On the Rocks

by Old Man with a Pen

Copyright© 2012 by Old Man with a Pen

: A mostly true saga about a young man with a scavenger bent.

Tags: True Story   Historical   Humor  

The tanks were full ... both gas and air. He putt-putted out the channel and past the excuse of a lighthouse. Somewhere south of the south pier there was a nice set of boulders.

The ice on Lake Michigan can freeze solid all the way across. When it does, the ice close to shore gets real thick. 25 feet of thick ice is reasonable. Twenty five feet of ice makes short work of rocks close to shore, so a diver looking for big fish needs to be fairly far off shore.

When the lake doesn't freeze all the way to Wisconsin, the west blown storms push the ice up on the beach. Fifty or sixty foot tall blocks of fractured ice welded together by storm blown spray. Ice that thick grinds the rocks close to shore.

The rocks aren't rounded farther out. They tend to be square cornered and flat sided and stacked on each other. He was looking for the stacks. The big lunkers tend to hide in the gaps.

Lake Michigan has an abundance of commercial fishermen ... they know where the obstructions are lurking on the bottom. Ready to snare and tear expensive or time consuming nets, the rocks keep the commercial guys away.

The Lake was very calm, it had been for days. The normally stirred up silt and dust had settled. It doesn't take much of a wind to cloud the water.

David was in no hurry. The weather looked good, the Coast Guard mast flew no warnings. He might spear a big one ... maybe a muskellunge ... cool.

Lake temperatures seldom get over 70 on the hottest days but that's just surface temps. Three or four feet down all that changes. Water temps get close to freezing in deep water. For diving a wet suit is minimal, a dry suit over wool over silk is better. David had a coated wet suit ... silk cemented to the inside of the custom fitted suit was still cheaper than a dry.

Probably 500 yards out from shore, David shut off the putt putt Sea-King five horse two stroke, raised the motor and pinned it. It wasn't much of a motor, but then ... it wasn't much of a boat. Both were 'found' items.

The boat had hit the municipal dock pilings and tore a small hole in the aluminum. The owners abandoned it in sinking condition, totally unaware that the foam blocks under the seats would keep it afloat even completely full of water.

The motor was a 'summerfolk fuckup' ... dropped over the side at the bait house boat-ramp when the owner had a 'better idea' and more money than sense. Rather than hire a diver to retrieve the loss, he had bought a brand new motor from the bait house display. David was right there for both boat and motor.

The boat was a 'hazard to navigation' and the motor was underwater for about 2 hours.

If you understand the term 'clusterfuck' you know what happens when the chicken loses it's head.

When the boat was abandoned by the owners, they pulled their outboard but left the tank ... the oars were left too. 'Clusterfuck'; people in a panic rushing around yelling and nothing getting done. Eventually, it was too late.

David rowed it home full of water ... there were comments aplenty from the gallery. The boat took a little hammer and dolly work, a tarred and riveted patch and a little drying time.

The Sea King Five was less than a week old when it was dropped. David roped it, hauled it up and pulled the spark plugs. A couple of pull-throughs and the water was gone from the cylinders. Two new plugs and a little magneto drying time with his sister's 750 watt hairdryer and it started third pull. (Grace was pissed about the dryer ... but Grace was always pissed about something. Teenage sisters! The bane of brothers.)

Matching the acquired boat with the acquired motor and a 'get it outta my yard' abandoned trailer, David produced a fifteen hundred dollar combination with a little scrounging and two eighty seven cent spark plugs. He didn't even have to change the gas/oil mix in the tank!

It was very quiet on the lake when he slung the twin tank US Divers set on his back. Rather than anchor he dropped over the side holding a fairly long rope. He slung the weight belt over the 'gunnel' where he could grab it at need. Snorkeling along towing the boat was no problem for David. A year and a half of life onboard the Ranger added to the bootcamp experience had toned his body, but dulled his mind.

The wreck didn't register until he was past it. He was looking for rocks and he had found a good patch of them, but no fish. The diesel fuel rising from the wreck might have had something to do with the missing fish.

'Gawd! Please don't let there be dead people.' David thought as he reached over the side for a big bobber and a roll of nylon monofilament. Strapping on his dive weights, hoisting the divers flag and turning on his tanks, he abandoned his 14 foot boat and dove on the wreck. Unless the weatherman lied his boat would still be there.

