Indeed, Deception Pass Marina was scenic and picturesque, but definitely closed. As we sided up to the dock, we saw one other occupied craft. It was an Emergency Response boat - a big red thing with a lot of obvious wear reflecting many a trip out to retrieve ignorant boating enthusiasts, under-supplied with knowledge and overwhelmed by elements of one sort or another.
My skipper and I gave each other a look of either, "We almost needed THOSE bastards, didn't we?" or "Guess it's good to know these fellas are around if our experience takes us any farther south than it has already." It's hard to say which.
The guys manning the Emergency Response boat were just about to throw lines and venture out in the direction we had come from when we caught their eye. I gave an exaggerated dude nod to the gentleman not skippering and he slid open the widow on the enclosed cab of their boat. It wasn't nearly as official as a Coast guard ship, but it was no tow truck style jalopy either. It was somewhere in between, like AAA of the waterways maybe.
"If you walk up to the little tourist gift shop/bate shop at the top of the dock, there should be a little sign with the owner's phone number on the front door," the man told me, after I'd explained our predicament - basically out of gas and out of our element. "Call the number and offer to buy him a half rack if he comes down and opens up for you."
Having never ceased tossing lines and motoring of away, this advice from the Emergency Response boat was received with a mild amount of panic with regards to trying to take in all information being given over the sound of their obnoxiously loud diesel engine(s). And then they too were gone. This was starting to get a little bit annoying. What was with these people?
I jumped ashore and secured the lines. We were soaked, out of gas, and STARVING. The two-hour (turned five-hour) tour was supposed to have had us in the islands in time for a late lunch. Now it was time for an early dinner with only a closed bate shop in front of us.
We did as much as we could remember our AAA heroes yelling at us. We walked to the top of the dock and while my skipper went around to the Honey Bucket behind the store, I went to the entrance. I stared at the door, and while my equilibrium contemplated throwing me into dry-heaving convulsions to punish me for the sudden and distinct lack of a rolling sea, I found it almost impossible to focus on anything but the CLOSED sign.
After a few minutes what had looked like a solid collage of random words and lists started to gain the depth, relation, and perspective. Eventually, I saw different signs and postings. One said, "CALL IF CLOSED." So I did.
I was sure I had dialed the wrong number. A grumpy, gruff and unshaven "Hello?!" greeted me.
"Errmm, is this the marina?" I sheepishly asked.
Apparently, the unshaven voice hadn't been waiting around HOPING to be bribed by with 12-pack this afternoon.
I started to actually like what was going on. At least SOMEONE had a buzz on.
"Yeah, uhhh, we're down at this, ahh, marina? Does that mean anything to you?"
In an instant the grumpy was gone and the voice had shaved.
"Oh yeah, man. Sorry, I thought you were calling for my kid."
The lure of a (another) half-rack got my new friend off the phone with a promise of heading down as soon as his wife got back. He didn't specify how long that would take. So I reported as much to the relieved skipper when he rounded the corner.
"He said he'd come down. Didn't say when. He had a buzz on," I said.
So we waited.
After a few minutes I decided to try the little Honey Bucket trick myself, and as I walked around the corner of the building I was almost run over by the voice, now back to unshaven, wheelie-ing a Honda 80 off the curb with the intention of taking the corner close and in mid-flight.
Luckily, he zigged and I zagged and a complete catastrophe was avoided. No apology was presented or insinuated from either side, and no feelings were hurt.
He let me in the store as the skipper filled the gas tank. It was laid out like a quaint little, mom and pop, nautical themed gift shop, and it seemed like it had been there for years - far more than the unshaven voice, now gruffly putting on coffee and checking voice-mails on an old style answering machine, had under his small-business belt.
He may have been 45; he may have been 55. He wasn't 60 and he wasn't 40. This much was obvious. He was stocky, and "gruff" was exactly the right word.
"And WHO EXACTLY are you?" I asked, after 15 minutes, at the point when I couldn't stand the polarizing affect the quaint and the scruff were having on me.
Just then my skipper walked in the door, so it came off to him as an introduction. The unshaven voice bellowed out his name and rank, as if we had surely heard of him,
DUNDEE WOODS, HYDROPLANE DRIVER
The fair skipper, never a braggart but never one to let challenge go unmet, rose to the occasion, equally sure we had all heard of him, responding...
DUFF McKAGAN, ROCK AND ROLL BASS PLAYER...
Dundee gave a little chuckle. "Yeaaaaah, yer that guy who..." and then he took his first clear look at the customers who interrupted his afternoon.
"Why are you guys all wet?"
We told the whole story. He immediately put a couple of Cup 'O Noodles into the microwave. It was the only hot food in the place. Once the soup was on, he went around the store gathering any foul weather gear he had for sale that had the Marina's name on it. Turns out the place had been started by Dundee's dad and had been passed down fairly recently.
We asked him how long it would take to get to the islands and he gave us two scenarios. It would be about another hour to cross the Rosario Strait with the rollers we had been subject to all afternoon - maybe a little longer. OR we could go east and inland to the calm waters of Skagit Bay.
