The Ride

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We rolled out of Unalaska,
After a long hard blow.
Sitting around town was tough,
It sure felt good to go.

It was just before Thanksgiving,
So the fleet was laying at the dock.
But we were hungry and there to fish,
Not hang around the rock.

Breaking ice in the turning basin,
We figured, a cold hard trip.
We were young, tough, and eager,
As we gave Priest Rock the slip.

There was Jan, my engineer,
Who'd been with me for a spell.
He kept an eye on the engine room,
And ran the deck quite well.

Doug, the deckhand's, main profession
Was jumping out of a plane.
A damn good man, with stories to tell,
Smoke-jumping was his game.

Dennis, the cook, was a happy guy,
With a wife and kids in the states.
The man could cook, he did real fine,
We always cleaned our plates.

And I was the old man of the lot,
At a rip-roaring twenty-five.
With a damn good crew and a stout wood boat,
It felt good to be alive.

We were headed for the Slime Bank,
Planned to be there at first light.
As we sat down to a fine big roast,
My world seemed just right.

When the engineer finished he went up,
And relieved the cook at the wheel.
‘Cause he was cook, he ate last,
That was the natural deal.

The cook had just loaded up his plate,
When there was an explosion in the engine room.
I dropped down the ladder, saw the fire,
And knew we'd be leaving her soon.

There was a solid wall of fire
All across behind the main.
I could see that all our dreams
Were about to go up in flames!

We did what we could to fight that fire,
But our efforts were all in vain.
Though our chances were slim out in the raft,
It was clear we couldn't remain.

I sent the engineer up on top,
To move the life raft to the stern.
There'd never be any escape,
If that was caught in the burn.

Now she was burning between fo’c’sle and galley,
Burning hard up through the deck!
I stepped in my stateroom door
And turned on the big 'AM' set.

It took five minutes for those old radios
To warm up and come on line.
So I went to check on the crew,
I had to know that they were fine.

A few months before in a similar fire,
A man was badly burned.
That incident was on my mind,
I feared that lesson would go unlearned.

We inflated the raft, (it was upside down),
And as we struggled to flip it right,
The smoke and flames pouring from the house
Were a damned ungodly sight!

Soon the raft was squared away,
And my crew safe inside.
Then back to the radio, I was sure wouldn't work,
But at least I had to try.

When I opened the wheelhouse door,
The heat and the smoke hit like a solid wall!
I closed the door and turned away...
I knew that that was all.

As I headed for the raft,
The roaring noise was higher.
I glanced into the galley and saw
A writhing, pumping ball of fire!

The fire was shooting from the house
As I climbed into the raft.
And as we backed away,
The flames shot higher than the mast!

We stayed close to that burning hulk,
Hoping the foreign fleet would investigate.
But it soon became apparent,
In our own hands was our fate.

We laid our course for North Head light,
Six long miles away.
We paddled like hell, because I knew
That calm wasn't there to stay.

Two guys squeezed into the boarding hatch,
Paddling with all their might.
Heading for that constant blinking
Of Akutan's North Head light.

Well, we'd made a mile or so,
When we saw a crabber's lights approaching.
It was the only other crab boat
That was even out there on the ocean.

We'd thought her a hundred miles away,
But God, she was a beautiful sight!
Her lights were on us, we were saved,
As she came charging from the night!

But suddenly she seemed to turn away!
Or at least she was running on past!
I grabbed our lone parachute flare,
As my crew just stared aghast!

We sat there in that bouncing raft,
Watching her lights fade away.
Until I said, "Well, grab an oar."
There was nothing else to say.

We never gave her another look,
Just kept stroking towards the beach.
Only four or five miles to go,
Safety seemed within our reach.

We paddled long and hard,
I didn't cut the boys much slack.
When they eased up, I kept stroking,
‘Till they had to fight to bring her back.


Sometimes they'd all spell each other off,
Before I'd surrender my paddle.
It seemed, at times, I was the only one,
Who knew how desperate was our battle.

Finally North Head seemed to be
Right there within our reach!
Just another quarter mile or so
And we'd be on the beach.

When suddenly I felt
A little puff of wind upon my face.
I knew right then we were out of luck,
We were about to lose the race!

There came another, harder puff,
Then another, then another!
Though we paddled like men possessed,
North Head light... sank towards the water!

Soon we were really sailing,
As we carried straight offshore!
We rigged a sea-anchor, we were done,
We could do nothing more.

