There is a waypoint about 50 miles southeast of Ocean City, Maryland, and 12 years ago this month, it’s where I started going gray. A silver anniversary, of sorts.
Our five-man crew was en route to the Ocean City inlet when the skies darkened, the wind whipped into a frenzy and the seas went from fairly flat to furious. It was about 3 p.m., according to the boat’s GPS, but it looked like midnight on the bridge deck. The only way home was straight into the building waves.
We scurried around the boat, securing everything loose that could potentially cause a load shift. Then we gathered on the bridge deck, looking above the helm station for the life jackets. My friend Paul, seeking to lighten an otherwise tense moment, said: “I see my life jacket. It’s got my name on it. It says adult.”
The chuckle was welcome as we maneuvered around the boat on our knees (standing or walking safely was not an option). White-topped waves surrounded us, at times breaking onto the boat and pushing us around as if the vessel were weightless. The sound of the seas cresting as each new set approached kept everyone wide-eyed like Wile E. Coyote after he realizes another Acme device is about to go kablooey on him. Often, one of us would call out, “Whoa!” or “Watch Out!” when a wave — somehow larger and angrier than the last — came rolling at us. Several times, the sea left from under our boat’s hull and she fell into a deep trough. The thunk was impressive when we reconnected with the water, leaving us all spine-tingled and about a half-inch shorter than how we had started the day.
Wheel watches alternated every 45 minutes. Fortunately, the fuel kept flowing. The engines kept running. During the next six-plus hours, we trudged onward. The seas eventually fell off. A brightly lit Ocean City boardwalk came into view. We had made it.
The next morning, our crew was supposed to head out, but the storm winds had followed us. I met the boat’s owner, Tom, behind a townhouse where the boat was docked. Drinking coffee, we watched starch-stiff flags in gale-force winds. He looked at me and said, “I’m going back to bed.” I looked back and said, “Me too.”