Stranded in Kentucky

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

“Years from now, when we retell this story to our great-grandchildren, promise me you won’t tell people I hid in the bathroom, would you?”
“Only if you promise not to make a column out of our stupidity. This is the dumbest thing I’ve done in 60 years of boating.”

What? Me, tell the world we let ourselves get blown into water too shallow to float our boat, and spent days waiting to be rescued? And all for lunch in a nice restaurant? Never.

It was Sunday on Kentucky Lake, the year 2000, so we decided to anchor out and wait for the weekenders to evaporate before venturing into Grand Rivers, Ky., to visit a restaurant we’d heard about. We picked a pretty little cove near the mouth of Sledd Creek, across the lake, with a good view of water traffic going through Kentucky Lock and Dam.
It had been a warm afternoon, so as soon as we set the anchor, we went over the side for a swim. Almost at once, we noticed black clouds building up in the sky north of us.

Got back aboard and closed up to take a storm. Really, we enjoy riding out a storm in the snug confines of a well-secured boat.
But this one wasn’t. Well-secured, I mean.

We should have caught on when some downed limbs near us appeared to be moving directly into the storm. In fact, we were doing the moving, backwards, not the branches.
We’d broken the First Commandment of small boatmanship by anchoring in an exposed position that allows the wind a long unbroken sweep, especially when it’s obvious there’s bad weather in that direction.

Dave knew that. I knew that. Just a dumb lapse in attention.
Not to worry, we told each other. The trawler draws only 18 inches, after all, so obviously this water was merely ankle deep. If the motor won’t push us off, we’ll just get out and push ourselves out of a jam.

Didn’t budge. We tried all the old tricks: rocking the boat from side to side to break the suction of the mud, pushing sideways, tilting the motor up a little, me pushing while Dave gunned the engine. He even walked the anchor out in front of us as far as he could to kedge toward it with the engine racing.
Didn’t budge.
Scarlett-like, we declared, “Tomorrow is another day,” fixed our supper, read our books, wrote a little, went to bed.
As if the wind blowing steadily all night wasn’t bad enough, the TVA folks let the river down about six inches. Morning found us hard aground. Dave swallowed his pride and called a marina on the opposite shore to ask for a tow, grateful for once that the cell phone kept our dilemma from being overheard by other boaters on the water.

“Won’t take but a nudge,” he told the guy at Lighthouse Marina. “It’s not a large boat.”
So along comes Marty with a 300 hp twin-engine open boat. Dave waded out to meet him; no use two of us being stuck  and took him our anchor line.

Tried it with the motor running, tried it without the motor, tried it with both of us pushing the stern.
Didn’t budge.

Apologies exchanged all around. Marty said in 20 years of running a marina and working with boats, he’d never failed to dislodge a grounded boat. Dave told Marty he’d never had to call for help before.

Marty headed back to the marina for a 600-foot line and a heftier boat.
He came back and tried again and that’s when I hid in the head, fearing what could happen if the line separated and one end whipped back. I needn’t have worried. We didn’t budge.

“Tell you what,” Marty shouted into the cold gale. “I’ll try to get one of the tugs at [a nearby materials depot] and see if he could help you out. Won’t be until tomorrow morning, though. Want me to take you off for the night?”

No need for that. After all, we normally spend the night at anchor, and this was the same arrangement. We had bought groceries just a day or so before, and had plenty of blankets. We’d be fine, just embarrassed.

We were touched, however, when a police unit came out to check on us, twice. I guess the word had got around that an elderly couple was stranded in a small craft and would be there overnight.

Next morning about 8:30 comes the ugliest boat we’ve ever seen, a huge old working tug just bristling with equipment and even more horsepower than ugliness. Marty was in his Boston Whaler, leading him to us. The tug stood off from us, needing more depth, but even if he had grounded, he had enough power to extricate himself.

Marty brought us the line, we secured it to the ring on the front of the bow, Tommy the tug driver put his ugly boat in gear, and before the slack was completely out of the hawser, we were free.

Lines were retrieved and stowed aboard, and Tommy waved and was gone. We followed Marty back across a very choppy Kentucky Lake and settled our bill: two hours of his time plus the cost of the 600-foot line. This was going to be one expensive lunch, and we hadn’t even eaten yet.

We gripped the counter tight before asking how much we owed the tug operator.
Nothing. He declined to charge us, possibly for insurance reasons, which is why I’m not mentioning his company.

We spent a couple of hours walking around Grand Rivers,  a worthy destination in itself, catering to tourists both land-based and waterborne, then had lunch at Patti’s 1880s Settlement Restaurant.
Lunch was good, but probably not worth $285.
[Sallie Satterthwaite of Peachtree City has been writing for The Citizen since our first issue Feb. 10, 1993. Before that she had served as a city councilwoman and as a volunteer emergency medical technician. She is the only columnist we know who has a fire station named for her. Her email is SallieS@Juno.com.]