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Saturday, November 19, 2005

He Must Have Known

Two years ago a man I knew took his little 23' fiberglass Roseborough on a long journey down east, by himself, in rather big seas. He was found a week or so later washed up on Great Duck Island.

Jim (not his real name) was one of those guys who would come up to you and preface every conversation, or add into it at some point: "I know you're busy. I don't want to take too much of your time."

He was in his eighties, a retired professional mariner, a tug boat captain from way back. He always liked to hear stories from the young guys of their trials and tribulations at sea. At the time I was captain of a pilot boat, and Jim liked to talk to me about my trips in rough weather. "How was that trip last night, Bob? It must have been rough. . . . I don't want to take too much of your time. I know your busy."

I'd like to look back on it and say I never once said I was busy but I can't. There were times I gave Jim the short answer and went on my way. I'd like to think that when I gave him short shrift I really had been too busy to talk. Truth is, sometimes, I just didn't want to talk about those things.

I went out looking for Jim the day after he disappeared. There were twelve to fifteen foot seas left over from the passing of a hurricane. Big, greasy rollers. I set the boat on a southeasterly course and tied off the helm, then went on deck to search. Finback is 50' and she would appear to get swallowed hole by the crests of the waves. But she stayed the course, allowing me to climb on the cabin roof to keep a watchful eye.

Lobster buoys were being sucked under the surface by the seas, and waves were breaking like tsunamis over the outer shoals. I was alone and felt I'd be taking too much of a chance venturing farther into the Gulf. I gave up the search about 30 miles from my home port, about 15 miles from where they would eventually find Jim's body.

Jim made that same trip down east many times during the course of a summer. He usually went alone. Long trip for one person. Small boat. And in his eighties too. Makes you wonder.

He must have known he was taking a big chance going way offshore on the heels of a hurricane. Big, monster seas in the forecast. Little boat.

He must have known.


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