It was a cool November day, bright and sunny. I was off to town and taking Bad Boat.  The tide was swinging hard and the current was running fast as I crossed to the county dock on the Orcas side.  I came into the dock, making a U to get my starboard fenders against the dock. The current was trying to sweep the boat backwards and under the approach ramp.
If you were driving the Bad Boat, when you came into the dock you would have to put the motor into idle, leave the wheel which was sheltered inside the canopied cabin, rush to the side, grab a line and step on …. Well, what?  The “deck gunwale” was about 4 inches wide where you came out from the cabin and it slanted down at about a 30% angle.

In those few seconds, the current is pushing the boat past the cleat and is pivoting it around a piling with a very sharp metal guard. Where to step?  You couldn’t step there!  Ooops!  You are being swept backwards and are now moving under ramp.  What are you going to do?  You are standing on the 4 inch wide “deck”, holding onto the cabin top and trying to keep your balance?

Well, eighteen years later, I would come in to the dock, line up with a cleat and get a line around it immediately, not trying to climb out first. Now, if I found myself being swept under the ramp, I probably would go back out, circle around and try again.  Or, if it were important to stop, I would throw a wrap around one of the stanchions.  Get a wrap!  First thing!  It has become automatic.

However, on this day, the third or fourth time across with the Bad Boat, I was  not used to the currents at the pass. As the boat was sucked under the walkway,  I grabbed I stanchion with one hand, now standing on the bow deck. The boat kept sweeping backwards.  Soon I was hanging by one hand, the other hand still holding the bowline tied to the boat until . . .
I dropped into the water. I still held the line attached to the drifting boat.

And I was yelling! First I yelled for Dave who owned the neighboring marina. When nobody responded, I yelled, “Anybody!”  Two people came running.  By the time they came around to the dock, I had removed my gumboots and had them in one hand, the bowline in the other.  I was bobbing in about 8 feet of very cold water.

They shouted at me, “Drop the line!!! The boat will just drift into the marina! You need to get out of the water!”

fallinginboatIt was cold, about 45 degrees. But wasn’t that a boat speeding toward us from Obstruction? “In a minute,” I shouted back.  “I’ll hand my line to those people first. Then I will get out.”

As soon as the new boat arrived and I had handed over the line, I sloshed out.  Fortunately, I had a change of clothes in the van in parking lot.  The young man from Leiber Haven, the marina, insisted I take a hot shower in one of their cabins. He was right.  By the time I was in the shower, I was shivering, chilled.

An interesting side fact –I was cold in sections. The parts of my body that had been covered with wool – wool sweater, wool socks, and wool hat – never chilled.  The parts that had been covered by other “warm” clothes — poly long johns and jeans, acrylic gloves — took hours to thaw.

I didn’t know it then, but the boat coming from Obstruction Island contained both a builder and a building inspector.  The inspector had checked a newly completed cabin. About four years later, the same inspector was sitting at our dining table having a cup of coffee with Jeffrey.  The inspector  had just signed off on our cabin.

“Last time I was on Obstruction,” he said. “The darndest thing happened.”  He leaned back in his chair and continued, chuckling.  “There was this woman in the water at the pass.  Do ya’ know, she had fallen in when she was tying up her boat?  Cold, it was. November. Well sir, we were coming in and she just rose up out of the water and handed us the line to tie up her boat.   Then she walked out, went to her van got in and was on her way.  That was one tough lady!”


Jeffrey laughed, “I think I know that woman. That was my wife.”

GregThompson, who built my Whitehall, now lives in Seattle.  He ran into the same man when he was working on a Seattle building project.  Talk got around to Obstruction Pass where he used to live.  The inspector told the same story. Yep.  He knew her too.


Of cours, I didn’t go on my way but rather into a hot shower.  And “dumb” or “novice” are probably better adjectives than “tough. How legends are born.

© 2010  Caroline Buchanan