Breezy, Ain't It!

"Breezy, ain't it!" one of them yelled as their skiff approached the 40-foot sailboat my friends and I had rented for the weekend on the Chesapeake Bay.

"They're both drunk," I thought to myself. They were Tangier Island people, teenagers from their looks. I had been at the helm all day, driven before very strong winds and tall seas, the kind of sailing which gets me really high. But the high had badly fatigued me without my realizing it, and I had missed entirely the piling marking the beginning of the channel into the island and had headed instead toward the second one. Now I was stuck in the sandbar which lined the channel.

I was scared. The eight-foot-plus waves were running at about four seconds, and my boat was pounding badly. As each trough slammed it into the sand, I could feel the boat a little less stable in the following swell. I knew that if the pounding continued, the keel would soon be driven through the hull into the cabin and the boat would end up yet another of the Bay's victims for that gloriously wild day. To make matters worse, I had failed to tell my one-person crew to call the Coast Guard. I was that out of it. Looking back, I realize how scared he was. Despite his many years as a Navy submariner, he had himself blocked on sending a radio to the Coast Guard. I had had enough presence of mind however to tell everyone to get their life jackets on.

To deal with the situation I had been trying to simply back off the sandbar, but the waves slamming into the bar were far stronger than my engine and were driving the bow deeper and deeper into the sand.

"Start using the wheel to get the stern moving back and forth! Trying to back straight out won't work!" the Islander in the bow yelled.

Then, "Do what I say or you'll lose your boat!" he yelled, this time with a bit of gentleness, as he watched me hesitate to follow his orders.

"The fuckers are drunk!" a voice in my head yelled.

"Yeah, but they're the best you've got," my reason returned.

No doubt what the Islanders were yelling was mysterious to my friends. The Islanders speech, the one they use among themselves, is pretty much the same as that used by Elizabeth the First. The reason for this is that until fairly recencly, their home, Tangier Island, has been isolated from the rest of the world. They came to the island in the 1600s, fleeing Maryland and persecution for the Catholic majority there. The migration happened one winter when the Chesapeake Bay froze solid enough for them to simply walk on it to the island. When the islanders speak to outsiders, it's not much different. Even for me, accustomed to the Islanders' speech from much time with them, it is sometimes difficult to understand.

But to me fortunately, their advice was clear. It was to keep the engine in reverse, but instead of holding the rudder steady to keep a direct course away from the sandbar, to move the rudder so that the stern would move back and forth. Sure enough, after about four swings of the wheel, the hull shot free of the death grip and moved in a curve so quick that for a split second I feared the boat might broach in the swells which were now suddenly hitting it from the side. Hah! What the maneuver had done was to enable the bow to wiggle the sand free of its sides and thus break the vacuum holding it.

"Please, wait!" I yelled as the skiff turned to leave.

The one in the bow saw me grabbing at my back pocket for my wallet. He yelled back at me, "Forget it! We're from Hilda's! Come by for some crab cakes!"

"That's where we were headed before I chose the wrong light!" I yelled in reply.

"You're not the first one to do it! We keep askin' Virginia to put a better marker there!"

That much I heard clearly. And as they kept moving further away, I think there came through the cacophony of wind and wave, "Breezy, ain't it!"

It was indeed. But not so breezy that I couldn't head back out and then come back for the channel's first buoy.

The channel is the beginning of a kind of stream which cuts the island in half. On the south bank of the stream are located the public pier and all of the restaurants and other public buildings. The tide was running full and making the stream move very fast. Thus it was impossible to reach the pier safely without passing it and then heading back against the stream to get to the pier. But I was for moving on with the stream and anchoring off on the other, quieter side of the island for the night.

"Tom! We want to go to Hilda's," my wife responded to my idea.

Well, I thought, I've had lots of fun, more fun than anyone else, I suspect, and I owe it to the others to now simply serve them as best I can. So, after a bit of a struggle, I managed to turn the boat around, and my crew tied us up at the pier.

It was a short walk to Hilda's Inn. Her crab cakes were pretty good, tho' with a bit more shell in them than my mom's. On the other hand, I had in my 45 years heard all of my mother's stories, but the ones Hilda told us that night were mostly new ones even for me.