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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Saved From a Watery Grave

By David Blatchford
July 24, 2011

We saw the reflection of our running lights about 20 feet above us. The wave crashed down on the boat, hurling all of us to the transom. The force slammed us down about 30 feet to the wave’s bottom.

That July day had begun as a perfect day for boating, with a few puffy clouds dotting the beautiful blue sky. My brother, Mike, a friend, Dave, and I set out in a stoutly built 1952 36-foot cabin cruiser my friend and I had bought in the spring. The better part of the season had been spent renovating and repairing the old boat, which needed a lot of work. Finally we were ready to take her out on a fishing trip. Our thorough check had found the boat to be in satisfactory condition. After fueling up, we were on our way.

We had decided to head out to West Sister Island in Lake Erie, using a canal to reach the lake. It was the perfect scene: the three of us setting out on a gorgeous day to do the thing we liked best.

We finally reached Lake Erie and navigated toward the island about 20 miles out, or nearly a three-hour trip. While the boat was old, it had a strong engine. The lake’s low, rolling waves made for perfect boating conditions.

Arriving at the island, we got right to fishing. After about 45 minutes, ominous clouds began to form low on the southeast horizon. The clouds got our attention. They were growing quickly and coming right at us. Barometric pressure dropped swiftly; we were in for a bad storm. Little did we know just how bad it would be.

We knew we couldn’t outrun the approaching weather system, so we decided to move the boat to the lee side of the island for protection from the wind. We used a double anchor to hold the boat close to the island. By dark we were being tossed about on 8-foot waves driven by a 52-knot gale.

Adding to the danger, we had to keep the engine going to hold our position. If it stalled, it would have to cool for half an hour before restarting. In that time we would either drift into the rocks or out into the storm’s fury and capsize. We had four bilge pumps going, and we were bailing the whole time. We couldn’t let the water reach the engine’s air intake.

About 1:30 a.m. the storm had calmed somewhat, so we moved the boat out a little to test the lake on the other side of the island, thinking we might try to run back to the marina. We had just cleared the island when, suddenly, there  was the biggest wave I’d ever seen. It drove us down, but we popped back up.

Water was coming in so fast we were afraid of sinking, but amazingly, although it sputtered a few times, the engine was still turning and we were able to get to the wheel and maneuver back to the lee of the island. With four bilge pumps and three men bailing, the water was still too deep for us to see where it was coming in. Worst of all, it was rising and getting close to the carburetor.

Then Dave did a strange thing. He had brought his guitar with him, and he sat down and began singing gospel songs. I joined in. Mike, certain we were about to die, thought we had gone crazy.

As we sang praises to God, Dave had an inspiration. “We have one more pump we’re not using.”

We wondered what he could possibly mean. A fifth pump?

He got up, disconnected the intake water hose (which pulls in water to cool the engine) and set it in the boat. The engine then pulled its cooling water out of the boat instead of from the lake and dumped it into the lake. We were soon able to see the leaks and stuff them with sheets and pillowcases.

This all occurred just as the water had risen within half an inch of flooding the carburetor. Four hours later, the storm calmed and we were able to limp back to the marina.

My wife had called the Coast Guard the previous day. They told her they were not going out into that storm. If we weren’t back by morning, she could call back. So she prayed and went to bed. In spite of the intensity of the storm, she had a feeling of peace as if there were no need for concern.

In the morning, still filled with peace, she drove to the marina. She pulled up to our dock just as we were coming down the canal.

We inspected the boat at the dock. God was clearly with us during that journey. The boat needed heavy repair to the keel, which had split nearly end-to-end, separating the outer hull.

Beyond the damage, God protected the engine from being swamped, even as He gave wisdom to Dave in finding a way to remove the water from the boat.

That night several other people on a 42-foot cruiser had died in the storm. A 100-foot cargo hauler had snapped like a matchstick. We found out later that a tornado had taken a large swath of West Sister Island. God indeed saved us from a watery grave.

When you face a seemingly insurmountable situation, divert your focus from the crisis and begin to praise God. He is always there — no matter the storm.

DAVID BLATCHFORD lives in Bailey, Colo.

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