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The Straits (parts III and IV)
by The Pirate
The four of us reckoned that we had arrived at our original destination of Marquette Island, somewhere on the South shore. However, it was our destination because we also reckoned it was big, remote and totally deserted. Everything from leaving the bay till then had taken maybe 20-30 minutes, but we were utterly exhausted. After a few minutes, nobody could even stand up, so we slept in the trees for an hour, or so. Upon waking, one of us noticed something in the surf to our right and walked down to check it out. He returned with a few bits of gear and a backpack full of clothes-ours. Our gear was washing up along the beach back in the direction we had just sailed from. The three of them took off as the winds started to come down a little and the waves began to recede off of the beach and I crawled out on the beach to try and build a windbreak and a fire. I took our clothes out of the pack and let the wind carry them into the trees, where they hung, drying. I also stripped off my wet clothes and threw them into the trees as well. After about an hour, I had windbreak built out of driftwood planks and a stack of dried wood, piled in a scraped-out pit behind it. I had just levered myself up to standing with the windbreak and was squinting down the beach in the direction my buddies had left when someone cleared their throat, in the opposite direction…
Yes, on the beach of a deserted Island, I managed to let two people walk right up on me, unnoticed, as I stood there, buck-ass nekkid. I am not ashamed to admit I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed and I suppose prior events have already cemented that fact. Anyway, they were a couple and the guy’s parents actually had a cabin a mile or so down the beach. I hobbled over, grabbed a pair of shorts out of the trees and we waited for the guys to come back from their scavenger hunt. Eventually they did, bringing nearly all our gear! It had washed up all down the beach. We stowed the gear and the couple took a picture of us standing in front of my windbreak and our cats, with our clothes stuck up in the pine trees in the background. I still have it somewhere-they mailed it to me. I bet PW will be down in the basement, looking for the picture, tomorrow, although I’m pretty sure she has seen it once before. It is my favorite picture, outside of a particular one of PW and a few shots of my kids.
I found a stick to use as a crutch and we followed the couple to the cabin and met the folks. They were a wonderful, old couple. Grandma immediately fed us a huge meal and plenty of coffee. Gramps took us down to his boathouse on the lee side of the island where we radioed the Coast Guard to alert them to a boat we witnessed drifting on its side in the storm, while on the beach. They informed us that this was the worst wind storm in the straits in 50 years, had warned all ship traffic off of both lakes, could not launch any type of rescue and anyone still on the lake could and would be considered beyond help and most likely dead. Then they asked us who we were and were simply astounded we had survived the storm in our little cats. It was then we found out what a mistake we had made, giving them our home information.
Knowing we had no radio and therefore no warning, (and correctly assuming we were a quartet of fools), they had actually figured us for dead?? Somehow, they had never heard the old adage about God favoring little children, drunks and fools. They called our home numbers and reached only one person-the wife of the only married guy in our quartet. She was at home with their 1 month-old daughter. They told her we were lost without hope. The storm wasn’t even over; they hadn’t been out to look for us and they told her that her husband was most likely dead. From that point on, he might as well have been dead because let me tell you his days were fucking numbered once she got a hold of him-it wasn’t pretty. We had the Coast Guard call her back but it was too late. She had whipped the baby in the car and drove straight up to his folk’s house in Cheboygan and missed the call. We then had them call his parents, leaving a message for her, there. So after this very disturbing radio conversation where we found out we were dead, we went back to the cabin where Grandma loaded us down with food, water and coffee to take back to our cats…
We spent 2 days sleeping on and repairing our cats. It took the better part of a third day to limp back across the strait, where the married guy’s wife beat his ass for being alive. She chewed the rest of us out for good measure, too. We drove all the way back to Detroit the same night, arriving early the next morning. One of the other guys was my housemate. We both slept most of the day away and were sitting in our living room when UPS knocked on the door. The driver gave us a box from a place called Port Huron, on the southern and opposite end of the lake we had just sailed. Inside was our backpack, lost the first night. A sailor found it floating, 300 miles from where we lost it, 3 days after it was lost. We assume it traveled most of that distance the day of the storm…
He wrote us a very nice letter with the time, latitude and longitude of the find, saying he fished it out of the lake from his yacht, kept our stash as payment and didn’t want to get caught mailing it, anyway. He didn’t find all of our stash, so we celebrated our good fortune right then and there. That, you might say is the end of our adventure and the story. Within a few weeks, the four of us began to go our separate ways. At the time, we were working together as a four-man construction company. Two of us quit, I got severely injured not long after the adventure; enough to put me out of the business for good and although I periodically heard from two of the guys, over the years, I fell out of touch with the third guy for good, within 1 month of that ordeal.
I married, moved eight times, had 2 kids, a half-dozen other jobs, racked up a degree and a divorce, and eventually went to sea as a pirate, over the next sixteen years. Then, by sheer dumb luck, I became re-acquainted with PW (I’ve known PW since we were 11, or 12), in 2000. She agreed to give up her career, friends and most importantly her family, to move 600 miles North from her home in Detroit to become the PW she is today and I am forever grateful for that. We packed up her things in a big U-Haul truck, hitched up her little, mini-SUV on a car dolly and began the 600-mile drive to her new life in a tiny town located in the western end of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, or as we affectionately call it, the UP. I drove all day and talked her ear off the whole way, I’m sure. I remember her being terribly nervous and me telling her way too many stories.
Halfway there, we crossed the Mackinac Bridge into the UP and I remembered this story, as it occurred 16 years prior, nearly to the day. I began to tell her the tale as we crossed the bridge. We came off the bridge and headed West on US 2, along the Lake Michigan shore, and I continued the story. As we drove past the tiny village of Epoufette, MI., I saw a small, wooden deck overlooking the straits from a high cliff. I had passed this observation deck literally hundreds of times over the years but never stopped. As I completed the story of our adventure, I whipped into the parking area and screeched to a halt at the very last minute. I don’t know what made me stop like that, but I know I wanted PW to look down on the straits now that she’d heard our story. I think I pulled in so hard that I scared her and I remember being concerned that I was going to loose the car towed behind us.
We got out and there were only two people there, a guy at the railing, talking into a cell phone and a young girl, standing by their car. I passed by the girl and as I walked up behind the guy I knew what would happen. He turned around, saw me and said into his cell phone, “Fuck me, I have to go” and hung up. It was the third guy I had lost touch with 16 years prior, nearly to the day. It turned out that he lived in Chicago, had driven to lower Michigan with his daughter on business near his folks house and was heading back via the straits, for old-time’s sake and our adventure. He had just crossed the bridge ahead of us, telling his 16 yr. old daughter of our adventure and stopped at the last minute when he saw that observation deck, so his daughter could look down on the straits after hearing our story. And there, the story really ends.