Chapter 10 – Accident on the River – May 1944
Ray and Tony had traveled only a few miles up the river when the two men realized that the decision to travel to St. Louis that night was indeed a bad one. The winds had really picked up to gale force and the rain was lashing against their faces, reducing their visibility substantially. The poor conditions were taking all of Ray’s efforts to keep the boat on a line and Ray was just on the point of returning to the marina when he spotted an opening on his port side. Despite the teeming rain and trees, he could still see lights and masts, albeit barely, and figured it must be another marina, although it wasn’t shown on the charts he had. Ray checked his surroundings for other boats, not seeing any, he turned the boat to head for the gap leading to what he hoped was indeed a marina and a safe haven from the worsening storm. Ray left the main channel and was approaching the entrance to the marina when suddenly, a paddle steamer came out of the gloom at a considerable rate of knots, far too fast for the conditions, and made a rapid turn for the safety of the marina. The captain of the vessel had obviously not seen the cabin-cruiser, despite it’s lights, and Ray was forced to make appropriate maneuvers to avoid a collision. Relieved that he had just prevented a major catastrophe Ray’s relief suddenly turned to concern as they were caught in the paddle steamer’s wake and was being buffeted around like a cork in a maelstrom. Ray was handling the boat as well as he could until a large wave shot them upwards and they came crashing down on a wing dam with enough force to send Ray falling to the deck and throwing Tony over the side. Fortunately, they were both wearing life-jackets, Ray recovered very quickly, he tossed a line to Tony who was floating just a few feet from the boat. Tony scrambled back on board and Ray regained control of the vessel, which didn’t appear to be any the worse for wear despite the force of the collision with the wing dam. At least now, because of the paddle steamer’s actions, Ray was assured that the gap was indeed an entrance to a marina. Once more, Ray lined the boat up with the marina’s entrance and gave the engine enough throttle to overcome the waves, wind, and current.
They were welcomed at the entrance to the marina by a crudely painted sign that said ‘State Marina of Missouri’ but Ray was more interested in watching the crew of the paddle steamer negotiating their docking into one of the vacant slips. There was an empty slip beside the boat and Ray aimed to pull into the neighboring dock, primarily to give the captain a piece of his mind for the man’s reckless seamanship. But as Ray began to turn the boat into the empty slip the vessel felt sluggish, there didn’t appear to be anything wrong with the engine but after a month or so on the boat, he had a pretty good feel for it and something was definitely wrong. Ray managed to dock the boat, albeit with some difficulty, Tony, despite being soaked right through, was immediately out of the boat and on the dock to secure the vessel. Ray went below, anticipating a cabin full of water but was surprised to find none. Ray checked the bilges, there was water in them but no more than would be expected given the inclement conditions.
“What’s wrong Ray?” Tony shouted from the doorway.
“I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel right after that crash, but I can’t find anything wrong,” Ray responded, still trying to figure out the problem.
“Funny you should say that,” Tony replied, “I thought it was my imagination, but it looks as though the boat is sitting a little lower in the water than it should be.”
“Really?” Ray said and brushed past Tony to lean over the side to get a better look. “I think you’re right Tony. Damn,” Ray said, then stood and thought for a few seconds before continuing. “I think our journey ends here. Perhaps mystery man can make the swap here instead of St. Louis. I’m going to have to contact him.”
“But we should only be contacting him in the case of an emergency unless of course, we are in St. Louis, which we’re not,” Tony said.
“Well, that’s just about true in both cases,” Ray responded as they were both standing on the boat in the pouring rain. He saw the confused look on Tony’s face, so he tried to explain, “I don’t know what’s wrong with the boat, but it has taken on water, it’s too risky to take it any further. And we were supposed to call him when we were an hour from St. Louis, which we are. The only difference is, we’re not going to be able to continue our trip to St. Louis, so maybe they could transfer the package here.”
“I see what you are saying, makes sense. O.K.” Tony agreed.
Ray went down below to retrieve the special radio that had been handed to them that first day on the boat, he pressed the call button, but there was no reply to his signal. He tried again, but still received no response.
“Maybe the weather has something to do with not being able to get through,” Ray suggested.
“Maybe we should try the regular radio, that’s what the man said,” Tony suggested. Ray moved over to the radio in the bulkhead, he verified that the channel was set to 16 and said the code, “Halifax is in Canada.” There was no immediate response and Ray was about to repeat the emergency code when there was a reply.
“Hold.” Was the succinct reply. A moment later the familiar voice of the mystery man came through the airwaves.
“Switch to channel 70.” Was all that the mystery man said. Ray followed instructions and repeated the code.
“What’s the problem?” Mystery man asked.
“We’re approximately 15 miles short of St. Louis in a marina named the State Marina of Missouri, on the west side of the river. Unfortunately, the conditions are bad out here and we were cut up by a paddle steamer, we don’t think we can travel any further.” Ray explained and waited for the mystery man’s response.
“Stay put.” The mystery man replied, and the radio went dead. Ray and Tony just looked at each other, no preamble, no explanation, just ‘stay put’. They then realised that they were both soaked through and decided to get changed before their muscles ceased up. By the time they had changed into dry clothes, two things happened almost simultaneously. They began to hear music playing on the paddle steamer and a man in a sou’wester was standing on the dock crying out to them, “ahoy there, ahoy.”
Ray came top-side and stood under the bimini to try and keep dry as he confronted the man who was calling to them from the dock. There were very little of his features that could be seen under all his foul-weather gear.
“Hi, what’s up?” Ray asked politely.
“You can’t stay here, this is a private marina, you have to move on.” The man was quite officious and was giving them no dispensation for the terrible conditions. Ray noticed the man had a large bushy, grey, nicotine-stained mustache that went up and down as he spoke.
“We can’t, we have mechanical issues.” Ray calmly replied.
“I don’t care, you have to leave, there’s another marina just down river.” The man was insistent.
“We came in here to shelter from the storm as did they,” Ray said, pointing to the paddle steamer, then he added, “by the way, who are you?”
“I’m the dockmaster,” he said, pointing to himself, full of his own importance, then to accentuate the point he pulled down his hood to reveal his cap, resplendent with a badge that spelled ‘DOCKMASTER’. Then he continued, “and their presence has nothing to do with you. They are allowed to be here, you’re not.” The belligerent old man said, “you’ve got one hour to leave, or I’ll be calling the police.” Then, to avoid any further confrontation he briskly walked away. Ray and Tony smiled at each other, the fact was, they couldn’t go anywhere, and they were certain that the mystery man would soon arrive to take care of them.
What they didn’t know was just how he was going to take care of them.