The Lighthouse Beam Went Off

Race Point Lighthouse, Provincetown, MA

I would normally say, it was a dark and stormy night, but it is likely you have heard that story before, so let me begin with—the sun was rising at Campobello—no, not that one either. The truth goes a little like this. The sun had already risen over the lighthouse at Provincetown, located on the very northern tip of Cape Cod. I estimated it to be about 10 a.m., which should allow ample time to get around Nantucket sound and down into Narragansett Bay. The waters were pretty flat along the National Seashore, but I decided to take the prudent course through Cape Cod Bay into the canal leading to Buzzard’s Bay. Then we would cruise on the leeward side of the Elizabeth Islands and set a true course due west toward Point Judith. I felt that to be the prudent route, especially for our guests, who were more like land lubbers. They had been great company and had never been on these waters. It was time for us to head back home into Bonnet Shores on Narragansett Bay. Point Judith, at the mouth of the bay, housed a skeleton Coast Guard station, and has one of the most reliable navigational aids leading all ships into Narragansett Bay.

Narragansett, RI

We lay at anchor on the western side of the Betsy Islands (that’s what the local fishermen call them); incidentally, most of them are owned by the Kennedy families. We all had large bowls of Murphey’s stew. That, along with the last bottle of unidentified red wine whose label was tattered and soiled, finished off our edible leftovers. I looked at my watch.

“Okay gang, party time is over. Honored guests go below and secure everything. Know how to do that now, don’t you?”

The answer was affirmative. My 24/7 mate knew what to handle up top; then she was sure to check on our guests’ activities. Knowing I had only two more hours of daylight, I set the Loran’s coordinates about a quarter mile south of the Point Judith lighthouse. The two-hundred-mile range on the weather radar showed clear skies on our set course. I flipped on the navigational radar both in visual and audio mode for a half-mile distance, 180 degrees, and north of centerline. That allowed me to push the throttle forward until she planed out at about 3400 rpm. I was a hell of a lot more detail oriented whenever I had guests aboard.

Photo by Bob Nichols. Original public domain image from Flickr

I zipped closed the isinglass on the upper bridge, secured whatever could be, and then took the rest of the items down below. My guests seemed a little concerned and apprehensive when I was not at the controls up top, and I sat down to join them. I took out a bottle of properly aged cognac and what appeared to be four real glass snifters. I assured them the glasses were the best clear plastic you could buy, and that they came with the cognac, a gift from the salesman who had consummated the sale of this vessel.

To ensure they were comfortable, and to clarify any negative thoughts about our being on autopilot, I explained all about the electronic equipment allowing the ship to navigate to a special destination in deep enough waters and providing warning about any obstacles on the surface as well as the depth at the bay’s bottom. This was the first time I had used this equipment with them aboard.

We had a wonderful enlightening conversation, and I could see they were having an especially fine time, which pleased us all.

“You will have to excuse me. Stay and enjoy yourselves. The lighthouse entry to the bay should be in view, and I have to get back up top and guide us into the channel.”

When I got settled in my chair and cross checked all my instrumentation, I swung her around to the north, but when I looked up, left and right, back and forth, there was no navigational guiding light into the bay.

I mumbled, “Shit man, what the freak is going on?”

I bent down to the lower port side panel and flipped on the generator, looking for more auxiliary power just in case my navigational system had somehow screwed up. I never heard it or saw it coming. A gigantic rogue wave knocked me over toward the open sliding door and on into the water.

As I bobbed to the surface clutching what I thought was my generator manual—it was my latest Yachting Magazine—all I heard was laughing and giggling, for as I napped my grandchildren had flipped my lounge chair into the pool. As I surfaced, I heard, “we gotcha this time Grandpa.”

Bruce Zimmerman was born and raised in New York City during the depression years. After graduating from the University of Rhode Island, he served in the Korean War. In 1957 he and his family moved to Tampa, where he started his own construction company that remains in existence. Bruce began taking OLLI writing classes with “Writing your Life Story” and is a current member of the Imaginative Writing “crew.”


8 Replies to “The Lighthouse Beam Went Off”

  1. You sound so well versed in boating terminology I was sure this was a true story. The ending was a big surprise!

  2. Bruce, you have an unerring ability to draw in your readers, charm us with such an adventurous tale, we are ready to take on the far seas with you…a toast to you….with real glasses!

  3. Oh, those grandchildren flipping over grandfather’s flotation device! I was totally into the author’s navigational lingo and what seemed like a real experience. I was hooked at the mention of Buzzard’s Bay. You can’t make up a name like that and get away with it. Land lubbers, my husband and I stopped our car there for a picnic on our way out to the Cape. The park was unusually full of tourists and locals this particular October Saturday. I asked what was going on. A sculpt festival, I heard. What’s a “sculpt” I asked? The speaker had his bare hands in a bucket of water. You’ve never eaten a sculpt? And he showed me one. Oh, a scallop festival! We have to get out more often.

  4. Oh, you had me right there on the boat with you feeling the wind, sun and speed. Then, bam, when you splashed into the water and heard laughter…well, I laughed out loud, too.
    Thanks for sharing such a fun trip!

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