Sabine Lake: Drop anchor and wait it out
After doing a heck of a lot more fishing than catching last week and taking a beating from a relentless wind, I canceled weekend trips with hopes of catching up on some overdue yard work. My neighbor gave me a couple of guaranteed cucumber plants that will surely die within the week and I attacked my flower beds as though they would produce anything more than a wide variety of weeds.
I had just finished those chores, taken a bath and made a sandwich when the phone rang. “Dickie… I hate to bother you, but we are broken down on the lake and we are blowing across the north end with very little life left in the troll motor.
The fact that they had launched on the south end of the lake only complicated matters. “Let me hook up the boat and get some gas and I’ll be there as quickly as possible,” I answered while trying to figure out the most practical way of getting them to their vehicle after I got them back to a landing on the north end.
After a long bumpy ride, I was within shouting distance when I saw another boat tying onto them. They were from the Houston area, but had called a friend in Groves that would drive them around to the Causeway to pick up their truck and trailer once they were towed to a landing. While it was a waste of time on my part, it turned out well for them and that was the reason for my answering the bell in the first place.
As fate would have it, my day was not over as I would cross the path of yet another boater in need of a tow on the way back to the launch. This time it was a dad with two small youngsters floating in the middle of the Intracoastal in an aluminum bass boat. It was obvious that they were in trouble, but he wasn’t trying to flag down any help and there were plenty of other boaters passing him by.
After running through several checks from a short distance away, he assured me that the battery was hot and working properly and that he had not run out of gas. “Everything was fine until we made our last stop,” he said. I picked up the anchor, hit the key and nothing happened.”
After tying on to the bow of his boat I was pleased that I wasn’t fishing as luck was not with me. After running south to Pleasure Island, these folks had launched at Blue Birds well up the river and we were a long slow boat ride away.
After pulling them a couple of miles, however, my luck improved when I looked back and noticed that the little boy was up on the deck of their boat waving frantically. I didn’t know if he was just making the most of the adventure or trying to get my attention so I shut down the big engine.
“Hey man,” the dad shouted. You can cut us loose now because I got the motor started. “My kill switch was attached to a little float shaped like a fish and I just notice my little girl had hooked it to her life jacket while we were fishing. “Once again, at least they were safe.
Unbelievably, this was the sixth time in the past four months that I have gotten a call from a stranded fisherman and that doesn’t include two times when I was at least on the water. It is always an inconvenience, but there is no substitute for knowing that help is on the way.
In both instances on Saturday the boaters made poor decisions that could have very easily been tragic. Neither of them respected the barge traffic on the Intracoastal. These barge pushing tugs skillfully navigate the cross county waterway, but they cannot stop on a dime or instantly swerve to avoid negligent boaters.
Given an option, if you are out of harm’s way when you break down always drop anchor while calling for help or trying to figure out the problem with your engine. It is also much easier for someone to find you when you can give them an exact location. The worst case scenario may be that you feed the mosquitoes while waiting, but that beats drifting in front of a barge!
By his own admission in a chat later that night, the initial caller who is a very experienced boater, made a mistake by not staying put in the open lake, especially with the knowledge that help was on the way. He opted to cross the ICW on a weak troll motor and just barely missed getting hit by a barge.
The second boater was just outrageously lucky. When he picked up his anchor and his motor failed to start, he should have immediately dropped anchor again. Trouble shooting while drifting in the middle of the ICW is akin to stopping to check your oil in the middle of I-10!
Before I taught my grandson to even cast, I showed him how to start the big engine and instructed him to slowly drive the boat up on the nearest shoreline and wait it out should anything ever happen to me. The bottom line is to get out of the way of larger boats and stay put!
My immediate reaction after loading up my rig at the end of the day was that I had wasted both time and gas when I wasn’t the final solution in either case. By the time I pulled out of the parking lot, however, I realized that it was much like going to the doctor fearing the worst only to find out the tests were negative and there was nothing to worry about.
No one ever returned home feeling like that was a wasted trip!