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Gary Horton: Get by with a little help from our friends

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: July 20, 2010 5:37 p.m.
Updated: July 21, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Dangling at the end of your rope isn’t the kind of thing that makes for much fun. This past Sunday, that’s exactly how 10 boat guests and I found ourselves, as my boat twisted and pulled against wind and waves, dead in the water, forced-anchored without power a mile offshore from Channel Islands Harbor.

While my political views are well-regarded as nearly faultless, my captaining isn’t. My boat has fuel gauges that have long been deceptive near the low end of the dial.

This time, I tempted gauges and fate just about 2 miles too far. I bet against the gauge, and the gauge won.

Now the sun was going down, the wind coming up and the guests were getting nervous — and seasick. And I was the one who got us in this mess. Stuck dead in open water with nothing but a sturdy anchor and the help of reliable friends keeping my boat and me from a dreaded grounding. 

Life is sometimes its own metaphor, it seems. Hanging on at the end of my anchor line, it was reliable friends that got me out of the deep. When we’re at the end of our rope, it’s almost always our reliable friends and family who make things good and save our ships.

This boating weekend had been planned for weeks. My son Jonathan’s Danish “study abroad” father, Mogens, and his family were visiting us in Oxnard. Years ago, they took Jon in and treated him like true family in Denmark during 10th grade.

A decade later, it was my chance to repay the friendship.

But the night before the boat trip, we got a phone call. Brother-in-law Sandy left a message that he couldn’t make the trip.

He’d checked himself into Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital with kidney stones. “Go without me,” he admonished.

But we couldn’t leave without companionship for Sandy at the hospital.

Two weeks ago, Sandy and I attended funerals for two families of coffee shop friends Herman and Arnie. This week, those friends would reach out and help us. One call to Herman, and he was on the case. One call, and most of the Starbucks group ended up in Sandy’s room. Reliable friends cared for Sandy while I took care of foreign guests.

And the hospital was great. Local, fast and efficient, with a large emergency ward prepped and ready. Only three years back, Sandy helped Newhall Memorial when it needed fundraising. You can see Sandy’s company name on the front wall of the hospital lobby. Now the roles were reversed, and Sandy got the aid.

Meanwhile, the boat trip had been great fun. A quick run to Santa Barbara in the sunny ocean chop, water splashing and dolphins jumping. A wonderful summer day to show off the Golden State for our Danish friends.

Then the fateful trip home. We’d been motoring back an hour and a half when the Channel Islands breakwater finally came into view. Excitement on board as we prepared for arrival. And then, the unexpected “waaaaaaa” from the engine room.
Motors dead, and no reviving them.

Jon’s girlfriend, Amber, got right on it. “We’re shallow enough, let’s anchor it before we drift too close.” No sense
grounding the boat. Jon released the anchor, got it secured and luckily, the boat held firm against the strong current.

“Call Vessel Assist,” my wife, Carrie, suggested.

“Oh no,” I thought, as I confessed to Carrie that I’d not paid its bill this year. Vessel Assist is like the Auto Club, but for boats. With money tighter, I had cut back on that expense.

“Gary, I paid the bill,” my ever-cautious Carrie reassured. Generally, I think she’s too cautious. Now I’m grateful ever-cautious Carrie is ever cautious. That meant we’d get home safely with no charge. So, we radioed channel 72, and friends from Vessel Assist were right on their way. Thanks, Carrie.

“I’m calling Rob, just in case,” I added. Rob’s my boating buddy who lives at the harbor. Ahead of Vessel Assist, Rob and wife sped up in their little boat, circling around until the towboat arrived. Friends all around and friends on the way. When you get in a jam, “surrounded by friends” feels pretty good.

Vessel Assist did a great job getting us safely back to harbor with damage only to my dented captain’s reputation.

Mogens, Jon and crew bailed out the frazzled captain, working the anchor, manning the lines and tying us back in the slip, warm and dry and secure after the exhausting experience.

Funny how things turn out and turn again. The next morning, Mogens’ rental car wouldn’t start; his battery was dead.

Roles reversed again. Carrie’s car had spare jumper cables, and we got Mogens and family out of port on time.

All through the twisty-turny weekend, it was friends making right everything that possibly could go wrong. Sooner or later, all of us hold on tight against wind and waves — be they life-threatening, challenging or merely annoying. Hold friends close now and you’ll always have anchor enough when it’s your turn to dangle from life’s ever-twisting line.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesday in The Signal.


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