we went back and picked him up. Wrapping him in blankets from down below, we motored back to the marina. He swore us to secrecy as he thought it would be embarrassing, a Captain falling off his own boat. I waited many years before telling the tale, even though it’s a good one, and now he can laugh about it as well.