The sound of anchor chain clanging aboard a neighboring boat rolls me out of the bunk, an automaton stumbling groggily to the forward helm. The Cummins diesel rumbles to life and the sleek thirty foot aluminum boat responds immediately to the thrust of her jet drive. I begin the chore of pulling the hook against maximum ebb on a 3 ft. minus tide. Hit the throttle, start pulling hard and when she veers off, reach over with the left hand, grab the helm, straighten the boat on the anchor line, adjust the throttle, then get back to pulling with both hands. When the chain clanks up on the bow roller, take a bight on the cleat, and with a few more gut wrenching heaves, some quick maneuvering of the boat, the anchor pulls free of the sticky-mud river bottom. The bow comes right around and even at idle, with eighteen feet of water dropping in 6 hours, Hangfire is racing quietly downriver on the tide, passing by the sleeping gillnet fleet.
Three boats lead Hangfire out the bar which is breaking heavily on this big ebb; the river and tide colliding in shallow water with a heavy ocean swell out of the Southeast. The throttle just above idle, Hangfire is making about fifteen knots when the two leading boats disappear into the crashing surf and rain fog, leaving only one boat visible ahead. I punch the throttle, catching up to the last boat and see that it is Miss Stephanie, a larger, more powerful aluminum rig running twin jets. Hanging back a couple of breaks to leave plenty of maneuvering room, Hangfire follows her into the maelstrom. We pass by the GPS marks where I usually cut to the East, out of the center channel and main flow of the tide. There is no hole visible, so I just stick tight with Miss Stephanie and keep on our course, straight out the bar, all the while berating myself for even pulling the pick, a bad decision arising from the exhaustion of weeks of continuous fishing.
At the same instant I see the “Wave”, Miss Stephanie does a pirouette at the crest of the breaker she’s on. Rising up a couple breaks behind the one on which Miss Stephanie had so neatly twirled, it stretched completely across Egg Island bar. Its foreboding bulk capped with a crest, appearing as a snow white cloud atop a mountain, and dwarfing the fifteen to twenty footers we were negotiating. Miss Stephanie shoots past me in the opposite direction, leaving Hangfire alone with that black, breaking wall of ocean towering above her.
Still one more twenty footer separates Hangfire and the Wave; I punch the throttle and crank the wheel hard to starboard. She spins smoothly on the glassy surface just under the curl, surfing down its coal black face in a desperate attempt to outrun death, but it is moving too fast and failing to catch the ride, the wave breaks underneath; Hangfire crashes over the crest broadside, tumbling awkwardly down a steep slope to the bottom of the trough. I give her full throttle and crank the helm hard to port, instinctively trying to bring the bow around as the “Big One” surges.
There is a sickening broadside heave from under the boat. The force of it hurling Hangfire like so much flotsam, nearly flipping her over. The added momentum of the heavy surge however, combined with the thrust from that big ten inch pump and helm hard over, sends Hangfire slicing across the face of the wave sideways in a futile attempt to scale its sheer vertical wall.
Twenty feet above her bow the pipeline forms, curling over, embracing Hangfire as it breaks. I crank the helm hard to starboard, shooting into the tube; the inertia presses me into the seat as she rolls up on her side and races along the wave, sheltered from the tons of water cascading from above.
Hangfire blows through the white curtain enveloping her, shooting down the sheer slope of the wave’s face, her extreme speed carries her up the back of the next wave to its crest where she goes airborne. Slamming down on the breaker’s face Hangfire surfs past Miss Stephanie's bow, who is powering in full reverse to meet the behemoth stern-on. The Wave releases its energy in a foamy fury around Miss Stephanie as Hangfire races over the top of the next wave.
Hangfire handles easily now as she takes the breakers one by one, retracing her steps back into the bar. Miss Stephanie goes barrelling by, having broken free of the bar’s grip as well. Together the two boats search the breaker patches around the inner reaches of the bar and, finding a hole, work their way out onto a calm sunlit ocean, sporting a very respectable swell.