The Strange Tale of Captain Dan
Experienced detectives and defense attorneys don't see eye to eye on many things, but there is one point on which they all agree. The worst witnesses to an event are --- people. It may be universally accepted that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," but I offer up the proposition that this statement would be just as accurate if amended to read "truth is in the eye of the beholder". As an example I submit to you "The Strange Tale of Captain Dan", or alternately called "Greg, Paul and Ed's Great Adventure." This tale will be presented by the three witnesses who participated in the events of that evening; judge for yourself the ease with which the facts can be determined.
There are nights on the river when the warm breezes buoy the spirits of the giddy paddler, while he is being propelled by the current toward his intended destination. He and his companions glory in the ease with which they are returning home, and inevitably raise the cry "it doesn't get any better than this." But then there are the nights when we have offended Maldonia, the Outhousian goddess of wind and waves, and we are put through a series of trials to see if we are indeed worthy. We all are blessed with relatives who claimed to have walked five miles to and from school, uphill both ways, and we have snickered at these boasts. But on nights when Maldonia is displeased, does anyone deny that no matter which way you turn, the wind is always full in your face? Or that the waves attack from the four points of the compass, as well as from directly below your kayak? Or that the buckets of water thrown in your face, by those invisible hands lurking below the surface, are laced with just enough sediment to add to the sting, but without leaving marks that substantiate your claim of foul play? Such was the night of Tuesday, April 25, 2006 --- a night destined to go down in the history of the Malden Yacht Club as the night that "it really doesn't get any better than this."
I had arrived at the boat launch a little bit early, and was surprised to see Greg pacing along the shore. I couldn't help but notice that the white caps on the water were not running in the usual North-South direction, but rather appeared to be "side waves." Somewhat agitated, Greg pointed out that there was a sailboat beached on the mud flats, and that it was very much listing to the south. It was obvious that he was chomping at the bit to investigate. After Splash arrived, we set off for the distressed vessel with visions of rescuing a trio of damsels-in-distress.
The trip East was exciting, to say the least. I had all I could do to try to hold a wavy straight line, and I feared cutting off Greg or Paul with very wet results. (It's fair to say that we were soaked anyway, so being fully immersed would only have resulted in a slower crossing). As I got nearer to the stranded boat, I noticed two things: the sail boat was leaning in at least a 45 degree angle, and my paddle was hitting bottom. On reaching the boat, I caught a fortuitous wave and surged around the stern. Sheltered in the lee of its bulk, I hailed the boat and inquired if everything was alright. Expecting the stoical "Yes", I was surprised to hear an emphatic "No".
Practically hidden behind the main mast was the diminutive Captain Dan, and he was most definitely not a damsel-in-distress. Recalling to mind the typical sidekick of pirate captains in those "B" movies from the '50's, Captain Dan had long ago said goodbye to his youth. He was alternately cheerful, distressed, confused and complaining of pain to an injured arm. Unable to satisfactorily explain how he found himself in this position (his 1965 sail boat had been on "auto-pilot"), he could not comprehend which direction was North, or for that matter, which was South, nor was he capable of raising any assistance by whatever means of communication he had on board (it occurred to me that he would have been better off with Allen's two cans and a string than he was with his vessel's inoperable radio). Captain Dan also didn't have any better idea than we did on what to do in this situation, and he had had a considerably longer time to think about it. Fortunately for him, between Splash, the Bad Idea Man and myself, we were able to formulate a plan for the rescue of Captain Dan.
"Saga of Cap'n Dan"
Come and listen to our story 'bout a man named Dan Who ran his little sailboat hard and fast upon the sand We said the tide is running out, it's really shallow here And all the time Dan just looked glum and offered us no beer Green bottles Long necks that is
Since I had a phone in my car, it was only logical that I should return to the Malden park and contact the authorities. Greg remained with Captain Dan, perhaps to point out the deficiencies in his chosen means of transportation and to take advantage of the opportunity to sell him a car. After taking a look at the conditions on the river, Paul decided to accompany me to make sure I didn't encounter problems I couldn't handle. I was secretly thrilled by that decision. The plan having been made, Paul and I set out for the West shore.
