Last week, I drove several hundred miles to southern Virginia to spend a few days fishing with friends Bob and Cindy on Lake Gaston, a man-made impoundment that straddles the North Carolina-Virginia border along the I-85 corridor. I’d been to the 20,000 surface-acre reservoir many times, and looked forward to challenging its resident bass population, as it readied itself for fall. When I think of fishing, the scenario I envision is most likely that of a lake, with its placid surface reflecting its surroundings. Seldom if ever do I associate this pastoral sport with danger. Little did I imagine what lay in store. But I digress.
The first day was uneventful. Bob and I got on the water around two in the afternoon, fished until dinnertime, and got off the lake before dark. The fact that the fish were nowhere to be found didn’t damper our enthusiasm one bit. When we returned to shore, we were told that a local man, nicknamed “Bubba,” was missing, and his empty boat had been found washed ashore. A massive search was underway, with a number of boats and a helicopter engaged in the operation. Everyone was praying for a successful outcome.
Dinner was some homemade turkey chili I’d brought, and, after devouring that, along with some cold beer, Bob and I settled in to watch a Monday Night Football game between the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns, while Cindy opted to read a novel. Her choice of activity was by far the better of the two.
Tuesday brought the first hint of trouble. As we rolled out of the driveway and slowly made our way up the road from Bob’s cabin, there was a loud thunk! as we crossed over one of the many speed bumps within the lake community. The hitch on the boat trailer had slipped off the ball attached to the truck’s bumper. When Bob attempted to reattach the trailer hitch to the ball, he couldn’t get the hitch to lock in place. With towing chains attached, we limped on back to the cabin, where Bob tried to rehitch the trailer to the truck with no success. At some point, Cindy asked if she could give it a try (she’s an ICU nurse), and after about twenty minutes she magically got the trailer connected to the hitch. We were in business. By now, it was about two, and we fished without success until around four, when an afternoon squall ended things abruptly. A dinner of hot dogs, beans, and sauerkraut sated our appetites, and an evening of watching YouTube quelled our need for entertainment.
On Wednesday, Cindy said goodbye and headed for home, while we got on the water early and fished until just past noon. Bob managed to corral several white bass (not our targeted species) and I managed to incur numerous line twists, most of which I successfully unraveled. Again, I caught no fish. Not even a hint of one. After a leisurely lunch at a local eatery, we headed back to the cabin for a nap. Two hours later, our batteries fully recharged, it was time to mount a serious offensive, so we returned to the lake, launched the boat, and began moving methodically from cove to cove.
Around 6:30, Bob announced that the battery to the trolling motor had finally run out of juice. We were about three quarters of a mile from the takeout ramp and a hundred feet off shore. Since sundown was less than thirty minutes away, we decided to call it a day. Bob turned the key to start the massive 175 horsepower Yamaha engine, and I listened patiently as the starter motor groud and ground noisily without success. “Must be flooded,” Bob said. We waited a few minutes, and he turned the key, again without the motor catching. “Maybe we can use the trolling motor to get us to shore,” Bob suggested. But, of course, the battery was still dead, so that wouldn’t work. By now, I was fighting the early stages of panic. I looked at the sky and it was clear. Not a cloud in sight. Not good. The previous night, temperatures had dropped into the mid 50s. Without any cloud cover, chances were good that it would dip even further this night. Hypothermia was a real possibility.
“I think I’ve got some oars,” said Bob with a smile. A few minutes of rummaging through the many storage compartments on the boat revealed the sad truth. There weren’t any oars (with an s); there was just one oar and we’d have to share it. We immediately began paddling furiously, passing the paddle back and forth to one another after every six strokes or so. Twenty minutes later, we’d managed to make it to shore, where we tied up alongside a large dock that adjoined a boat slip, complete with boat. “Looks like there’s a light on,” I said, pointing at a house nestled high above in the pines. “Maybe we’re in luck.”
Bob climbed the one hundred steps to the house above (he counted every one), and I waited patiently on the dock, calculating our odds of surviving the night. I had on jeans and a long sleeved shirt, but Bob was wearing shorts and a sleeveless top. We’re both in our seventies. This was not good. However, after what seemed like forever, I heard voices in the dark—and laughter (always a good sign). Sure enough, the owner of the lake house, a fellow named Jeff, was home, and he and Bob were making their way down the stairs toward the dock, talking and laughing. The rest, as they say, is history. Jeff lowered his boat into the water, attached a rope from Bob’s craft to his, and towed us all the way back to the marina.
We gobbled down a hastily assembled dinner of hot dogs and nachos, accompanied by a celebratory mixed drink, and prepared for bed. Score one for the good guys! Next time, we’ll make sure we don’t exhaust the trolling motor battery, and, if Bob knows what’s good for him, he’ll make certain that the main engine is running perfectly.
One sad footnote: Bubba wasn’t as lucky as we were. Apparently, his history of heart trouble must have caught up with him (he had a defibrillator implanted in his chest) and his body was found by search and rescue that very afternoon. It was sobering news, especially in light of our “little adventure.”
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