I have never fallen off a pier.
Part of this grand accomplishment in my life stems from the weird paranoia I have about falling of the edge of piers. I mean, it's not a phobia, it's more like a superstition, or I wouldn't even get near a pier, but when I am on a pier at a marina, I always stay and walk carefully in the middle. I grew up half my youth in a marina, because my father owned that damn yacht. I grew up spending almost every weekend (even winters) from about 1977 to 1985 in Solomon's Marina (now Comfort Inn Beacon Marina) on Solomon's Island in Maryland. During the summer, it could extend to weeks, because it was like my father's version of a cabin. We never went on vacations or went anywhere growing up, just the yacht, which stayed parked in the covered shed about 90% of the time. And the entire time I stayed there, I never fell off a pier.
Now, I saw a LOT of other people do so. I saw grown men, women, and even children tumble over the edge and land in the oily, slightly polluted marina water, along with the crabs, fish heads, ducks, and jellyfish. I always felt that it was only a matter of time, as clumsy as I was, to fall off a pier. But somehow, I managed to get so freaked out about it, I never did. Many people fell off piers because they weren't watching where their feet were, got tangled on something, tripped over something, leaned too far over with a heavy object, or misjudged the distance between open spaces of their boat and the pier. Once in a rare while, I even saw someone get pushed.
I never fell overboard off a boat, either. Except once, and that didn't really count.
I had a few friends growing up there. Most of them were fair-weather friends, and I lost a lot of them for a few years when a particular group of preteens and teens from a single family ganged up against me, and got others to do so as well (their dad was a redneck, football-loving, beer-bellied huntin' man who thought the only way to survival was to be tough and angry all the time). Part of the humiliation was the insistence of my mother to wear a life jacket, even when on land. But aside from that, I did have one friend for about 2 years, a kid named Troy.
Troy had a boat, an inflatable dinghy, and we used to row it around St. John's Creek. We'd visit the small sandbars, navigation pylons, and shipwrecks. Yes, we had shipwrecks across the creek. It used to be an old Naval Yard before WW2, and then it became a collection of abandoned ships which finally sprung leaks and sank. But St. John's Creek was only about 20' deep at its deepest, so some of these ships still poked out of the water. The two big ones were a tugboat that sank in the 1950s, and the wheelhouse poked above the water even at high tide. The other was a much larger and older wooden ship which was on its side, and all that was left was the deck and part of the collapsed hull on the shore. Once in a while, the deck caught fire for unknown reasons (assumed pranks by local youths), so half of the deck was charred as well. This old naval yard was finally sold off and cut in two pieces: one residential piece where someone built their dream house and tried to build a sailboat by hand (for years, all you saw was the large cement hull rising above the stubby treeline), and the other became a marina that was kind of the "ghetto marina" of the area (cheap, rundown, always had some crime happening there).
One day, we went to this ghetto marina, and since they didn't have a proper landing area, Troy dragged his dinghy across a sandy area which was littered with trash, mostly broken liquor and beer bottles. He did his best to avoid the glass, but I suspect he didn't succeed. When we were satisfied the ghetto marina didn't have anything worth of staying around for, we pushed off. It was immediately apparent to me the dinghy didn't have enough air, but Troy said it was like that before we left that morning. We paddled over to another beach, there he satisfied my nervousness by inflating the dinghy some more with his mouth. It didn't seem to improve anything, and I wanted to get back to our own marina before we got stranded.
We almost made it. The leak was very slow, but about 40 feet from a shore at our home marina, the dinghy got so saggy, that when Troy realized it was a problem, it was too late. He leaned forward to paddle vigorously towards the shore. This action caused all the air on his side (the bow) to suddenly shift to my end (the stern), like when you play with a long balloon. Now the only thing keeping him from falling in was a deflated bladder of plastic, which had zero buoyancy on its own, so it quickly, yet gently gave out from under him and he dropped into the tea-brown water like someone lowering a battered fritter into hot oil. The second his weight was gone from the craft, all the air on MY side pushed forward, and I was also swimming within seconds. The water tasted salty and oily. Major yuck. I was scared we would hit a jellyfish, and it was "sea nettle bloom season," but miraculously, we didn't hit a single one. After a minute of paddling and trying to rescue the boat and they stuff we had in it, Troy said he could feel the bottom with the tips of his toes, and soon, we waded ashore, soaking wet, dragging the flat bag of remaining air behind us.
Troy got a new dinghy a few weeks later from his dad. Actually, it was a small used fishing boat with a temperamental outboard motor. The hull also had a slow leak, but since it was made of aluminum, you just scooped the water out with a half-cut plastic milk jug before it got too full. The outboard was a bonus, but Troy never had enough money for gas, so we only used the motor for the long stretches of deep water (assuming we could start the thing, it required such a yank, you had to steady the boat on the edge of a pier or something so it wouldn't tip over), and oars for everything else.
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000548.html