Maldonia was in an obstreperous mood; in the brief time that we conferred near the sail boat, the wind increased in velocity and shifted direction so that it was now roaring directly out of the West. Blast you, Maldonia - not now; time is of the essence! We struggled forward, aiming for the park, but settling for any place on the West side of the river. During these slooowww moving minutes, there was a persistent gnawing from someplace within me intimating that things are not as they seem. There was another explanation for Captain Dan's presence that I should be able to discern, but what ….. ?…In 1990, a modern day explorer, by the name of Peter Lourie, canoed the length of the Hudson River. Except for the portion of the river from Lake Tear of the Clouds through the Hudson River Gorge, he paddled solo, thus providing ample time for philosophical reflection. His account of his journey is contained in the book "River of Mountains", and I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in paddling on the Hudson. How strange that I would think about this book now...
As we neared the shore, I noticed that Gerhard Benzenhofer was standing on his dock, and appeared to be keenly interested in our progress. I headed in his direction in hope of saving time by enlisting his aid in calling Sea Tow. I later found out that he had been studying the situation, and had already taken action. He informed me that he had called the Town police, and that a police officer would be awaiting our arrival at the park to receive and evaluate our report. Duty bound, we turned right and headed north. And the gnawing persisted…
…In addition to chronicling the details of his trip, Lourie instructed his readers on the both the geology and history of the region he passed through. The mud flats we had just left are a large area North of Saugerties that turn green with vegetation during the summer. Although totally submerged, at low tide the water level may be as low as one foot. Evidence suggests that centuries ago, there was a large sand bar rising above the surface near the center of the mud flats, but that the effects of countless floods have erased that sandbar from the landscape …
We finally arrived at the Park seconds after a young police officer. Zealous in the performance of his duties, he started to interrogate me to the point that I wondered if he was going to read me my rights. He kept pressing me for details, and everyone knows that the devil is in the details. He should have been talking to Paul - one look at his beautifully crafted kayak would have told him that Paul has an eye for details. In fact, it is now time to turn this narrative over to Paul for an accurate account of the events of the day.
It was a Tuesday, warm and breezy. I noticed the sailboat as I rounded the curve onto Riverside Drive. The angle of the mast to the water was close to 45 degrees, either she was turning hard or she was stuck in the shallows. Arriving at the boat launch, I noticed the sailboat in the same position and same angle. Stuck hard in the mud was looking to be true.
I met with MAC and Mr. Bad Idea at the boat launch. We thought a little adventure would liven up the evening so we decided to visit the marooned craft and rescue any damsels it may hold. Paddling towards the east shore was more fun than usual. The wind was coming from over our left shoulder and giving us waves to surf. The enjoyment of that ride should have filled me with dread at the return trip, but I wasn't thinking that far ahead. The thought of friendly and appreciating female sailors was occupying my thoughts.
Only one person could be seen as we neared the capsizing craft. A gnarly looking old sailor called to us and seemed relieved that we had arrived. Little did he know that there wasn't any immediate help we could offer. Cap'n Dan as he is called, explained that he had no idea how this happened. He has sailed this route 12 times before with out any problems. And he was using the Autopilot so obviously there was something wrong with that and it wasn't his fault. We explained to Cap'n Dan the layout of the Hudson in the area he found himself. How shallow it was way out in the middle of the wide river. Our assessment of Dan's mental capabilities dropped a little when we had to repeatedly point out North and South.
Cap'n Dan thought that he would just anchor nearby when he was free of his predicament. Greg suggested that he find a spot in the Esopus Creek since it would provide a protected berth. He then pointed the direction and said "Just turn right (west) past the light house, there is a marina there." to which the Cap'n replied "the light house?" Greg, in an effort to be clear and helpful responded with "yes, the house with the light on top."
This sort of conversation would go on all evening. Which way is north? Where is the channel? The channel is over there? I don't see how this happened.
While Greg and MAC discussed possible avenues to safety, I paddled around the leaning hulk looking for damage that would require repairs before the tide rose.
Fortunately for Cap'n Dan, there wasn't anything worse than a barnacle infestation. I did notice the ship's name
Adventure Gal II. I asked if this meant that there were damsels in distress that needed rescuing. Dan replied
that isn't the type of treasure I'm after.
Since the stranded Cap'n Dan couldn't reach anyone on his radio, Ed offered to use his cell phone which was back at the boat launch in his car. I decided to go back with him, leaving Greg to keep a watch on the boat and crew. I knew he would take this opportunity to sell a car as it is obviously a less dangerous method of traveling. I should mention that I did not have the lower back support (part of the kayak seat) with me. This enables me to lean back and use the patented Roy paddling technique. This is very comfortable in calm water but not so in the fury of the winds we faced that night. I want to make it clear that that is the reason Ed quickly outpaced me, not because he has some superior strength or ability. I was hindered by my equipment. Anyway, I digress...
