It seems as if the two of us were always staring in to the deep blue, towards a point that we could only see. It was like that as we sat in Mike’s truck and day dreamed of finding the lost treasure somewhere out there, four-miles away and 250-feep deep.
Sitting there, I would spin the longest yarn about how I knew one of the men financing the project to search out the final resting place of the “Brother Jonathan.” I had worked for Paul over the summer and had heard very little about the project other than it had run short of cash.
That was always the biggest gamble with ‘treasure hunting,’ running out of cash once the search got real close. It was less than two years earlier the group had actually produced results in the form of off-color stills of what they claimed to be the wreck site.
Still it sparked our imagination. And although the wind blew a rain storm in off of the Pacific, it did not dampen our daydream about mounting a search for the lost side-wheeler and her golden bounty.
“I think we should just get a boat and go out to Jonathan Rock and dive on the wreck ourselves,” I offered.
Mike took another bite of his sandwich and shook his head ‘no.’ As soon as he could he said, “It’s too deep.”
Sighing, I knew Mike was right. Besides the group that had all the money but run out of cash, spent it on a submersible.
“Well, what if we used a great big vacuüm cleaner like device to suck up the sand and maybe some gold coin?” I asked, being a smart ass.
Mike laughed, “Yeah, 300 feet off hose and no way to aim it.”
We sat there in silence, dreaming until it was time to head back to school and class. Before we realized it we had graduated and went our separate ways.
It would be nearly five years before I thought about how me and Mike used to dream of finding gold together. Since then I had tried my hand at panning and slewing for gold, but that was jus’ for fun.
It wasn’t until one day I was driving by the memorial for the shipwreck that the memory sprang to life. I chuckled at the silliness of those youthful thoughts.
“We used to come here on most of our lunchtime and talk about finding the Brother Jonathan’s gold,” I told Adam as we slowly wheeled by the flag pole and marbled stones.
Adam looked out towards the sea.
“Do you think a fishing boat would get us out there?” he asked.
In complete surprise I looked at him. I didn’t know what to say.
“Well?” Adam repeated.
“Yeah,” I finally answered, “I guess so.”
We said nothing more as we drove back into town. Adam had to get to work and I needed to get home to Arcata.
Two weeks later I was sitting on the couch when the telephone rang.
“Hello,” I answered.
It was Adam.
“How long do you think it would take you to get up here?” he wanted to know.
“Ninety minutes,” I answered.
Adam responded, “Good, see you then.”
The telephone went dead.
Quick as I could, I grabbed up my jacket and a hat and raced to my truck. I slipped it onto northbound Highway 101 less than three minutes later from my ‘G’ Street place.
It was practically dark by the time I rolled into the driveway of the apartment that Adam and a friend rented. They both came trotting out lugging air tanks and scuba gear, tossing the equipment to the back of my truck. The metal on metal made a loud bang as each tank struck the trucks bed.
“What’s going on?” I asked as the pair climbed into the trucks cab.
“We got ourselves a fishing boat for the weekend,” Adam announced.
“Yup, my girlfriend’s brother is a boat captain and is taking us out,” said Robert, Adam’s friend.
“So where did you get…” I started.
“Belongs to my girl’s old man,” Robert cut me off before I could finish the question.
It was less than ten minutes before we wheeled into the parking lot of the harbor. I saw the boat even before I had the truck parked.
It was huge compared to the other vessels docked beside it.
“He’s from Alaska,” Robert offered.
The name on the bow of the craft read ‘Commodore.’
“Names Sammy Candia,” said the youthful looking man who shook my hand as I came on aboard the fishing boat.
“This here’s my sister Dee,” Sandy added.
She was a nice looking girl just over eighteen I guessed. Then it struck me as I shook her hand.
“Oh, your Robert’s girlfriend,” I said.
She smiled and nodded happily.
It was nearly 9 p. m. before we had everything stowed away. That included the 20 foot dory we sneaked off the pier.
Slowly Captain Candia powered up the diesel engines and backed the fishing vessel away from its slip and made for open water. The night lights of the little city were beautiful as they slowly shrank from sight, showing that the ‘Commodore’ was growing more and more distant from land.
“We’ll only be four miles offshore,” Adam said.
“Yes, but its dangerous waters because of sharp rocks,” reminded the Captain.
In less than two hours we were out near the site of the 1865 disaster. It was black over the calm sea as we stood at the boats railing, looking into nothingness.
Without warning, the mast lights popped on, temporarily blinding the four of us as we stood on deck. The flood lights high in the rigging spilled an odd glow over the ocean’s surface for nearly a hundred feet and still the space seemed empty.
“So what are those numbers again, Adam?” the Captain called out.
He wanted to know the exact latitude and longitude of the ships wreck. Adam looked at me.
Prepared, I was already digging in my hip pocket for my wallet.
“Latitude 41 degrees, Longitude 124 degrees,” I answered,“There’s the rest of the numbers you’ll need.”
The Captain went directly to work plotting our location in relationship to the site. I climbed back down to the deck level and started unleashing the dory.
Quickly, Adam and Robert were helping me slipped it over the side and into the water. After securing it, I decided I would start putting on one of the neoprene diving suits.
Soon Adam joined in. It took us about fifteen minutes of struggling to get into the wetsuits.
