"Believe me, my young friend" said the Water Rat in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, "there is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing," he went on dreaming: "messing—about—in—boats; messing—" "Look ahead, Rat!" cried the Mole suddenly. But it was too late. "The boat," wrote Grahame, "struck the bank full tilt. The dreamer, the joyous oarsman, lay on his back at the bottom of the boat, his heels in the air."
Midnight found another victim of the call of the sea sitting at a table in the bar of a private club in Washington, D.C. He was the captain of a vessel which had better be known as the Blighty S. "Mates," he said to his three companions, "one absolute final round to fend off the chill, and then we are going for a cruise." An hour later they left the club and stepped into the beginning of a January blizzard. By that time they had reckoned that the logical place to cruise to was Miami. It was only a matter of steering their 42-foot cabin cruiser off her moorings and down the wide and cold Potomac without a moon, then turning south at the Smith Point Light, proceeding past Wolf Trap Light into the open water of Chesapeake Bay, cutting in around the Thimble Shoal Light north of Norfolk and entering the Intracoastal Waterway. From there the most lock-kneed jackleg could find Miami if he remembered that port was on the left and that was where the sun should rise.
Assigning the first watch to a tall fellow called Mac, the captain gave orders to follow the lights of a tanker up ahead and crawled into a bunk thinking it was ho for the vasty deep. What woke him was a great rending, splintering crash that threw him onto the deck. "A very treacherous sea," said Mac the helmsman, who lay beneath the wheel with a broken leg. In the snow he had followed a set of lights that were on poles atop somebody's dock.
They got the Blighty S backed out of the wreckage, inspected her for damage and headed south again. The captain, a doctor by profession, chose the lights of another vessel plowing down Chesapeake Bay, gave the wheel to a crew member, told him to steer for them, opened a bottle of Scotch and started to splint Mac's leg. The wind was coming up hard. The wipers were heavy with ice and could clear only tiny fans that piled up with snow. But the crew of the Blighty S sang a few songs, passed the bottle and assured Mac they would put him ashore at Norfolk, though he insisted his bones would heal faster beside the pool at the Palm Bay Club in Miami.
In such weather nobody could tell day from night. With a good supply of Scotch nobody cared. Eventually, however, it occurred to the captain that the Blighty S was pitching somewhat more than was healthy. The windshield was like glass that had been soaped for a Christmas decoration. Checking the charts and compass he had not bothered with earlier, the captain began to suspect that the ship they had followed was bound straight into the Atlantic. The captain went out of the cabin into the wind and snow and climbed onto the flying bridge to search for lights. The boat was rolling and bucking in a seascape of black and gray. Waves broke over the bow. Spray showered across the flying bridge and froze on the captain's face. There were no lights.
Figuring to go down and use the radio, the captain grasped the slippery ladder and was on the deck much sooner than he would have preferred. With four cracked ribs, he pulled himself into the cabin and directed a crew member on the proper way to tape him up while he put the radio on 2182 kilocycles—the international distress frequency—and called for help. He had no doubt whatever that help would come, for the United States Coast Guard had already rescued him a dozen times in these same waters. The thing was, would the Coast Guard get to him before the rocks did?
In the Washington radio message center the Coast Guard was monitoring at least eight other frequencies besides 2182. When the captain's voice came over the air a couple of seamen recognized it and looked at each other. "Yes, sir, we hear you, Blighty S," said one. "What is your position?"
"Haven't the slightest idea, boys," the captain said. "But you'd better hurry."
"A light!" said the lawyer who was at the wheel.
"It might be a drive-in movie in Bermuda, for all we know," Mac said.