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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How tremendously the still would work ashore, away from the wind and the waves. We could make fire like the Indians. Build bonfires. Warm ones at night, smoky ones in the daytime. We could catch fish in the surf and eat them cooked. And I remembered the buckets and buckets of clams we had gathered outside San Felipe up the Baja coast from Puertocitos.

"Steamed clams."


"Clams. Remember how many there were at that beach? There must be some here."

"We aren't ashore."

I nodded. We could build a bigger still. Four burners beneath the five-gallon gas can. In my mind I built wind shelters, firepits, beds, signal systems. The wind buffeted me, the sun beat down hot on the sooty blackness of my shirt. An hour passed. It became evident that we were being swept past the island, not toward it. We were drifting parallel to the shore, less than half a mile away perhaps, but in a current as swift as a river's. We'd exhaust ourselves if we tried to row. We had tried that first day and the Lazy wasn't wieldy on the smoothest of seas. I said, "What do you think?"

He started talking. I was a little scared as he talked. He wanted to try swimming, to tow the Lazy behind him. I let him finish, then said, "I don't think you'd be strong enough." He seemed to accept it. I said, "We'll drift ashore. Eventually." We had to. My camp was so real.

Bill sat with his back to the stern. I worked my way toward the bow. I had sunk into the rhythm of the waves, but I still don't know how the plane could have gotten so close before I saw it. It was framed above Bill's shoulder, flying low, almost on top of us. I stared at it, its huge form so foreign in the endless sky. Hallucination? Yes, the thought occurred to me calmly as the plane surged toward us without a sound. But then I was gripped with the need to move quickly, to do something to make the people see us. Bill saw the expression on my face as we heard the rumble. He struggled to his feet. I grabbed for the yellow shirt, wanting to wave it madly. It fell from my fumbling hands and landed in the water, bobbing away. The plane had passed above our heads. It looked as though it might continue to fly forever, on and on in a straight low line. There was a change in the sound of its motor as it banked slowly and approached for another pass.

"They've seen us!" Bill yelled.

This time the plane roared above our heads. It was a bulky amphibian with U.S. COAST GUARD clear on its side. A small, brightly colored parachute appeared, glided toward us and landed on the water 50 yards upwind.

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