Standing on the seat in the pontoon boat, I frantically wave my white t-shirt. I yell as loud as I can, looking like Tom Hanks in the movie “Cast Away.”
Brenda and I have been anchorless and without a motor for five hours. We’ve been pushed from one side of Kentucky Lake to another by the whim of the wind. And now are caught in tree roots on the edge of a small island.
For a day that started out so innocently routine, this day has been anything but innocent or routine!
It is a perfect day for being on the water. The bright sun reflects off the small ripples on the water like thousands of diamonds as I slowly head our pontoon boat out of the marina. There is a soft summer breeze. Purple Martins are cavorting through the air.
At our age, we aren’t interested in how fast we can cut through the water. We want to take it slow and enjoy the detail of the beauty around us.
As we often do, we get well out into the lake and turn off the engine. There’s not a sign of another boat on the water, which is the usual case during the week.
The slow current and the occasional breeze play tug of war with each other over our boat. After we eat the sandwiches Brenda had packed for us, we decide to crank the boat and head in a specific direction.
I turn the key and the motor spins but gives no sounds of starting. I pause and then try again. Same result.
Ignoring Brenda’s fretful look, I check the fuel tanks. No problems there.
I try the key again.
To be honest, this is not the first time this has happened. Our boat has multiple personalities. One is very buoyant and eager to please. Another is oppositional-defiant and frustrates at every turn.
I sit and think. No solutions occur to me.
Brenda breaks the silence. “What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know. I guess we’ll drift to shore somewhere and I’ll walk to someone’s house and call the marina.”
Her voice a few pitches higher, Brenda asks, “How long will that take?”
“There’s no way to tell.”
I scan the lake for any signs of an isolated fisherman. It’s as deserted as a tee-ball field in winter.
For over an hour we drift aimlessly. The wind finally makes up its mind to blow harder than a zephyr and we start heading toward the distant shore. Our mood lifts!
Between us and the shore there is a tiny island. But it appears to be way offline from the direction we are taking.
After twenty minutes, the wind dies as quickly as it had picked up earlier. The current begins taking us directly toward the island. We are as helpless as Ivory soap in a bathtub.
And now, after being stranded on the island for nearly an hour, I have seen in the distance someone backing their boat into the water. I’m sure he’s too far way to hear me yelling, but a desperate mind is not a logical one. So I yell and wave my t-shirt over my head.
Our potential rescue boat leaves shore at an angle that is perpendicular to our location.
He doesn’t see me.
I wave more dramatically, jumping up and down. Suddenly the bow of his boat turns toward us.
With renewed hope in her voice, Brenda says, “They’re coming!”
It appears she is right. The boat is coming in our direction in a straight line.
As it gets closer I can see there is only one occupant. I can also tell that our rescue craft is no Coast Guard Cutter, but rather a small jon boat with emphasis on the small. It looks like a cigar it is so narrow. A dugout canoe couldn’t be much larger.
It’s funny how not ten minutes ago I would have welcomed an inflated inner tube as a means of rescue. Now that rescue seems eminent, I’ve suddenly become very persnickety.
Our rescuer eases back on his throttle and hollers what sounds to me like, “Ah ooo boh dow?”
I can tell it’s a question but since I don’t know exactly what the question is, I ignore it.
I holler back, “I’m sure glad you came our way!”
He cuts his engine and drifts toward us. I see he has a cooler in the middle of his boat and suppose it is filled with the beverage of the lake – beer. His sunburned face glows beneath the bill of his soiled cap. The white four to five day stubble of his beard is in sharp contrast to the burgundy of his skin tone.
Again he yells, “Ah ooo boh dow?”
For the life of me I can’t figure out what he is saying. So I respond, “Our engine won’t crank.”
Looking a little exasperated, the man says, “Ass wha ah sass. Ah ooo boh dow?”
Suddenly his meaning registers, Are you broke down?, and I realize that God, with His unique sense of humor, has sent a rescuer with a serious speech impediment.
When he gets close enough for me to look at his eyes, it is clear that our rescuer has already consumed a large portion of whatever he carries in his cooler.
He grabs the edge of our boat and pulls his boat to the back where our motor is.
I hear his muffled voice. “Ooo av sou criver?”
I take a guess at his meaning. “A screw driver?”
“Ass wha ah sass!” he retorts impatiently.
I’m not about to stop him from whatever he is going to try, so I grab a screw driver and pass it to him.
“Iss spah pluh ceese ok, buh summin nah werin.” (Translation: This spark plug seems ok, but something’s not working.)
It concerns me that I almost understand everything he said. I formulate a comment that hopefully will keep me from being yelled again. “It’s a mystery to me what is wrong.”
Our drunken sailor pulls back alongside our boat. He looks at Brenda, in her bathing suit, and gives a grin and a nod. Obviously he hasn’t consumed enough alcohol to dull his hormones. But I judge him to be harmless, though I can tell by Brenda’s nervous look that she doesn’t share my judgment.
“Wha you wa do?”