Maybe fifty feet to the deck, the boat was really out of David's comfort range. But it was there, as good a reason as climbing Mount Everest ... because it's there.

First thing he did was tie the monofilament to the bow anchor cleat. The bobber was big enough to find with a little triangulation. Water distorts and the boat wasn't as big as he thought. Maybe 35 feet. The mast and boom were strapped to the deck. Hmmm?

When he tried to open the cabin door it wouldn't budge. Same deal with the cockpit sole. Even the ventilator on deck was fastened.

'Gee, it's sure in good shape.' David had a thought. Acting on that thought he decided. He hadn't been down more than 15 minutes but still, decompress is a good idea. The silhouette of his boat was visible and he followed his little bubbles to the surface.

Sliding the bobber along the monofilament, he left a little slack, 'for the tide' he thought. Maneuvering his skiff directly over the wreck, he 'line of sight'ed the lighthouse and old Baldy to the north and the abandoned firetower on the south shore dunes.

'If I'm not gone long, I'll remember.'

David's thought was Mr. Anderson and his inner tubes. The trip back was a lot faster than the putt putt out.

Old man Anderson had quite the collection of truck inner tubes. Old, patched and big, he loaned them to the kids in town to use in the summer as floats and in the winter for the snow covered dunes. Mr. Anderson was very popular with the younger set.

David putt putted down to the channel (NO WAKE) and motored up to Anderson's dock. The old man was fake fishing. He had a pole, line and a bobber but no hook. This was a daily occupation.

"It keeps me out of the way of the Termagant," he always said quite loudly, puffing on a rank pipe.

"That pipe is going to kill you," his wife always replied, spinning her Camel in her hand.

"Hello, David. Nice day." Mr. Anderson said as David approached the dock.

"Yessir, the Lake is real calm and clear."

"Been diving?" He tamped his pipe with his bare finger.

"Yup. Found something too. Can I borrow 10 tubes?"

"Sure, you need them empty?" Adventure brought out the boy in Anderson.

"Yessir, empty."

"You're in luck, I just got in some good ones. Let's run up to the shed and get them." On the way to the boat shed, Mr. Anderson asked, "find something special?"

"A small sailboat. I think it's brand new. The rig is strapped to the cabin deck and all the hatches are sealed."

"Likely that Cheoy Lee that washed overboard during shipment. These deep ocean sailors don't believe how rough the Lakes can get. The waves don't get a chance to even out. 'Furiners are the worst fust time around.'" That was a local expression.

"Don't you go saying anything about this to the kids," Mr. Anderson commented as he opened the boathouse door. "I've been putting patches on new tubes for years ... can't have one of the little kinder drown."

He had shelves of boxes with new tubes and a patch iron.

"I've always wondered about that, You have always had tubes and there's not a truck garage in town." David was impressed. Mr. Anderson was one of the good guys.

Not like Mrs. Johansen. Mrs. Johansen lived in a shack next to the vacant lot the kids used as a ball field.

Mrs. Johansen would keep your ball if it landed in her yard, she fed every stray cat in town, and she kept a broom handy to chase the kids that tried to recover the ball. Very spry for 93.

"The broom is her other car," the neighborhood kids claimed.

Anderson fumbled around on his bench, found what he was looking for and handed David an odd screwdriver. It had a five pointed solid head and a wrist-strap.

"The Chinese use the metric system and American tools won't fit their stuff. For shipping they screw down the hatches with these," Mr. Anderson was in instructor mode now. "I know their stuff, I was there for the war ... sorry, police action. They built boats for the United Nations Korean Reconstruction Agency after that unpleasantness we had in the '50's." He was pointing and gesturing with the screwdriver now.

"There's eight screws," he said. "Three on each side and two across the top of the cabin hatch. They look like Allen bolts," he picked one up and showed David, "except they have five points instead of six."

Now he pointed the screwdriver at David, "notice that one point is longer than the rest?"

"Yessir ... I'll bet one of the points in the star-hole in the screw is bigger."

"Smart kid." Mr. Anderson laughed. "Yes. The screwdriver only fits one way. Turn out the screws and hold on to the hatch. Leave the screws in the hatch runner. If it is the only boat it could be, it's solid teak and damn expensive to replace. Hell, the whole boat is teak.

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