Disturbing night on the river
Last Friday out on the Columbia River just after meeting up with Trayson for a bit, as the darkness was setting in we decided to head for the ramp around 8:00 or so. Got in behind another boat and was following his wake when we saw him swerve, so we figured it was a log or something and kept a look out.
As we go past this "log" it sticks up an arm with a thumbs up. WTF!
So I yell at everybody to hold on and we do a powerturn. Sure enough we come up on some guy out in the middle of the river, in the middle of the shipping channel, swimming all by himself in the dark. Now many of you may not be familiar, but the Columbia is a BIG river. Probably 3/4 mile wide in the area this happened.
My first thought was his boat went down and he's getting pushed with the current. But then we see he's wearing a wetsuit, fins and has a mask pulled over his head. We're telling him to get in the boat, asking if he's alright and what happened.
The guy just calmly says he's a professional swimmer and he does this all the time. Uh yea, in the middle of the river, at night, with no marker, flag, bouy, nothing... So I start questioning him about all that. He says his boat had mechanical problems so I ask if it sank or what. No answer. Just says he's fine. We keep telling him he's going to get himself killed out here, that no one can see him, we barely did, and the guys in front of us nearly tagged him. Plus there's a tug going by maybe 50 yards away pushing 2 huge barges.
He again tells us he's a professional swimmer, it's his job to avoid us, and that he's got 2 support teams waiting on him, and the coast guard knows he's out here. Yea right. He says he's headed to a restaurant that is about 1-2 miles downstream where he's supposed to meet a team waiting for him and have a beer. We ask his name and he gives us some line about "Frank James - like the outlaw" - uh, you mean Jesse James? Was Frank his brother?
At this point we're just totally weirded out - every time I nudge up closer to the guy he keeps paddling away. We keep telling him that it's a deathwish to be out here in the dark but he doesn't seem to care. So we give up coaxing him and call 911.
The dispatcher asked if he's in distress and we said no, not really and he refuses help or to come aboard. They said this is a tricky one because if they scrambled a river unit out there, and the guy refuses assistance, there's nothing they can do. So we start in about how he's not only endangering his own life but anyone who might hit him. But apparently they still couldn't do anything about it. We at least felt obligated to report it.
So we hang up, plead with the guy one last time to just get in and we'll take him where ever he wants to go on the shore. No deal. He keeps swimming away. We kind of sit there looking at each other like WTF - now what. So we tell the guy he's crazy and we hope he doesn't die tonight and start pulling away.
Before hitting the launch we cruised past and down to the restaurant he was talking about to see if this support team he was talking about was truly there waiting. Yeah right - saw a few people outside the bar having a smoke on the edge of the walkway near the river but absolutely no one looking for a swimmer.
So now we have to make the run back to the boat launch, knowing that this psycho nut job is somewhere out in the middle and now it's completely dark... I wasn't about to have a dead guy from a prop strike on my conscious so we idled the entire way back looking for him in the reflection of the moon on the water. Talk about creepy.
The whole situation was so weird and just off that at one point we had considered trying to motor up on the guy and jump him, tie him up if we had to and haul him in but obviously not a good idea. Probably would have been charged with assault or kidnapping. But at least we would have known the guy didn't disappear forever on the river that night. So weird...
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