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They could have used a brisk following wind, but the wind was from the south-southeast and was very light, hardly enough to move the 15-ton boat. Near Gulfport, 15 miles westward along the coast toward New Orleans, a 63-foot ketch approached the Rum Runner under sail and power. The skipper of the ketch had been listening to Nash Roberts, a consultant in meteorology to oil companies when he is not being the weatherman for a New Orleans TV station. Roberts had said the hurricane would slam straight up the mouth of the Mississippi. If Roberts was correct, the Rum Runner was very nearly in the middle of the path of the approaching storm. "I'm running for the Broadwater Beach, where I'll be safe," the ketch skipper said.
The Rum Runner crew discussed the peril and decided to set a course along the stern of a freighter for a while. "We were pretty well committed to going home. We listened to our transistor radio and weren't worried," said Honer. They saw many small craft on the water. At 6 p.m. the Rum Runner passed Bay St. Louis, and by dusk it reached the mouth of the Pearl River. "We were using dead reckoning. We looked for towers and bridges, but we didn't recognize anything, and our strip chart was inadequate," Ronnie Durr said.
Slowly they realized they were much farther away from the mainland than they had thought. The Rum Runner was between La Petit Pass Island and Malheureux Island, between four and five miles out, and it was quickly getting dark. At 5:30 p.m. they had eaten the last of their sandwiches, and now they were out of beer and cigarettes. Up in the bow Ronnie Durr urged Honer to drop anchor because of the darkness. Honer replied that he would be eager to do so when they were closer to shore.
They drew near Rigolets Pass, which led into Lake Pont-chartrain, but did not try to turn in because it is a difficult channel to negotiate, with rough tides and two swing bridges. They were trying to find Chef Menteur Pass, farther on and easier. The schooner cruised slowly along in Lake Borgne, a huge, shallow body of water that is open to the Gulf on the east.
About 10 p.m. it was agreed to anchor and sleep out the night. Honer pointed the schooner into the wind. They were receiving weather reports on their radio and still were not alarmed. But as they prepared for the night, the wind was blowing more heavily. The anchor began to drag in the soft bottom of Lake Borgne. To his surprise, Honer saw the black shoreline appear only 50 feet away. The wind, now much louder, kept driving the schooner toward the shore. Soon the dinghy was caught between the Rum Runner and land, and they could hear the wood grinding. Six-foot seas dashed the schooner. Dussel and Frank Murray jumped into the shallow lake. Barefoot, the two men hauled the dinghy up a five-foot bank into a marsh thick with bulrushes. They swamped the dinghy and returned to the schooner.
It was 3 a.m. Dussel, who has a heart ailment, got into the top bunk of the Rum Runner. Murray rolled into the bottom bunk. Ronnie Durr was above, beside the mainmast, and Honer sat in the stern. As the weather became rougher, the schooner began to take water. The wind and seas kept rising. The hull had swung parallel to the shore, and the pounding of the waves opened seams between the cypress planks. Honer, Durr and Murray took turns scooping water into cans and buckets and emptying them over the side. Dussel bailed into the sink. Still the water crept up until it was. six inches above the Rum Runner's carpet.
Now they knew the Rum Runner was in worse condition than they had thought.
"It's scuttled. We can't save it," said Ronnie Durr.
Honer grabbed some clothes and a few other possessions and carried them through the slamming waves across the diminishing bank to the dinghy. Murray brought a toolbox. The four men huddled in the small boat, until 6 a.m. Sunday. Murray was wearing only trousers and a white dress shirt and complained of the cold. The wind had risen to about 35 mph. They turned on the transistor and at last learned what they had been fearing but had not admitted to themselves—Hurricane Camille was headed toward them. Plaquemines Parish, in the delta of the Mississippi mouth, was being evacuated, along with a wide area of the coast.
Water flowed over the gunwales of the schooner. The four men put on life jackets. They discussed their best chance to ride out the storm. There was land around them, but it was disappearing and soon would be entirely beneath the waves. In the faint early light they could see the Rigolets Bridge and some fishing camps in the distance; they were eight miles from home. But the wind and water tore the land into the lake, and the camps faded.