That raft was short on amenities,
Just paddles, flares, baler and a sponge.
But not a drop of water,
And as for food, there wasn't a crumb.

The snow was coming thicker,
And the temperature was dropping.
The wind just kept on picking up,
And the comber tops were popping.

Gray seas thundered at us,
With their awful, evil hiss!
I'd watch and wonder, how in the hell
We would ever get out of this!

I'll tell you, it’s no laughing matter,
When you're watching those mountains move!
And they're all racing forward,
To try to fall on you!

Charging out of the blinding snow,
Tall gray seas, spaced far apart,
Roaring, hissing breakers,
Like to stop your heart!


Sometimes they'd go right over,
And fill that raft with liquid ice!
We'd bail like hell, with all we had,
‘Cause complacency had its price.

We'd drop down into the silent trough,
And hear the next wave come roaring strong.
Over or under, you couldn't tell,
Just grab hold and try to hold on!

Got to where we couldn't look,
Wondering if this one was our last!
Just hang on, bail, and pray,
Seemed we had no future, and no past.

Sometimes a wave would break just so,
That the raft would fly through the air!
It would hit so hard, we couldn't believe,
That something wouldn't tear!

Once, a great, huge comber
Threw the raft so far and hard,
When it hit, it skipped four times,
Just like a flat rock shard!

Now the snow was driving sideways,
Looked like a hard white wall.
Driven at seventy miles an hour,
It seemed to do anything but fall!

Half-swamped raft,
Careening off some giant swell,
It's hard to keep your faith, when it seems
You've already arrived in Hell!

And cold, good God, it was cold!
(There were no survival suits back then.)
Just one water-logged old jacket shared
By four shivering, shirt-sleeved men.

When we weren't bailing out that raft,
We sure weren't worrying about good form.
We'd stack up and hold each other tight,
Trying to find a little warm.

Though the snow was driving sideways,
We'd occasionally see ships’ lights.
But we could never make them see,
Though we tried with all our might.


I even stood up in the boarding port,
With my crew hanging on to me!
And held aloft those aluminum paddles,
Hoping the ships’ radar would see.

We slowly used up all our flares,
All to no avail.
We just couldn't make them see,
In that raging white-out gale.

Well, the fight for survival...
Is elemental as a hard-clenched fist!
Though we knew we'd need a miracle,
To get us out of this!

The fourth night, the wind eased up,
And just before the dawn,
I saw a set of running lights,
And they were coming on.

Port, starboard, and both range lights,
Were aiming straight at me!
So, I stood up in the boarding port,
The better for to see.

And suddenly, it dawned on me,
Why, I could see all their lights!
They were coming straight towards us,
And they had us dead-to-rights!

I started trying to rouse my crew,
Yelling, "Grab a paddle, we're about to be run down!"
They just sat there ignoring
This hallucinating clown!

With curses and kicks, I finally
Roused my engineer from his seat.
By then it was too damned late,
We were right there at their feet!

Well, Jan jumped for the anchor flukes,
I braced for the canopy crown,
As that ship hit the raft,
And flipped it upside down!

It seemed I was driven a quarter-mile,
Down in the Bering Sea.
When I came up, I was under the raft,
Stray lines wouldn't set me free!


As I struggled to get free,
One thought kept coming down,
I gotta get loose, this would be
A hell of a time to drown.

I finally got clear and burst to the top.
Jan was on the overturned raft,
Screaming and shaking his fist at the ship,
As it went sliding past.

There was one lone fisherman,
Working there on deck.
He must have heard the yelling,
He casually gave the sea a check.

I swear, he looked right at us,
Then went back to his work.
Suddenly, he did a double take,
His head snapped ’round with a jerk!

We could see the recognition hit him,
When he realized what he saw.
He ran, yelling, for the wheelhouse,
And her way began to fall.

Suddenly her rail was filled with men,
And it sure felt mighty fine.
To reach out and grab hold,
Of that enthusiastically thrown line.

I'll tell you, nothing in this world,
Has ever felt so fine,
Or precious, as that thin,
Three-eighths poly line!

Soon, we were all aboard,
And headed into 'Dutch',
On one of those Japanese trawlers
We'd all cussed so much!

Those men on there were fishermen,
Fish and sea, were our ties.
The sympathy and solicitude
Showed plainly in their eyes.

Well, they did all they could,
As though we were their very own.
I'll be forever grateful
To those men who brought us home.


Now you can draw your own conclusions,
I know I sure have mine.
I thank God, every day,
For this life so sweet and fine.

David Densmore
5-10-2001



 
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