Speaking the truth on channel 16

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We relaxed one stormy night in a snug harbor, listening to the wind roar through the rigging and the waves sweeping past the hull. We also listened to channel 16 on the VHF, as is our custom.

We relaxed one stormy night in a snug harbor, listening to the wind roar through the rigging and the waves sweeping past the hull. We also listened to channel 16 on the VHF, as is our custom. Suddenly the VHF silence was broken by a loud but insistent — and somewhat slurred —

Read the other story in this package: Sea Savvy - Keep it simple, but not stupid

voice. “Breaker, breaker, anybody out there? I need some directions.”

After a brief period of silence a Coast Guard station came on, with the appropriate response. The voice coming from the night said, “No, nothing’s wrong. I just don’t know where I am. I’m trying to get to Norfolk, but I can’t find my way out of this river.”

“What river are you referring to, sir?” asked the Coast Guard.

“Uh, it’s the Rappahannock I think. At least that’s what they told me. They said to head on down it and turn right when I got to the Bay, and after awhile I’d be at Norfolk.”

Norfolk lay approximately 40 miles down Chesapeake Bay, which was being pummeled by heavy rain and a 25-plus-knot nor’easter. To get out of the river and into the Bay, one had to avoid some very shallow and, under the circumstances, very dangerous hard sand shoals on both sides of the mouth. One then had to avoid dangerous shoals reaching out into the Bay all the way down, then turn into Hampton Roads around shoal and travel through the rock-lined pass of a bridge/tunnel.

“Where are you in the river?” the Coast Guard asked.

“I don’t know. That’s one thing I’m trying to find out, and then I want to know how I get out of it so I can go to Norfolk.”

“Have you passed under the bridge?” (The bridge is a tall high-rise spanning the river a few miles from its mouth.)

“I don’t know.”

“Do you see any aids to navigation?”

“What are they?”

“Buoys, flashing lights or anything else like that.”

“No, I can’t see anything out here.”

“Which direction are you heading?”

“I don’t know, that’s what I’m asking you.”

“Which compass direction are you heading?”

“Oh, you mean that. Well I’m kind of going east, I guess.”

“Well sir, that’s the general direction out of the river, but …”

There was a pause and suddenly another voice broke in. “If he can’t find his way out of the river, how is he going to find his way to Norfolk, especially in this storm?”

The other voice shouldn’t have broken in, but the owner of that voice was dead on the money. Apparently the boater decided to stop for the night wherever he was. No one turned up missing the next day, so we assumed that, once again, the good Lord had stepped in to save drunks and fools.

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