There is a feeling of dread when approaching unexpected objects floating at sea. It may be danger, it may be morbid or it may be fortune. It always comes with a sense of compelling adventure and unnerving apprehension.
I’ve been through my share of these moments that made me sweat. I’ll share a few.
The scariest moment was when I altered course to investigate a bright orange object floating on a placid sea, in mid-Channel, while on my way back from San Miguel Island. At a distance, I could tell that it wasn’t a round orange buoy because it looked lower and longer. As I drew nearer I could tell that it was oblong, and as I came up to it, I recognized it as a lifeguard buoy, the kind with handles along the side. The tether was hanging straight down in the water.
I thought about what might be attached to the other end of that tether and shivered at the possibility that it was a cadaver, and if it was, what it might look like if predators or scavengers had their way with it. I didn’t want to spook my charter passengers, but I felt a duty to investigate.
A great sense of relief came over me when I came alongside and saw that the tether strap was empty. We hauled the useful buoy aboard, and it has stayed aboard ever since because it is a useful part of my safety gear.
The biggest surprise I can recall was one fine morning after an intense rainstorm a couple of days before. We were cruising across the Channel toward Santa Cruz Island. Up ahead I saw a piece of wood sticking up out of the water. Knowing that I was probably only looking at the tip of something larger, I slowed until I was barely making way as I approached. I was shocked when I could see that it was the very tip of a large and ornate circular stairwell, waterlogged with most of it barely under the surface. Had I cruised by too close it could have busted my hull wide open and injured my passengers.
Another time while crossing the Channel I saw something sticking up out of the water and came alongside to investigate. This time it was one corner of a very large cargo box, which could also destroy an unsuspecting vessel. In this case, as with the stairway, I radioed the authorities so they could issue warnings to other mariners.
The strangest story I’ve heard was when a commercial fisherman saw what looked to be tree branches bobbing on the water some miles off Santa Rosa Island. As he approached, he saw that it was a very large bull elk, swimming toward the island. Later we learned that a bull elk had busted a wooden cage and jumped ship when being transported off the island during the time, some years back, when they were relocating the elk that called Santa Rosa Island home for so many generations. I don’t think anyone could convince those island elk that they weren’t indigenous. That big one wanted nothing more than to get back home.
I’m still out there looking for that floating treasure chest!
— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.