While we dressed, Robert and Dee checked the air cylinders and hoses of the dive tanks. Once done, they loaded them over the side of the vessel and into the waiting dory.
The ‘Commodore’ roared and shifted, moving from one angle to the next. As the large fishing boat closed in on its final positioning, we finished loading the dory.
Sammy came out and said, “We’re as close as we can get and we’ll only try this once.”
Both Adam and I nodded.
The plan was not to actually descend to the wreck itself, for that would be a fool-hearty act. The ship lay shattered and too far down to reach without a getting killed.
Instead we would just drop an anchor on top of the reef of rocks some seventy-five feet below with a rope attached and use the rope as a guide. Then using our underwater lights we hoped to pick up something, anything of value off the reef.
Gingerly, I slipped over the side of the boat. I had felt safe on the deck of giant fishing vessel and now I was giving that up for the uncomfortably of a twenty-foot boat made of timber.
Then Adam climbed aboard.
Slowly, he played out the rope that tethered us to the mother ship. Meanwhile, I watched for hazards in the water as we made our way forward.
We were nearly out of reach of the flood lights when there was a sudden bump. It was one of the rocks we needed to find. Quickly, I picked up the twenty-five pound anchor and launched it over the side.
The rope attached to it fell away with increasing speed until it went thump. The anchor struck nothing.
I felt heartsick as I realized perhaps all the stories were true and this rock was a real pinnacle that simply rose sharply from the sea bed.
Straining, I retrieved the anchor with the hopes of dropping it again, only on the other side of the rock. Again, the results were the same.
“There’s nothing there,” I said in an exasperate tone.
“Maybe it’s the wrong one,” Adam said, “Lets try another.”
“Okay,” I agreed.
Adam played out a little more line while I searched ahead for another rock in the water. There was nothing.
Without warning the tether Adam was holding went slack. He pulled on it in hopes of bringing it tight again. Instead he pulled in the end of the rope where the nylon had jus’ come undone from wear.
Suddenly, we found ourselves adrift in the open sea.
We caught a northerly current and quickly slid right past the ‘Commodore.’ And although we yelled and waved our flashlights, it was no use. No one saw us go by, and the engines steady thumping, drowned out our near panic-stricken voices.
Within seconds the darkness swallowed us and our little boat up. We knew we had to act fast to keep from becoming victims of the sea.
Immediately, I dropped the anchor overboard and jus’ as quickly started searching for the two paddles I had seen in the boats bottom. Meanwhile, Adam got rid of the excess rope, recognizing it was a hazard to our survival should we capsize.
To the best of my ability I tried to figure which way west was from our last known position.
“Adam, find me a reference point in the sky to row towards,” I said.
“Will the moon do?” he asked.
He pointed to my right.
“That would be south,” he added.
I didn’t say anything at the moment because I was feeling stupid for having not thought of that myself.
Together, we each manned an oar and slowly worked the dory farther out into the Dragon Channel. We discussed how the effect of the northbound current may have aided us by threading the hazards of Northwest Seal Rock from the Southwest Seal Rock.
We worked up a nasty sweat in our neoprene wetsuits as we rowed the wooden boat through the ever-increasing rough seas. Neither one knew how long it had been since the moon had disappeared from our sight.
The loss of our one bearing in an otherwise unrecognizable night caused a sense of fear to grip both of us. We didn’t have to say anything, because we could see the worry in each other’s eyes.
Quietly we sat side by side, sliding the tips of the oars in the water, cutting the dark ooze that slurped and threatened a certain death, anticipating the next catastrophe. Each of us felt as if he were a condemned man being readied for the blade of the guillotine.
It was in this anxious gloom that a small but piercing light shot across our eyes. We waited, transfixed, rowing all the while for the light to reappear. There is was again, just to their right.
“Did you see that?” Adam asked.
“Yeah,” I responded, “There’s another one.”
They were houses in the distance. We sat there for a minute talking over what we should do next.
“Shall we chance it?” I asked.
Adam shrugged his shoulders, “Why not.”
We turned the dory toward the lights and started rowing again.
Within a few minutes the boat seemed to slow down and then it jerked to a halt. We rowed as hard as we could, yet the craft refused to go any father.
It was at this moment I remembered the anchor I had dropped over board. I pulled on the rope finding it wedged firmly in the sea floor.
As fast as possible, I worked to loosen the rope from the boat. Once loose, the anchor fell away and the dory shot forward rapidly.
Seconds later the craft was running parallel to the coastline as waves pushed it towards the beach. Both of us put our backs into it and launched the boat with each wave at the shore, finally beaching the craft high enough to get out and thank our luck star.
“So where do you think we are?” I asked.
Adam shook his head, “Haven’t a clue.”
We started walking along the beach hoping to find away off it and maybe to a road. Not long after, we discovered a sign, ‘Kellogg Road,’ telling us we were north of the city and had a long walk ahead of us.
As we walked along the lonely stretch of dirt road, I suggested, “Let’s never do anything like this again, okay?”
“I’m with you on that,” Adam answered, “I think I get the meaning of Jonathan’s Point now.”
“Yeah, what’s that?” I asked.
“Better to be above ground than under it,” he replied.
We both laughed knowing we had cheated death.
“Think Rob, Dee and Sammy are worrying about us?” I wondered.
“Naw!” Adam shot back.
We laughed long and hard, finding it oddly funny.