Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Black Hole of Calcutta

Sailing with Stevie Van Zany in the Black Hole

Anyone ever wonder where the black hole of Calcutta goes? I checked it out on a globe and I think it goes from India right to Coltons Point, straight through the core of the Earth, which would certainly help explain some of the strange events that take place here in Pointerville.

So just what do people throw into a black hole anyway? If the hole started here it would probably be crab skeletons, oyster shells, credit cards and a bunch of other stuff of absolutely no consequence yet certain to raise eyebrows when it shows up in India.

Here in Coltons Point at the bottom of the black hole of Calcutta we don't get anything too interesting either, as least not in the form of stuff. But I think we do get a mystical mystery from India far more significant than you might think.

Very strange things take place here in the Point as I've reported in earlier articles from the landing of aliens to the ghost of John Wilkes Booth, and I've experienced a few of them myself. Things you might expect in the Bermuda Triangle seem to happen here that defy traditional explanation.

Here is a recent example. For some time crazy Stevie Van Zany has been asking me to sail out to Clements Island with him. I was holding out for riding in his power boat but he insisted, since he "did" grow up on the shore and being a waterman was a natural thing.

Finally he wore me down and I agreed except when I arrived at his house for the launch I noticed it seemed perfectly still outside, not a good omen for a sailing adventure. I mentioned it to Van Zany but he insisted the wind always blew on the river, even if it was still on the shore. That sounded like a line from a real estate agent selling shore fronts but what the hell.

Well the sail boat was not at all what I expected for cruising the mighty Potamac. Hell, we would have been overmatched fighting the current from the garden hose so I was glad there was little wind. We pushed the little bathtub to the water and I got in and the little matchbox nearly flipped over backwards, thankfully hitting bottom before going too far. I asked Stevie how many people could sail in it and he said 3. Now the only way that could happen was if they were the cast of munchkins from the Wizard of Oz.

I make no claims to being a waterman, fisherman, or even a good swimmer but even I noticed a few odd things about this craft. First, there was a long broom handle sticking out of the rudder handle about 6 feet. Thus there were two ways to get knocked in the side of the head in this little death trap, by the sail or the rudder. There was a motor mount but the motor was missing. So were the oars and that was my first clue Stevie was kidding about all the sailing experience or suffering from early alzheimers. He acknowledged he would run and get them as he seemed to have forgot.

Meanwhile I was left in the back of the boat, the front was clearly out of the water, while the back rested firmly in the sand under the water. He returned, we shoved off, and started paddling for the end of the pier as he now revised his wind story and said it would pick up at the end of the pier. He said it would be a 8-10 minute sail to the island and we would check out the new lighthouse and return within the hour. It was nice out so I figured okay.

Something ruffled the sail when we hit the end of the pier and slowly we started making our journey toward the island about a mile away. Progress was quite slow so we fetched a couple of beers from the cooler and I noticed about a case of beer stashed away. "Planning to be gone long?" I asked. He said it was for an emergency.

About an hour later we actually made it to the island, though no where near the shore, when he started these intricate tacking actions to swing us somewhere out around the island. After an hour of sailing I noted to Stevie we were passing the same crab trap marker over and over again and the stationary trap seemed to be pulling ahead of us. Not only that, we never seemed to get to the far side of the huge cross on the island and now the wind was gone.

In the first sign of weakness from Captain Stevie he said we should slow down the beer consumption as we might need it for breakfast if things didn't shape up. Of course it was only mid-afternoon at the time and we were just 2 1/2 hours into our ten minute trip by then. In the distance I saw a Bailey boat dropping supplies at the lighthouse and then heading back toward shore and he would pass within about 300 yards of us. I asked Van Zany if he had something red to wave so we could get a tow but he said no way. The code of the sea required a captain to never admit failure, even if it meant going down with his boat. Slowly the Bailey boat disappeared in the distance.

We were trapped in a circular current and could not get to the island, nor back to shore. We would probably keep drifting in small circles until we died in the shadow of the cross, all because of some stupid code of the sea. He took the oars and an hour later we made it back to the crab marker which was ahead of us when we started. Swimming was starting to sound like our only hope except earlier that week a bunch of kids tried to swim to the island and wound up ten miles away on Crabb Island.

By the start of the 4th hour we almost made it to the shore side of the island, having spent nearly 2 hours stuck on one side of a 40 acre land mass. Miraculously we finally got a breeze when we cleared the island and started tacking back for the pier just 1 mile away. But even the forces of nature were not about to let us off that easy. The slight sustained wind dropped to an occasional whisper not quite enough to fill the sail so now we were in a race to see if the whimpy wind was stronger than the natural current, again we were victims of the tides.

Our tacking became tacky and we found ourselves headed with the tides toward the museum pier, not Van Zany's pier. As we helplessly drifted toward the wrong pier we noticed a gathering of fishermen on the pier pointing at us, as if they knew we were at the mercy of nature. I told Stevie we should just land there and drag the damn boat the half mile down the river shore to his pier but the captain was adamant that no one, mind you no one, should know we were not in complete control of that tiny ship.

"Let's just wave at them as we sail past," he said. I pointed out that the way the tides were going we might just crash into the middle of them but Van Zany said we would row if necessary to protect the integrity of the rivermen. I was about to shout to them to throw me a beer from their cooler but they were laughing so loud they might not have heard when suddenly a tiny breeze pushed us safely past the potentially devestating embarrassment of bouncing the sail boat off the museum pier in front of a crowd of entertained fishermen.

This time we were able to maintain our course and reached land 4 hours and 38 minutes into our ten minute sail to the island and ten minute return. Zany was so happy he jumped out before we hit shore promptly sending the front end flying up in the air and causing the back of the boat, where my butt was parked, to drop into the cold river this time.

Just another typical outing at Coltons Point but it was just the first of three attempts Van Zany, this fearless old salt, was to undertake in his futile effort to reach the island just beyond his pier. Stay tuned for more details.

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