The sinking of the Titanic revisited


Pat Van Dyke
Columnist, The Friday Flyer

I have boating in my blood. I didn’t grow up by a lake, unless you count the trout pond that used to be at Knott’s Berry Farm on the corner of La Palma and Beach Boulevard.

My father had a boat for as long as I can remember. The first one wasn’t exactly a large boat, it was more like a row boat with a Johnson outboard motor attached. One evening during dinner, we watched a truck pull into our driveway, two men jump out, load the boat and motor into the bed of the truck, and speed away. Our Great Dane, Butch, with his waging tail and winning personality, welcomed the thieves and pointed them to the boat and motor.

Then came our next boat: a 25 foot wood Trojan with an inboard motor. For several summers my Dad would hook up the boat to our Cadillac, while Mom piled all five of us kids and the luggage into the car and we were off on our 2,000 mile adventure driving from California to Wisconsin.

The trip east was very uneventful, but the trip home going west was always filled with excitement. One year, after several flat tires in the middle of Nebraska and Wyoming, Dad decided that the boat was too heavy and wanted to lessen the load.

He climbed into the boat and found the problem. There were sacks of sweet corn and ice chests filled with pounds of sausage, and blocks of cheese stored in the bow of the boat. After a spirited discussion, Mom admitted that she had hid them there so that we could safely cross the border between Nevada and California. The next day, the families of the California border patrol agents had sausage mac and cheese and sweet corn for dinner, complements of our family.

For 28 years, we lived on Point Marina Dr. in a lakefront home. We had the water, ramp, and dock, but no boat. This was not a problem until Pastor Pete’s relatives from Holland visited us.

My in-laws brought Pastor Pete’s cousin and her husband to see our home….on a lake…without a boat. This couldn’t happen, so I managed to obtain a boat to use from a very dear friend, Harold. The only problem was that Pastor Pete had a meeting and couldn’t go with us.

I assessed the situation and decided that if I could drive a car, driving a boat couldn’t be more complicated than that.

I soon found myself with my crew getting ready to board the boat. Besides the “captain” (me), there was my “first mate” (my daughter Mary), my mother-in-law and our two guests from the Netherlands: Jaap and Geertje.

Now, you must know that this boat was far from luxurious. It was a pontoon boat; but by comparison, if a boat from Nordstrom was luxurious, this boat was from a thrift store…that had closed down months before…and all that was left were a couple of items left next to the dumpster which included this boat!

It did not have the padded bench seats nor the vinyl captain chairs. In fact, it didn’t have any seats at all. The “captain’s chair’ was an aluminum folding lawn chair…one with green webbing. This chair was “the best seat in the house,” so you can imagine what remained for my guests.

Harold pointed out the plastic trash can that contained the life vests and sent us on our way.

It was an evening cruise, right before dusk. We cruised the East Bay, through the tunnel, and out to the main lake all the while listening to my guests chatter in Dutch. I only knew a few Dutch words and those were ones that my father would use when he was upset. I didn’t hear any of those from our guests.

We rounded the lighthouse and Mary whispered to me “This boat keeps riding lower.” I assured her that all was fine, but a few minutes later, she mouthed to me “I think we’re sinking.” And indeed, we were!

Now I know that the “Captain must go down with the ship” but I wasn’t planning for that! I made a left and headed toward the tunnel, all the while watching the platform of the pontoon go lower and lower. We tried to remain clam. We didn’t want to alarm our passengers.

We made it through the tunnel, and then the situation changed greatly. Suddenly, the front of the boat lunged down and the deck was flooded with five inches of water. Panic set in. I had a mutiny on my hands! Here we were, a calm captain and first mate with three frantic passengers running around yelling things in Dutch. I could understand exactly what they were saying and it wasn’t very nice!

The only word that Mary understood was the word “Titanic” and that was mentioned often in the middle of the garbling of the Dutch language.

Being the captain, I knew it was my job to keep everyone calm; but by this time, Mary and I were laughing so hard that we found ourselves thankful that the deck was already wet or we would have provided the liquid!

We managed to stabilize the pontoon and looked around to determine the next move. We needed life jackets! We looked into the trash can and it was empty, but when we looked up, both my mother-in-law and Geertje were wrapped in four life jackets each. So much for saving my own life! This only increased the laughter level from Mary and me.

The next moment, we heard a splash and saw Jaap surface in the water attempting to push the boat to the shore by swimming. With three “moderately heavy Dutch women” and one slight Dutch girl, this proved to be more than he could do. Laugher level between Mary and me increased again!

As we convinced Jaap to re-board, the boat sunk lower and the gas can floated away. So much for pollution control!

I insisted that everyone sit down so that Mary and I could determine our next move. Cell phones were not yet invented, so that was out. The “required oar” had joined the gasoline can, so that was out. Swimming to the shore and going to a house required scaling a steep bank with no steps to the house, so that was out.

Then, I started to hear a soft humming sound. It was coming from my mother-in-law. She was humming “Nearer My God to Thee.” As if I didn’t have enough problems…Now I have the orchestra from the Titanic playing their final song! Laughter hits again!

Between the panic and the laughter, a fellow boat enthusiast drove by and rescued us. But if 25 years ago, any of you had a gas can or an oar float up to your dock, they are Harold’s and he would like them back.