The paddle west was one of those times I would normally have enjoyed. Plenty of wind pushed waves to crash through. Each one burying the bow of my Guillemot and splashing water over the spray skirt, sometimes up to my face. But... it was hard, real hard. Knowing that Cap'n Dan had been out there alone for some time and needing help kept me going. I would have loved to practice edging and other cool kayak tricks, but this was no pleasure trip and there was no time for fun.
Ed and I both headed our boats roughly NNW, a 45 degree angle to the river, always heading towards the dock. The strong south going current had us travel almost due west. There were people on the small dock at citizen Benzenhofer's house and Ed headed there. Someone there had seen the predicament and called the Sheriff, knowing they have a boat on the river. The response to the call for aid went something like this "We don't have anyone to pilot the boat." The Benzenhofers were in contact with the Saugerties Town Police and mentioned to them that the kayakers were coming back. The police decided to send someone to the Malden boat launch to investigate and take statements from the kayakers.
Since Ed was still ahead of me, even after stopping at the Benzenhofer dock, he gave a full report to the police officer, including the fact that Cap'n Dan had injured his shoulder. Ed was thanked for his assistance and was asked his name, address, phone number, shoe size, preference for boxers or briefs (he said it depends), political party and even his middle name. We figured that they needed this information for the award he would surely get for being a big help. We were told that help had been called.
Having performed our duty, Paul and I headed back to the sailboat to wait with Greg. Maldonia was no longer able to interfere with our mission, so the winds naturally abated, and our trip was uneventful. While we were gone, Greg took advantage of his opportunity to try to obtain useful information about Captain Dan. His vast professional experience has made him a skillful negotiator, and he pried and probed into the psyche of our poor, stranded sailor. His report follows:
"I had the opportunity to chat with Cap'n Dan while waiting for Ed and Paul to get back. Some things he said stuck in my mind as the conversation continued:
Been sailing for 24 years On the way to Kingston (pointing South This has never happened to me before My shoulder hurts I'll head North when I get unstuck (pointing South) I don't know what happened
I told him to keep his eye on the mouth of the creek for the Sheriff's boat. He asked me where the creek was and I said it was at the lighthouse. He then looked right at it and asked which was the lighthouse, to which I replied it was the big house with the light on the top. He said 'Oh, that's South of here… I hurt my shoulder…This has never happened to me before.' Do we see a pattern here?"
So Captain Dan was a little confused … or was he? Might he be a "deep cove" intent on hiding his personal history? And still, the gnawing continued …
…Some of Peter Lourie's lessons were surprising. For example, did you know that the legendary pirate, Captain William Kidd, was once a resident of Columbia County? According to legend, in 1696 Captain Kidd was hired by Robert Livingston to be the Master and Commander of the ship Adventure Galley. Kidd recruited his crew from the Hudson Valley, and set off to attack pirate ships and steal their treasure. Eventually he realized that there was more profit in attacking commercial vessels, so he became a pirate himself...
We reunited with Greg and waited. Each of us speculated on what form the rescue vessel would take, how it would attempt to approach the sailboat, and who would be manning it. I recalled my initial conversation with Captain Dan, when I pointed out that the Coast Guard had a boat on the Esopus, and suggested he should try to raise them by radio; he muttered that he didn't want to have anything to do with them. Curious.
At last, we saw a boat leaving the Esopus, and directly afterward we heard the siren wailing. This latter event so startled Greg, that he wondered if he should be buckling his seat belt. Our initial joy was replaced by shock when we saw the boat head up the main channel. It was obvious to us that the rescue boat would not get within 300 yards of the sailboat by going that route. It was time to find out what their plan was, so I headed off to rendezvous with the rescuers out in the deep water. Once again, I was beset by the notion that I was missing something, and the gnawing returned…
…Captain Kidd's reign as a pirate was as spectacular and brief, as a shooting star. Sailing on the Hudson, he was caught in a violent storm and his ship sunk. The site of the ship wreck is at a place called Jone's Point (formerly called Kidd's Point), in the vicinity of Peekskill. Legends differ as to the direction Kidd was sailing when his ship sunk: was it North or was it South (I believe that some sailors do confuse the two), and what happened to his treasure?…
Ed and I paddled back to relieve Greg and relay the information to the grounded sailor. With an aching back and thoughts of the 2nd return trip I mentioned to Ed "this will be a 2 beer night." While two beers is not uncommon, I have been trying to lower my caloric intake by giving up cookies and only having one beer after paddling. This night I would break those rules. As we sat in our kayaks close to the unmoving craft, we joined the conversation already in place: Which way is north. Where is the channel? The channel is over there? I don't see how this happened. We had the time and lack of anything better to do, so we stayed and listened as Cap'n Dan told us about purchasing the sailboat new in '65 and how he was traveling from Florida to Watertown, NY. Which way is north? Where is the channel? The channel is over there? I don't see how this happened. That isn't a typing mistake. Those statements and questions were repeated throughout the evening.
