Being a Marine contractor, I sometimes get the opportunity to push a barge from one job to the next. It’s a real treat for me to not be in a hurry for a change, to enjoy the beautiful waters around our area at a leisurely five mph. But not everyone is out for a peaceful cruise, so the opportunity for conflict is often just around the corner.
I was navigating through Bonita’s infamously narrow and shallow “Intrepid Waters” area one morning, when I heard the telltale howling of a powerful boat coming up around the corner behind me with its motor trimmed up in order to draw the minimum water depth, at the maximum speed. The tide was really low and the 14′ wide, 60′ long barge I was piloting at a blistering two miles an hour, was traveling against the tide in the only place of the very narrow, shallow channel that a boat could actually float in. There were mangroves immediately to my right and while there was plenty of room on the left side of me, it was no more than a few inches deep.
As I turned in my seat to see who I was going to be in the way of and spending the next 15 minutes making really angry, it occurred to me that this was one of those special times when there was absolutely nothing I could do but sit back and watch the situation unfold. The surprised boater that came skidding around the corner was flying a high performance deck boat with at least a 250 hp motor. Although I expected to hear the motor quickly throttle back and to see the boat settle down into the water at idle speed (followed by a bunch of loud cursing)… that didn’t happen. The pilot instead began searching for a way around me by frantically swerving back and forth. In seconds it was too late for him to slow down and since there was only room to pass on the left side of the still barely moving barge he swerved to pass me… at 45 mph…. in three inches of water. I stood up, raised one hand in the air and my mouth dropped open.
There was clearly nothing I could do. I sat back down, covered my mouth and squeaked out “Holy …” And then in an instant it happened. The boat stopped quicker than a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier, all the people, coolers and beer cans went tumbling to the front, the motor kicked up in the air and made the infamous “wing, ding, ding, ding, ding” sound as it finished launching the last of Estero Bays available muck high into the air. Then, just as everyone on the now stranded boat were starting to untangle themselves, a large truck load of black mud, moss, crabs and assorted mollusks rained down on them from the sky.
As the barge and I ever so slowly continued past them, the muck covered “Captain” angrily scooped himself off the deck, slithered his way to the side of the boat, pointed his finger at me and began to say something. It was just one more bad decision on his part, because his extra weight was exactly what it took to roll the precariously, balanced high and dry boat, slowly, comically all the way over on its side. Everyone on board then slid like trout, across the deck of the boat, pinning “captain mud skipper” against the railing. As he tried to get his feet under him, his beet red face covered with mud, he began to form a particularly popular curse word with his mouth. Now, this was an excellent opportunity for us both to act like tough guys, scream at each other, and who knows what else, but instinctively I simply put my hands out to my side, tilted my head and shrugged; the international sign for “Hey… what was I supposed to do?” Immediately, you could see the reality of the situation dawn on him and the color of his face returned to its normal color… except with a coating of mud. We then peacefully continued on our own separate ways. (They had to wait for high tide.)
I don’t know why it’s so tempting for us to allow our egos and tempers to make a bad situation worse. It’s hard to do, but although it does take two to tango it almost always only takes one to walk away, especially when it’s low tide.