Stranded on a cabin cruiser

I was 12 years old. It was August of 1948. We were on vacation in Delaware. I didn’t like crab cakes.

I was awakened after a cold, fitful night of sleep on one of the two bunks in the bow of the little cabin cruiser. There were no blankets. I had heard footsteps on the decking overhead. It was raining hard in the early dawn. My 12-year-old buddy, Ron, was sound asleep in the other bunk.

I quickly got up and opened the door from the little bow cabin to step up into the main cabin. Water was streaming in through the dome light in the overhead. I turned and looked forward through the windshield. There, standing at the very tip of the bow was 43 year-old Dad, in his underwear. He was all poised to dive into the tide-driven swift waters of the Indian River Bay that leads directly out to the Atlantic Ocean. I could see that it was his intention to try to swim the hundred or so yards to shore. He stood there a long time. In spite of the direness of our situation, I thought Dad looked a little comical there in his skivvies.

All this started out when Dad, on a whim, decided to try his hand at running the little cruiser we had use of for a couple of weeks. Although Dad had mastered many skills, boating was not one of them. His plan was to try a short excursion from the yacht basin out into the Indian River Bay to try a little flounder fishing.

Brit, our sun-wizened skipper, was on call to pilot the boat for us if we wanted to go fishing. But it was Sunday, and Dad’s sense of adventure (sometimes misguided), plus the fact that it was Brit’s day off, motivated him to run the little cruiser by himself. After all, catching a few flounder would make a delicious early evening dinner.

Mom, Dad, my friend Ron, and I piled into the little cruiser. It was late afternoon. The boat wouldn’t start. That little 90 horse Gray Marine engine just sat there. The battery was dead. Dad sent Ron and me to the gas pump area of the yacht basin docks to find one of the attendants. We found a teenager to follow us with a battery cart to our boat. We got a jump. The engine burbled to life.

Dad, not the seaman he would have liked to have been, edged the little cruiser out of its slip, banging into the pier and pilings as he went. Ron and I spent a great deal of effort pushing us clear of annoying obstacles–such as other boats.

We were off! We sailed out through the yacht basin channel into the bay and traveled a mile or so upriver past the channel. We lowered the anchor to keep us from drifting. We cut some squid for bait, and put our lines in the water. A few hours passed. No flounder. No fish of any kind. It was near sunset. It began to cloud up and it started to rain.

We stowed our fishing gear and Dad pressed the starter button. Silence. Again. Silence. The battery was really, really dead. We were stranded.

Everybody was OK so far, but we all had the grumbellies. Dad rummaged through the galley cabinets for something to eat. All that he found was one teabag. He heated some water from the storage tank, and poured it into four mugs. The tea bag soon gave up. The weak tea tasted musty and rusty. We decided we’d be better off without it.

It was getting dark and the rain intensified. We had anchored right in the middle of the boating channel that led to the Atlantic in the dark with no lights. Ron and I weren’t too scared, but Mom and Dad’s faces betrayed to us the pickle we were in.

Now it was pitch dark — and it was raining hard.

What will ever happen to this little stranded crew from Warren? Find out in two weeks.

Mumford, of Warren, can be reached at columns@tribtoday.com

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