Along about now, someone noticed a light on the river, near the lighthouse. We wondered if this was the help we were all waiting for. Like watching a pot of water boil, it seemed to take forever for this light to get closer. Eventually, we could see that this was the flashing blue light of the sheriff's boat traveling in the main channel. Being the sort of person who enjoys the quiet of human powered travel, either on bicycle or kayak, and mostly annoyed at those who pay lots of money for gasoline guzzling pleasure craft but can't afford a good muffler, I was thrilled to hear the siren wailing as the Sheriff grew closer. We would have pulled over, but we already were. The combination of blue emergency lights and siren let everyone on shore know that something big was going down.
A fact to remember is that the sailboat was hung up in the shallow water, only about 16 inches deep at this point. The sheriff must have known this since he stayed in the deep water, unable to get closer. We all kind of sat there and stared at each other across the great distance. A fishing boat filled with unknown citizens approached the Sheriff. What was said between them remains unknown. Probably they were asked to produce their fishing licenses and the boat registration. I'm sure that their middle names were also recorded. We could see a transfer of crew from the Sheriff's boat to the fishing boat. We wondered if we were witnessing some sort of naval boarding and commandeering as had happened often in the days of tall sailing ships.
The fishing boat with its owner and one man in uniform started coming towards us. We could see them feeling their way, searching for water deep enough to maneuver through. They didn't get very far when Ed decided to paddle over and check them out. I just sat there. Soon, something happened that will go down in Malden Yacht Club history, more famous than the raft construction debacle. Ed was towing the fishing boat! At first we thought it was just a slow speed chase with Ed keeping the lead by about 15 feet. As they got closer we could see the rope and we noticed that the motor was up. Greg an I both offered to relieve Ed's towing duty, but he refused (wanting to keep all the glory to himself).
The fishing boat was tied to the sailboat and the health of Cap'n Dan was ascertained. The sheriff informed Cap'n Dan that Sea Tow was on its way to retrieve the unmoving vessel. Dan informed the sheriff that he had no money. I'm not sure if he said that because he thought he was being mugged. Everyone was careful with the injured arm as Dan was transferred into the fishing boat.
Once again, the rescuers needed to be towed. This time Greg and Ed tried acting as a team, both of them tethered to the boat like a team of oxen. What happened next was almost comical to those of us who were just sitting in our boats doing nothing. Ok, it was just me sitting there. The wind and current played with the paddlers at their task. None of the three seemed to go in the same direction. The powerless fishing boat even passed the towers at one point. In frustration, Ed jumped out of his boat and began pushing! Visions of Ed sinking in quicksand soon gave rise to shouts of "I get his boat" by one and all. The 35 HP motor was dropped into the water and started. The boat didn't move but boy did it spit out some icky muddy water. Since this attempt failed, the motor was retrieved and pushing began anew. Progress was made to deeper water and the motor was tried again. This time was successful.
The Cap'n was transferred again, this time to the Sheriff's boat and the fishing crew got back into theirs. We kayakers shouted "Good Bye, Cap'n Dan" as we paddled back to Malden.
In the meantime, Mike had seen the commotion and met us at the boat launch. His help in landing and stowing the kayaks was appreciated. Indeed this turned out to be a two beer night and its a good thing I had only brought two. As we stood there recounting the events that had just unfolded, we wondered at the fate of Cap'n Dan and his boat. No one had anchored the sailboat, and no one was aboard to steer her when the tide rises. Would the Sheriff wait for the tide and reunite Dan with his mistress? It had grown dark which greatly diminished the visibility, but we could see a boat travel up along the east channel with a spot light on the sailboat. We thought this might be Sea Tow and they would recover her. Alas they eventually headed south, disappearing into the darkness. So did we.
