The Wild Thing idles into the small mirror-surfaced bay, dark evergreens, idling boats, fuel dock and seagulls reflected in twinned mirror images of a gentle blue morning sky.
Waiting our turn to fuel up after fishing all night; sparkling, iridescent salmon, weighed and delivered. Mickeys of rum and vodka resting on the bunk. A small paper bag holding my wages, 3 stacks of 100 bank-banded, fresh, crisp dollar bills, a few fifties and a couple hundreds, all the stray leftovers of cash from an almost full packer.
On the stove, cowboy coffee bubbling and a lovely little, fresh-caught breakfast jack spring in the oven, delicious aromas drifting around the cabin. From the open window: mouth-watering scents of bacon sizzling and bread toasting, carried gently on the calm air, along with the damp salt smell of the sea.
Captain Courageous up in the flying bridge, low growl of jimmy diesel purring inside the cabin. Out the window, an 80-foot American yacht is tied at the fuel dock, side on. Our friend Les, tied at the perpendicular dock, bow facing us, stove pipe wisping a thin stream of smoke.
Les in the stern with the gas hose, waving, smiling, gesturing. “Come along side”, he calls, “you can tie up next to me.” “How did you do, how was it?” “great!” “good fishing!” “Let’s get together and play some music later.”
I’m looking forward to breakfast, getting off the boat, a shower and sleep. The weekend is here, no opening for 3 days. Time to do laundry, re-stock the grub, mend the net, tinker with the mechanics and hydrolics, whatever chores need doing… and then party-time!
I jump off the captain’s seat in the cabin, step over to the stove, oven mitt the coffee pot to a cooler section of the stovetop, bend over to unlatch the oven door. The scent of steaming fresh fish and coffee swirls around me, while through the window a tinge of gas-scent drifts in.
I glance up, savouring the double-vision of water, boats, dock and forest, meeting at beach-edge and reflecting the solemn unbroken dark green wall of fir, hemlock and spruce, rain-forest giants packed close together. My gaze idly drifts to the gas dock, wondering if it’s our turn for fueling.
What the hell!!!!!
The cabin roof bows inwards like the skin of a beaten drum, a woosh of air expelled and inhaled in cabin windows, my ears ring with the percussion. A kabooming echo half a second later. Shattering glass and pieces of wood hurtling at the front of the cabin, a ball of flame erupting from the dock in front of us. A frightening, terrible explosion of noise and chaos, fire racing and spreading across the water, over the dock planks, up the creosote-encrusted pilings of the fuel dock.
Raw gasoline still pouring into the disappeared stern of Les’s boat. The sides and stern blown apart, separating, the stern slowly sinking, the still-lit stove pipe gently tilting. Sides and stern are fiercely burning, crackling, hissing; flames of blue, red, and orange devouring, spreading, menacing. The fire, spreading out over the bay in concentric circles propelled by concussion, wafting black, oily smoke and soot, with here and there random items of debris: a shirt, a boot, a floating coffeepot, a musical instrument case.
But Les! where is Les?
No sign of Les, fire racing towards the Wild Thing, horror of recalling the stock of gas tanks, diesel tanks, oil drums and assorted flammables on the upper deck of the fuel dock, the fire reaching 15 feet up the piling and scorching the deck.
A greasy, oily head pops up amid the blazing waves 30 feet away. Captain Courageous bolts off the flying bridge, hurtles across the deck and jumps into the stern. Grasping the stern controls, he spins the wheel hard over, shifts into reverse and throttles up, plowing through the flaming chaos towards that disappeared head.
We see the head dive down, swim 3 feet, pop up again, still engulfed in flame and smoke. Wild Thing manoeuvers closer, shifts to neutral, drifts closer to the last sight of that bobbing head, submerged again, weakened.
Where is he? Surrounded by flame and smoke, hard to see, choking and gasping. We see Les’ head pop up once more, 2 feet away. we drift closer, he swims two struggling strokes toward us. Hang on! he grips the stern, drapes his arms over the side, too exhausted and breathless for more. We desperately hang on to his arms as Wild Thing shifts into forward and throttles carefully out of the blazing hell.
Les’ shocked eyes staring up at us, thankful, pleading, amazed. He’s weak, emotional, exhausted, maybe injured. He’s greasy and slippery and heavy and wet. Captain Courageous and I try to lift him into the stern. No can do.
“Grab him by the belt to lift him!” I crouch down on my knees on the deck, grip the side rail, lean out and grasp his belt. With all three of us together, we heave Les aboard. He’s gasping and panting, crying, “I couldn’t breathe in the flames, I thought I was done for, I thought I was going to die!”
Les’ shirt and sweater are melted or blown off his back from waist to shoulders, his dripping hair and lashes and brows singed, face death’s head white under a coating of soot. But he’s conscious and talking, laughing with relief and thankfulness.
Meanwhile, the American yacht has finally untied and motored rapidly away from the blazing explosive fuel dock, the dock master has shut off the gas hose, and brought out the fire extinguisher, layering smothering foam across the wooden deck.
A four man zodiac launches from the yacht, skimming towards us with three chaps aboard. “I’m a doctor,” one calls, “can I help?” They drift to the side, we help Les climb down into their craft, they zoom off back to the yacht.
The fuel dock piling is still blazing, fifteen foot flames licking and flaring up towards the fuel tank-laden upper deck. The lower dock still crackling and burning, the starboard cabin walls, deck and hull of Les’ boat sinking slowly, burned tie lines parting.
Engage hydrolics, switch on the deck hose, splatter and spray seawater over the burning pilings and decks of the fuel dock. The fire on the water is slowly burning out, random bits of debris floating gently towards the beach. Slowly, slowly the fire burns out and dies down, except for a blazing rim of flames along the shore.
We spot Les’ trombone case, floating triumphantly nearby, so Captain Courageous and Superwoman spring into action once more. Gaff hooking the handle of the music case, we haul it aboard. We climb up to the flying bridge, and cruise over to the yacht, now drifting just outside the bay. The doctor reports little damage, burst ear drum, some burns on the back, medivac has been summoned. We hand up the trombone case for Les, not knowing that it contains, along with his precious trombone, four thousand dollars from the cash buyer – enough to cover the season’s expenses. He’s lost his boat, his season but he’s alive.
I find a six-inch shard of glass shaped like a dagger beside Captain C. on the seat of the flying bridge. Lucky escape, it didn’t stab him or poke out his eye.
Wild Thing backs away from the yacht, ready to head around the corner, past the net shed, the engine shop, the ice plant and the grocery store in Namu, and further around to the fishing floats, where all our friends are tied up or just coming in.
As we slowly motor away, the yachtsmen stand along the port rail, fisted right hands raised, left hands clutching their balls. Message clear and unmistakeable.