Big Brother Comes Calling
As happened several times on our cruise of the East Coast, the winds were light and variable much of the time. We had left Chesapeake in our wake the morning before and benefited from a fantastic land breeze throughout the first day and soft following winds through the first night. Our last sighting of land had been a surreal moonrise reflecting on the ghostly pillars of Atlantic City, New Jersey, standing guard over a metropolis shrouded in low sea mist, their red flashing aircraft avoidance lights blinking a steady fair well.
The second day broke clear and sunny. The winds were light but, with double head sails pulling, we had a lovely day at sea reading, playing board games and enjoying the peaceful solitude as we slipped along.
I had whipped up a nice burger dinner on the veranda and had forgotten to set a few condiments. As I was downstairs shuffling through cupboards for a missing ketchup bottle, I heard a throaty rumbling sound that was terribly out of place against the soft background of gurgling water streaming past. The kids were seated expectantly around the table, but all were looking behind us as I turned the corner. I popped out and saw the impressive silhouette of a Coast Guard pursuit boat gaining quickly off our starboard stern.
The sight that greeted me as I turned the corner, as if a mirage from another world.
As the monster throttled back it pushed ahead a massive wake. There were multiple darkly uniformed figures on the flybridge. They were all looking at us, some with optical aides. Now, if we were smuggling a few hundred kilos of gangi, this would be the point where you panic. But, having nothing more than an excessive quantity of Honey Nut Cheerios aboard, my first thought was, "My burger is going to get cold."
We were 26 miles off Long Island and I couldn't figure out what we could possibly have done to attract their attention.
Now off of plane, they motored closer with a growling engine roar and then throttled back.
"Is everything ok?" the leader shouted over with cupped hands.
Now several smart aleck replies bubbled up inside, like "They were until you showed up." But cooler heads prevailed; no reason to pick a fight with these guys who were obviously here for a reason.
"Yep, we're doing good." I hollered back. Lisa, ever the smarter one, smiled and waved to show that despite having married me, she wasn't feeling captive at the moment. They seemed confused, and exchanged a few words among themselves. Heads nodded, fingers pointed to a hidden screen.
"What's your boat name?" the leader yelled back. Our lettering is about 4 inches tall, but then I remembered that the dinghy covers our name when it's fully up, as it was now.
"Day Dreamer" I boomed back in my best captain-of-the-seas voice. More consultation ensued, looking down at something.
"Have you seen another catamaran out here?" came the reply.
I actually had. A little after dawn our paths had crossed and then slowly diverged with another catamaran that was sailing more eastward and was flying a spinnaker, the ideal sail for these conditions. I had been mildly jealous. It was such a purty red and pulling so nicely. In a full throated near scream I explained the last time we had seen them and the vector they were on. More consultation ensued.
"They have a steering problem and we are trying to assist them, so if you make contact again please call us on channel one - six." was the response.
"Will do" I hollered back.
There was a deep rumble and they shot forward, banking steeply to the East and accelerating with immense power and a blast of manmade thunder. The entire exchange took less than a minute and, mercifully, the burgers were still warm. But, as silence descended again on our surreal bubble coasting silently through shimmering waters lit by a setting sun I got to thinking.
First, how did they know we were a catamaran? An unseen operator had certainly picked our blip off distant radar screen for a reason, and thus the confusion when they found we weren't the right boat. Second, how did they know where we were and not where the real guys where? And, how far were they willing to go for this guy? They were already well over an hour's full throttle run offshore. Why hadn't the other boat been able to make contact again if they reported trouble in the first place? Were they desperately fighting a leaking rudder post now, their electrical system disabled by rising sea water?
I remembered being more than mildly annoyed at the interruption to our peaceful dinner at first, but now found myself wondering how it must feel to be out here, unable to steer and how welcome that Darth Vader boat would look if seen with those eyes.
Just a few months ago I resented the Big Brother attitude that our government is increasingly adopting towards its' citizens. I guess I still do, but it's textured now with the feeling those people with the pretty red spinny must have had when the floating tank pulled up to their stern and asked if everything was ok.