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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I unscrewed the bottle from the hose. "Let's drink."

We each had several hot swallows. The water tasted of gas and plastic. We crawled into the bow, into the endless night and sometimes, for a moment or two, into sleep, where dreams were tossed and rolled and broken apart into coldness and the lapping of water around the shoulders and the sudden crash as another wave dumped gallons into the boat, and we had to get up and bail.

Bill used the bottle and I used the can. We clung to the boat with one hand and bailed with the other. The waves were towering now. They lifted us, high, higher, then rolled, roaring, away, sending us shooting downward. The boat yawed badly. A cross wave caught her stern, swinging her almost broadside to the seas. I looked up at a wall of water. My body was soaked as the wall crashed down. Pain shot through my rib. I scrambled through the wading pool of a boat.

"We've got to get the sea anchor farther out."

"I'll do it," Bill yelled. "You hold me."

It angered me. He insisted on doing the dangerous jobs. But I grasped his legs as he slithered along the deck and struggled with the line.

"I've got it! Pull me in."

I heaved him into the cockpit and fell to my knees. We would die before this ended. It disturbed me to realize that no one back home would know the exact moment I died. At some point they would just decide: he is dead. We bailed, wind whipping through wet salty clothing straight to the bone. The last cupful of ocean was dumped back into the sea, and we crawled under the clammy dinghy and into our spoon-fashion huddle. I forced myself to listen to the sounds, listened to them one by one. As a whole, the sea roared incessantly. Each wave crashed, sometimes behind us, sometimes ahead of us, sending pattering spray into the boat. Water sloshed in the bilge. The heavy wind whipped the shelter. I strained to count the sounds, isolating them, organizing. I counted 17. Seventeen as in teen-age, I thought. Seventeen as in century, they replied, pushing me toward sleep. And the 17 sounds were voices, talking loudly, though I couldn't catch the words. They rose and fell, pleading, arguing, finally becoming a screaming mob the moment before I awoke.

When the dawn finally came I crawled to the cockpit, bracing myself to urinate into the sea. We passed what little water we drank. Our bodies were doing their best to cleanse us. I turned and clung to the boat near the stern. Baja, which we sometimes caught sight of as we drifted down the coast, must have been so close. The Lazy climbed the steep face of a wave. Next to the boat the foam from broken crests swirled in the dark like the pictures you see of galaxies.

I crawled back under. Bill mumbled, "You left me to freeze."

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