Next day: Greg reported that there was no sign of "Adventure Gal II", Cap'n Dan's vessel. Did it float quietly away with the changing tide? Did it get towed to a protected harbor? Did Dan ever find true North? Will a song be written? Can we get anymore nautical miles out of this? Will anyone care?
Paul has covered the transfer of Captain Dan from the sail boat to the sheriff's boat, so you see that this tale had a happy ending for us. Indeed, in Paul's own words, "this was a two beer evening." Greg was so pleased that he was inspired to create another song:
The Sail Boat on the Flats
Sit right down and then have a beer and I'll tell of a blowing gale of three intrepid kayakers and a sailboat trip from hell a sailboat trip from hell The sailboat struck the sand you see and was listing hard to port and Cap'n Dan was heard to say am I looking south or north When Paul and Ed and Greg got there the water was two feet deep the tide was still then going out the list was really steep the list was really steep His boat was called Adventure Gal II and it looked like he really whacked her Dan said the same things over and over I expected 'Polly want a cracker' He crewed the boat all by himself he was Cap'n and first mate too His eyes were cocked and in a whirl I think he was into the brew A call was made - the police boat came with siren and lights ablaze Ed tied a rope and towed them in Cap'n Dan was in a haze So now the sailboat's gone you see the tide came in last night if not for the courage of the fearless three it could have been a fright it could have been a fright There was Paul Van B and Greg was there with Ed in charge they tell on a windy night in Malden On a sailboat trip from hell On a sailboat trip from hell
If the story ended here, you could leave this adventure with a warm, fuzzy feeling. But have all the questions been answered? And although it had a happy ending for us, did it end happily for Captain Dan? The three kayakateers paddled back to the park under a sky illuminated by a spectacular sunset. Plumes of crimson filled the evening, creating the impression of blood in the sky. While awesome to view, this sight added to that vague feeling of unease that had hovered over me all night. There were loose ends that I needed to tie up.
After a brief celebration with my companions, I reexamined the more unusual occurrences in hope that I could put this malaise to rest. For one thing, it is a wonder that Captain Dan made it so far into the flats before beaching. One would think that he would have been more likely to run aground near the edge of the marshy area. If the sail boat was an arrow and the mud flats a target, Captain Dan would have scored a bulls eye.
And some of you may have wondered why I would volunteer to do the towing and the pushing. The obvious answer would be that I happen to possess the two attributes necessary for these tasks: a strong back and a weak mind. But I believe that the explanation is more complex. In most people, the brain is organized so that the area that forms a concept immediately sends it to another area, which evaluates and filters the concept until it is a fully formed idea; then it sends it to other areas of the body for appropriate action. In my case, however, as a tried and true Malden Yacht Clubber, the area where the concept is formed is highly antagonistic toward rules and restraints, so it sends the concept directly to the mouth for inappropriate action, and then back to the filter for damage control. In other words, I spoke before I thunk. There were no noble intentions involved.
In fact, after I exited my kayak and began pushing the boat through the ooze and muck, I envisioned Humphrey Bogart in “The African Queen”, and I nervously waited for foot long leeches to try to gnaw through my dry suit. “Gnaw”! There it is again. But now the mental gnawing increased in intensity and I knew I was close to the answer. I had been concentrating on Captain Dan when I should have been focusing on the boat. The “Adventure Gal, II.” It wasn’t as famous as the “African Queen”, but I knew I had heard of it before. But where? My concentration faltered as Lourie’s book kept forcing itself into my mind. Wait! There must be a connection. What was the name of Captain Kidd’s boat … it was the Adventure Galley! The answer to the puzzle had to be in the Lourie book!
…The most popular version of the legend regarding Kidd's treasure holds that he was sailing up river when the storm hit, and that he buried his riches somewhere in the hills near Dunderberg Mountain, covering the chest with the body of a 200 pound bull mastiff. However, an alternate legend speculates that Kidd may have hidden his treasure near Germantown, and was returning to the sea when calamity struck. All legends agree that the treasure has never been found …
Could Captain Dan be a descendant of Captain Kidd's sidekick and be in possession of a centuries old map showing the location of Kidd's gold? Might he have been on a mission to recover the treasure? And what better place to bury a treasure would there be than under a sand bar in the center of the Mud flats, east of Malden, surrounded by water except during the lowest of tides? And if all this is true, was Captain Dan successful, or did we foil his attempt to retrieve the riches? We know that the sail boat is no longer there, but what about the treasure? … Maybe I'll see some of you on the mud flats.