“Is there any way you could take me to Buchannan where we keep our boat?” I ask.
His raspy laugh reveals a toothless mouth, which I wish I hadn’t seen. “Sewer,” was his one word response.
I mentally shake my head and tell myself to quit taking his words at face value. He’s not talking about the “sewer.” He’s telling me “sure.”
“We go geh mah fruk n ah fake ooo. Mawn. Geh n.” (Hopefully, dear reader, you are keeping up with this by now. I can’t translate every line!)
Pulling his cooler closer to him, he motions for us to join him in his crowded, narrow dinghy.
Brenda whispers to me, “There’s no way we can all fit in that tiny boat.”
I whisper back, “Do you have a better option?”
We nervously and carefully transition from our boat to his. Brenda sits in the middle of the boat and I in the bow.
“My name is David and this is my wife, Brenda.”
He smiles his toothless grin. “A caw me Shfumpy.” He raises a pant leg to reveal a wooden prosthesis.
How many handicaps does this fellow have?
“We really appreciate you helping us out,” I say sincerely.
“Sewer, sewer. No prahyem.”
Stumpy gives the rope on his motor a jerk and the small engine purrs. I notice that there is only a few inches clearance between the water line and the top of the boat. It wouldn’t take much to swamp us.
We pass the boat ramp that I had expected him to pull into. A bit further down, Stumpy guides the boat in between some small trees and beaches us on land.
I see a small pickup and boat trailer through the trees but can’t imagine how he is going to load his boat since the water is so shallow and has no drop to it.
I help Brenda out of the boat. In an amazing display of agility, Stumpy nimbly hops out of the boat and trots past us.
“Ah be rah ba,” he says when he passes me. Over his shoulder he adds, “Geh ow duh way!”
I grab Brenda’s hand and pull her against a tree.
The next thing I hear is the revving engine of Stumpy’s Datsun pickup truck. He is backing the trailer at breakneck speed, somehow avoiding every tree in his path.
Water sprays to the sides when the wheels of his trailer hit the lake. Stumpy doesn’t let off the accelerator. He continues backward until the water is at the bottom of his doors and filling the bed of the truck.
Hollering through the side window toward me, Stumpy says, “Low it up!”
I release my grip on Brenda’s hand and trot to the boat. Pushing it backward into the water I aim it toward the submerged trailer.
I am waist deep in the water when my shin finds the trailer. Like the blow of a hammer on a thumb, the sharp pain demands my attention but I refuse. I have to complete my mission for ‘ol Stumpy!
Centering the boat over where I imagine the trailer to be, I grab the cable from the wench and ratchet the boat into place. Stumpy is revving his engine.
As quickly as my wounded leg would allow, I make my way to Brenda who is wide-eyed at the entire spectacle.
With a loud rebel yell Stumpy pops the clutch. Water, mud, grass and sticks fly in every direction and fifteen feet high as his spinning wheels churn forward. I imitate Brenda’s wide-eyed expression.
Skidding to a stop on dryer ground Stumpy calls out, “Mahn. Less go.”
We get to the truck and I open the door for Brenda. She looks in and sees a stick shift in the floor.
She turns on me like a fiest puppy. “I am not riding beside that man while he shifts gears around my legs!”
“Well I’m not riding beside him either. There’s no way that would look right,” I retort. “I’ll get in the bed of the truck.”
Brenda grabs my arm. “You’re not leaving me in the cab with that man.” She seems to have concluded that Stumpy is an escaped prisoner/rapist/axe-murderer.
“Then what do you want to do?” I ask.
With great reluctance Brenda accepts the inevitability of the situation. She slides in toward Stumpy whose eyes open wider. His foot involuntarily revs the engine again.
I barely squeeze into the cab and with a couple of attempts finally get the door to slam shut.
Stumpy’s rebel yell nearly makes me thrust my head into the windshield. He pops the clutch and we go careening in between trees like an Olympic skier on a slalom run. Stumpy is feverishly shifting gears, seeming to take calculated aim at Brenda’s legs.
Once we reach the road, I realize I’ve been holding my breath. I audibly exhale.
I decide to try and engage Stumpy in conversation. “Where do you work?”
“I nah wer,” he replies. “I on gisuhbeeyahtee.” And as if to explain, holds up his arm.
It’s then I notice something is odd about his arm, but I can’t figure out what is amiss.
“A shrable wrap aroun my fohahm and shrut it off.”
Then I see the untanned ring of scar tissue on his upper forearm.
“I pid it up and too it to emerency room. But when they sow it back, it was off by a fwarter.”
You did WHAT? And they did WHAT?
He extends his arm, laying his hand on the dash, and, sure enough, things are off by a quarter turn! Stumpy has been patched together like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster!
Our trip back to the marina passes with no further adventures. No sharp bladed axe appears suddenly. No threats of foul play surface.
I thank Stumpy and offer him a twenty dollar bill. He eagerly accepts, saying, “Ah gahyah fee yup mah cooyer!”
With a rebel yell and a popping of his clutch, Stumpy speeds off!