Recently this column told about a Coast Guard
plea for better communications between small boat operators and the
organizations that can be called in an emergency, primarily the Coast Guard and
the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
I should have written the column a week earlier
and sent copies of it to two of my nephews and another almost kin, the husband
of my grand-niece. The advice might have made them avoid a sticky
None of the three is a boating novice, and each
owns or has owned a small boat. All three are grown men with responsible
jobs, wives, and children that I hope won't inherit their casual boating
Bill Millar is a building contractor from
Marmora, N.J., Chris Johnson is an electronics engineer from Los Angeles, and
his brother Rusty is a computer expert from Tacoma, WA. Supposedly, there
is not a dim bulb in the bunch.
They and their wives and offspring were gathered
with about 40 others for the Beecroft family reunion at my sister Barbara
Johnson's place on the banks of the Wicomico River, about a mile from the
There was water skiing, tubing, aquaplaning,
swimming, horseshoes and croquet, not to mention bushels of Maryland steamed
crabs, bowels of every imaginable salad, and homemade pies, cookies and cakes
the likes of which would have made Pepperidge Farms, Keebler and Nabisco green
The messers Coors, Busch and Anheuser were also
well represented, which may have had some influence on the not so ancient
mariners who, after what may have been supper (it's hard to tell as everyone had
been eating steadily since noon) set out for a cooling ride on the Wicomico.
(It had been 102 degrees all afternoon).
Darkness came and they had not returned.
Midnight came and they were still among the missing. Most of the guests
had returned to their motels because the Johnson cottage will only sleep about a
dozen in reasonable comfort. The Millar children had been temporarily
bedded down at "Aunt Bob's" and the Johnson children, who are older, eventually
hit the sack.
The authorities were notified and the Coast Guard
filled out its myriad of forms in detail down to the last rivet (the boat was a
Starcraft). There was no immediate search for the trio because, the Coast
Guard told their wives, their crews were all busy and unavailable until probably
after daybreak. They somewhat cheered the worried and also angry women by
pointing out that the night was calm and the river as smooth as glass so no
serious trouble need be expected.
Came the dawn and the little boat pulled into the
family dock. The trio had gotten lost, they said (although I don't know
why because the Johnson men had spent most of their younger days on the river
and had messed about in boats since being small fry. Millar, a Jersey
Coast native was in a similar category.) because it was a very dark night with
neither moon nor stars.
Guess what? They had no compass and no
radio. "I take it off the boat so it won't be stolen" was the explanation.
"We didn't expect to be out of sight of land," Millar said.
Neither did they have a radio to call for help.
Chris Johnson, a ham radio operator, had one in his car but didn't expect to
need it, and Millar has a cellular phone, also left ashore.
They had been going along nicely creating the
breeze they sought when a bow line trailed overboard and wrapped around the
prop. They were in shallow water so Millar hopped out and, after some
struggle with the stubborn line, freed the propeller. By then darkness had
They ran out of gas and had no way of getting any
so they drifted and slept in turns. Came (as they say) the dawn and they
had drifted up on the beach in front of another waterside home. It had a
big and loud, but not unfriendly, dog who awoke his master. The three were
given (or bought) a couple of gallons of gas and headed home. By daylight
they could see it across the river, only about a mile away.
Except for losing some sleep, as did everyone
else, they were none the worse for wear. But the welcome they received was
less than that afforded troops returning from the Persian Gulf. I didn't
hear what the Johnson women said (which may be just as well), but Virginia
Millar just looked daggers at her husband when he suggested that a hand-held
VHF/FM would make a nice gift.
Her only comment aloud was "I don't care if you
do miss a day's work, I want to stay another night at the motel and get some
But it was a great reunion, and I sent all three
men copies of the column recommending the use of radios even on small boats.