SI Vault
H. Marvin Bird
November 13, 1978
What began as a pleasant day's fishing trip off Baja California turned into an 11-day ordeal for two Los Angeles anglers
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November 13, 1978

A Long Time Between Beers

What began as a pleasant day's fishing trip off Baja California turned into an 11-day ordeal for two Los Angeles anglers

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A bright-orange semicircular glow had formed on the horizon. The sun came up like a spark in the center. I watched sunsets with a slight feeling of horror, sunrises with an overzealous hope. The sun rose to dry the clothes. We would go on living.

The ever-present sounds of the sea faded as the breeze dropped, and the sun was reflected in a long gold stripe on a calm Gulf of California. This was what the sea had been like nine days ago when we put out of Puertocitos on the east coast of Baja California with a picnic lunch and a gallon of water. We had trailered the Lazy down from Los Angeles on a fishing vacation. The day was pleasant. We caught a few fish, and on the way back to the tiny village, the gears went out in our outboard motor five miles from shore. We dropped the anchor. It caught as the last of the 150-foot anchor line uncoiled, and we prayed it would hold until another boat passed by to tow us to shore. None came. The Lazy clung tenaciously to the bottom till nighttime, when the glassy sea raised its back like an angry animal, and the storm, pulling up the anchor, set us adrift.

"Marv, look."

Fish. Large ones, swimming peacefully around the boat.

"Your turn at the still."

He dug through the gear. Only one other day had been calm enough to attempt fishing. I thought of the day trips that Bill and I had taken last year with Bud. Did Bud know we were missing? Did anyone? Surely someone in Puertocitos would have realized we hadn't come back. But why the hell weren't they looking for us?

Bill knotted a feather lure to the line. Maybe today we'd have some luck. Distilled water and moist fish. What a feast! I watched him cast. There was no spectacular strike in the first 30 seconds.

I blinked against the smoke. I was proud of the still, had confidence in it. And the sea anchor I'd built seemed to hold the boat steadier in a storm than the one we'd lost. I tensed, remembering the hell of that night. Wave after wave had crashed over the Lazy's side as we bailed in the darkness and worked frantically with half-numb fingers, knocking the bottom out of an open wooden box, attaching lines to the corners of the open top, nailing a grain bag around the bottom. I would never again question impulse. Two weeks before, I had impulsively brought the bag on the fishing trip simply because I liked its feel between my fingers—it was made of woven plastic strips, not burlap. I doubted I would ever know greater relief than when Bill tossed that makeshift sea anchor over and the Lazy swung around slowly, facing the next wave bow on.

I dipped the rag. If I had confidence in the sea anchor and still, was confident that we would survive, was I also confident that I would set foot in my home again? I thought of Joanne, remembering her as she had been two weeks ago. Did she know I was lost?

"They don't want it," Bill said, peering into the water, reeling in.

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