An Eventful American Independence Night

Yesterday night, July fourth, American Independence Day, around 8:30 pm, I was out of the Santa Cruz harbor in my humble and felicitously stable 26-foot boat. With me, an immigrant, were three immigrants and one of their offspring plus one college-educated Oakie. (Oakies who can’t find a job raising beagles and who are too lazy to trim trees will go to college, contrary to widespread opinion.) The immigrant offspring is only three and we were offshore trying to catch as many outlawed fireworks as we could for her. All the immigrants were legal but, for two of them, it had not always been so. I don’t know the third immigrant well enough to ask him.

We were meandering slowly when one of us spotted an overturned kayak in the distance. There were two people in the water trying in vain to get back on. I hurried there slowly, as in the books. My mostly inexperienced crew did a great, calm job of retrieving the kayakers and even their kayak. The Oakie did a stellar job although his proximate ancestors got no closer to the water than when noodling catfish. All the retrieved kayak gear seemed to me fairly new and expensive. One of the kayakers, a woman, obstinately tried to recover all her equipment from the cold water. To my experienced free diver’s eyes and ears, she was showing the first signs of delirious disorientation from cold exposure. Nevertheless, we got both of them aboard as well as most of their stuff.

The rescued kayakers smelled of beer, as you have already guessed. And it’s not that easy to smell of beer after you have been in the water for a while. They used foul language as soon as they were safely on my boat, in front of the three-year old: “Fucking this, fucking that!” Before that, while she was still in the cold water, the woman had yelled at me to “turn off your fucking motor.” (The “fucking motor” was in neutral, of course; the propeller was not turning. I have a foreign accent, not a low IQ, as I keep saying.) The man kayaker was about fiftiysh, the woman was in her forties.

Now, with seven adults aboard, I thought we were dangerously overloaded. As I we were motoring slowly, cautiously back to the harbor mouth, one of my crew called Vessel Assist which, incredibly, referred her to the Coast Guard in San Francisco, sixty miles away. From the Coast Guard, we got what I thought was a disappointing and irresponsible answer.  (This is a separate topic that I may address later.) When she overheard us, the lady redneck (ah, ah, good one, Jacques! Hi-five!) yelled out, “Fucking country; it can’t do anything right.”

At that point, this immigrant, an American patriot through and through, considered seriously pushing the rednecks and their kayak back into the ocean to fend for themselves in the dark. I wasn’t sure my boaters would agree so that, eventually we merely unloaded the rednecks, their kayak, and their pricey gear on a dock. Then I declined their invitation to attend their forthcoming wedding.

This is both an American story and a Santa Cruz story. In this town, rednecks kayak, and they may have left-wing views of their country; immigrants have boats, even those who originate in countries where few people have even seen a boat. And an organization that provides commercially a service to save boaters seems to be closed on the single night when there are the most boats out on the water.

Update:  I am told that Vessel Assist to which I subscribe, is not an emergency service but merely a towing service. Point well taken but the person on duty there did not direct us to the proper emergency service. The Coast Guard supplied the right number but then, brushed us off. When I remonstrated with her in vigorous but polite language, the Coast Guard person on duty hanged up one me. She called back a few minutes later to explain that she was dealing with several cases at once. I felt for her but this is is not re-assuring for this ordinary tax-payer. The Coast Guard has plenty of personnel to intercept cannabis importers but it leaves a single woman to deal with the nautical safety a large area on an extremely busy night.

Once upon a time, a time I remember, every boater loved the Coast Guard because it was squarely in the business of saving their lives. Not anymore, Nowadays, it’s also (also) heavily involved in harassment.

And, in case you are wondering, I don’t use cannabis. I would like to try if as a remedy for my various pains  but it’s too expensive, courtesy of our federal government.

There is a Part Two to this report on Independence Day, an alarming one, that I will write if I have time.

[Editor’s note: this essay first appeared on Dr. Delacroix’s blog, Facts Matter, on July 5th 2012. You can find Part 2 here.]

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