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Cute mountain goat kid
Alaska 2014
  • Territory: Washington State, British Columbia, Alaska
  • Time: May - August, 4312 miles traveled
  • Vessel: "Teacup", Nordic Tug 37
  • Primary Activity: Perform emergency repairs while drifting toward rocks.

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Even though the basic goal of boating is to have a nice time, sometimes real adventure makes an appearance. And alongside adventure, from time to time real danger shows up uninvited. This season, while crossing Prince William Sound in a high wind, I lost all engine power and had to repair my engine while drifting out of control toward a rocky shore — but I won't spoil the article I've written about that adventure.

On the topic of danger, here in this introduction I think I'll describe some other occasions I've been at real risk, most of which don't involve boating.

Don't Step on Bears

Years ago, when I lived in rural Oregon, I would hike through the Rogue River wilderness and camp. One day I got to my favorite camping spot next to a big, deep pool in the river, dropped my backpack, and walked over to a stream to get some water. The campsite was located in a big sunlit meadow, but the stream was located behind a treeline in a dark, shaded area. As I stepped across the boundary between the sunlit meadow and the shaded trees, I felt something distinctly unnatural underfoot, something soft. That something was a sleeping bear, who jumped up, growled and backed away a few steps.

Since then I've been close to a lot of bears, mostly in Alaska, but that was as close as I've ever been to a bear. I backed away a few steps as well, said, "Sorry!", turned 90 degrees, and made my way to the stream for my water.

Since he didn't instantly jump me or run away, it occurred to me that this bear was accustomed to being around people at that campsite. But bears who become accustomed to people are in some ways more risky than wild bears, so I kept my eye on this bear. It was summertime and there was plenty of bear food around, so I didn't think I was in much danger after we established a physical distance more suitable than the moment I stepped on him. Then, as I filled my water bottles, he got curious and moved in too close. I just turned toward him and said, "Hey — that's too close." He immediately backed away.

The funny thing about this story is that when tent camping I sometimes worry about meeting bears, but that night I slept more soundly than usual — after all, I didn't have to imagine what bears might be out there. I had met the neighborhood bear, and he seemed all right.

Indian Ocean Pirates

Next story. During my around-the-world solo sail, while crossing the Timor Sea northwest of Australia, I was approached by a vessel whose occupants tried to board my boat. I successfully held them off with a shotgun. I later found out that boats go missing in that area from time to time — they just disappear. My theory is that people don't defend themselves aggressively enough, the pirates get aboard, then they toss the skipper overboard and claim the boat as salvage. The idea is that, once there's no one aboard a boat, it can be legally claimed as an abandoned vessel.

On seeing my shotgun and the look on my face, the pirates decided I was serious, they backed off, and I sailed away.

Rapid Descent

Next story. During my time as a pilot, I would go to airshows and perform stunts in a robust plane I owned called a "Super Cub", a Piper Cub equipped with a particularly powerful engine and suitable for aerobatics. My favorite stunt was to ascend to 10,000 feet, kill the engine and stop the propeller from turning (for added drama), then wing over and tailspin down to about 5,000 feet, then resume controlled flight and do a few loops — all this on the energy of the descent — before restarting the engine and landing.

Well. During one airshow, after spinning, looping, and getting pretty close to the ground, I decided it was time to restart the engine. I dove to gain a little speed and start the propeller spinning, but even though the prop began turning, the engine refused to catch. By this time I was dangerously close to the ground, so, realizing I might not be able to either restart the engine or control precisely where I landed, I turned away from the airport to avoid endangering the crowd. Unfortunately the airport was surrounded by thick woods, not a nice place to put down. At this point the prop has been spinning for 15 seconds with the ignition turned on, but no power. Finally, about a hundred feet above the ground, I realized the engine had gotten flooded during my long stunt. So I pulled the fuel mixture control out to the full lean position while trying to avoid descending any faster than necessary.

Within seconds the lean mixture setting cleared the excess fuel from the engine, the engine came to life, and I turned back toward the airport. After I landed, the show organizer said, "Wow — that late engine restart was pretty dramatic. I've never seen that before. Do you usually include that in your show?" I replied, "That wasn't part of the show."

Crazy Person

There's a reason I've saved this story for last. My high-water mark for personal danger didn't involve bears, pirates or airplanes, but a sociopathic housewife who talked me into befriending her son, then, months later, furious that I only wanted to pass time with her son, not her, made a false and dangerous accusation (a story fully told here). Fortunately I had kept her e-mails, which proved she was lying, so the authorities rejected her story out of hand. Then her son found out about her false accusation and resolved never to speak to her again. Finally a background check revealed she had accused other men in much the same way — she had a personal history of false accusations. In retrospect I realize she was a mentally sick and very dangerous person, and not all life's dangers involve wild animals, boats and dead-stick airplanes. She was a pathological liar, and it was my folly to have trusted her.

In spite of how common stories like this are, most men won't reveal them — they're embarrassing and the risk exists that someone will think there's some truth to a false accusation. I tell this story because I realized such liars depend on the silence of past victims, which frees them to lie again, confident that their past won't be exposed. When she targeted me, she chose the wrong victim.

I hope you enjoy this year's articles. Navigate using the arrow keys and drop-down lists at the top and bottom of each page.

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