The Sound is part of the Pacific Ocean and we often get four-foot seas. The big rollers present a problem for smaller boats and most boaters have sense enough to stay off of the water in blustery weather. The condition of the water gets really foul when the tide is flowing against the wind and the rollers turn into a nasty chop. It is on one of these rough days that my story takes place.
I needed to travel into Tacoma off the south end of Vashon. The channel here is not dangerous, but further inland, off Pt. Defiance, it turns treacherous with rogue waves that have swallowed twenty-one foot Bayliners.
On this blustery day, I got on the ferry, Hiyu, and went upstairs to the passenger cabin to watch the storm about us. Before I got seated, I saw a flare go up off of Pt. Defiance. I thought I could see a small boat off of the point so I told the first mate about the flare and the small boat. As soon as we left the dock, our intrepid ferry turned southwest toward the point. The passengers and crew gathered on the passenger deck to stare silently at the small fleck of a boat.
When we reached mid-channel, the waves and the wind determined to show us what they could do. The chop turned into a nasty churning slop with four-foot waves breaking in every direction. Our ferry bucked the waves and fought against the gale toward the tiny boat in the distance. A deck hand relayed the message to us that our captain had called the Coast Guard and they were on their way. I felt like the cavalry was coming to the rescue.
The Hiyu ran full out against the current while the wind tried to push us sideways. Why is it when you want to hurry, the world conspires to slow you down? Under challenging conditions we made slow progress toward the imperiled skiff.
Finally, we came close enough to see the man in the back of the small boat as he frantically bailed water. He’d bail four buckets then turn and make a vain attempt to start his outboard then he’d bail again. As we pulled closer we could see that the small boat was taking on water from the sloppy, breaking waves faster than the man was able to bail. There was no hope that his outboard was dry enough to start, but he’d frantically pull on its rope every few minutes as he took a break from his bailing. We watched helplessly as the man bailed, then pulled on the engine rope, then bailed some more.
The second man in the boat sat with his back to the drama in the stern as he remained determinedly in the bow--fishing. He finally gave his rescuers a look as filthy as the sea as he slowly reeled in his line to keep us from fouling it when our captain maneuvered the Hiyu close to the small skiff.
The story has a happy ending when the Coast Guard arrived and we could go on to our destination.