Taking that route, we could go up through La Conner, and if we were feeling adventurous we could take the Swinomish Channel all the way up to Padilla Bay, up around the corner at Anacortes, and THEN cross the Rosario Strait at a much calmer and narrower location.
Or - I thought out loud - we could hang out in La Conner for the night and scratch that bullshit with the whole "open ocean'" till next time.
We decided we'd head towards La Conner and let the voyage itself decide our final destination.
Dundee assured us that other than the sand bars on either side of the entrance to the Swinomish Channel, the whole process was a cakewalk.
We left Dundee's with fleece, Gortex, and Lycra swag - all with Deception Pass Marina logos embroidered on them. We were dry, wind and waterproof, and had a new lease on the trip ahead.
We had no GPS or charts of any kind. We were fools and would be lucky if we lived.
We got around Hoypus Point and past Deadman and Little Deadman and shot right past Goat Island - figuring we were right in the neighborhood. We went past Hawk Point, overshooting our Channel's entrance, and blindly tooled around trying to find our way in.
By some fluke I happened to look behind us and my heart stopped. There was a looong tail of sand behind us that looked like a serpent deciding whether or not to devour our craft.
We stopped the boat and (finally) turned on the only technology we had other than the CB radio, the depth finder. It said we were in six feet of water.
OK, so we found the first sandbar. Duff gunned the throttle and spun the boat around. With an immense amount of complaining and stuttering, the engine succeeded in skimming us along the top of the sand and back out to water of a decent depth - the sand serpent trailing us the entire time.
"Well THAT was fuckin' close."
As we went back the way we had come, Duff noticed two "tower-ish" looking structures to the west. Dundee had said such towers would be the key to knowing when you were lined up between the sandbars and on the safe path into the Channel.
"Is THAT them?" he asked.
"That can't be them. They're not even the same height..." I replied.
So we ignored the towers and proceeded to overshoot in the direction we had originally come from. We could see where we needed to be, just not how to get there.
Then the depth finder's alarm went off. I turned around again, and the sand serpent - this one dwarfing the previous, was again trailing us. Before we could even look at the depth finder, the boat's engine alarm went off. Then it all shut down.
We were in two feet of water.
The engine's intake was buried in the sand, rendering it unable to flush itself out and thus cool itself down. It would not start again until this problem was rectified.
We were being VERY slowly lapped toward shore. I got on the phone. God bless cell phones.
Dundee couldn't have been happier to hear from us. He told me he'd call his emergency response buddy and they'd be out to us as soon they could. We could get aboard and we could stay at his house for the night if our boat needed to be repaired.
So there we were, marooned in Puget Sound. It was a beautiful summer evening and the sun would be going down in a few hours.
And it did.
We weren't panicked. There is an innate sense of security in knowing that you (or your skipper, as the case may be) can buy your way out of any non-life threatening trouble you can ignorantly back your way into. So we sat and enjoyed the weather. We didn't talk much, just bided our time.
Just before the sunset we got a call from Dundee asking our exact location. They had been tooling around unable to locate us. When they finally realized our location, it became clear why they couldn't find us. We were so close to shore even their flat bottom craft couldn't get close enough to see us without beaching itself.
Even better, not only could they not get close enough - they wouldn't be able to until the tide came back in, if at all by that point.
It just kept getting better and better.
Finally, well after dark, they were able to get close enough to throw us a line. We secured it and they started the process. Once we got to a reasonable depth, Duff tried the starter and as luck would have it he wouldn't need to buy a new engine. It fired up, so I called our saviors and told them to come up along side of us. We untied their line, and agreed they should at least lead us to the mouth of the Swinomish Channel. If we made it that far, we knew we'd be fine.
Dundee had been giving us the HARD SELL, trying to talk us into staying at his house, but we really wanted to relax in some sort of hotel like setting in La Conner. So it was agreed that Dundee would board our boat, come into LaConner with us, and have dinner while his wife and sons drove around to pick him up. As it turned out his sons were huge GnR fans. After Dundee called his wife, we sat down to dinner and were informed that earlier in the afternoon, when it seemed certain we would be slumbering at casa de Dundee, his eldest son of 14 had put on Appetite for Destruction as loud as his stereo would go and left it there until they had left to come pick up their papa.
Duff signed everything they brought, and once they were gone we knew we had made a friend for life. We got a double room and relaxed for the first time since leaving Duff's house some 10 hours earlier.
The next morning, deciding we had experienced enough of this particular adventure in "dude time," we headed home. Just as I had predicted, staying inland this time, and with smooth water and beautiful weather, we made it back to Shilshole in about 75 minutes. Lesson learned.
Drummer Geoff Reading - who writes a bi-weekly online column (Fridays) for the Weekly Volcano called "Holding Down the 253" in addition to his weekly Wednesday music column - has played music in tons of Northwest bands - Green Apple Quick Step, New American Shame, Top Heavy Crush and most recently Duff McKagan's LOADED - to name but a few. He's toured the world several times over, sharing stages with the likes of Slipknot, The Cult, Buckcherry, Korn, Journey, The Sex Pistols, Nine Inch Nails and on and on. He has called Tacoma home since 2005, and lives in the North End with his wife and son.