Nov 06

a devastating reminder

Tag: failures,marina lifejonny5waldman @ 12:04 am
A fire destroyed a nearby boat two days ago, and I’ve heard speculation that the fire could have been caused by: a) a cell phone charger or battery or b) a way-too-small shore-power cable or c) some other electrical short circuit created by a leak. I am, of course, relieved that Syzygy is safe, that we installed GFCI (Ground Fault Cicuit Interrupter) outlets, that we have removed so much old/janky/dangerous wiring and properly fused all circuits — but I am nonetheless, hyper aware of how many things could start a fire. I am, you could say, frazzled. Most people around here are. Here’s the account I wrote Monday, a couple of hours after running over to help put out the fire. —- I’m on my boat, sopping wet and shivering and trying to stop my heart from racing. Here’s what happened. A few hours ago I hobbled off to go take a shit. (I was literally hobbling because i ran a half marathon yesterday, and I’m sore as hell). I had on a hat and a hoodie with the hood up and a jacket with a hood, and with the driving wind/rain I put my head down and limped there. I wonder, now, if I hadn’t had so many hoods on if I’d have noticed anything sooner. On the way out of the restroom (which is about 50 yards from the docks), I saw a guy in a red jacket throw something in the trash, and then I looked toward the boats, where I saw a bright orange flame. It was so incongruous in the heavy rain, so not-supposed-to-be-there, that without thinking I sprinted towards the marina. As I ran i pulled out my cell phone and called 911, and then I realized the flames were coming from somewhere very close to our boat. Oh shit. I hoped not. How could… Oh shit. Oh shit. My heart pounded. (I only now just realized that I was able to run, and how fast I ran. adrenaline is an amazing thing.) The boat that was burning was two boats to the north of mine, owned by the nicest guy in the world, named (_deleted_). He always stopped by to chat, and regularly shared ice cream with me. Apparently he had left his boat about 45 minutes earlier. I did not know this as I ran to the boat. All I knew was that I needed to grab a hose and start putting out the fire. The fire was so scary that I don’t think I felt any relief that my own boat wasn’t burning. It’s like there was no room to think of that. There were four or five of us, everyone dressed up in full rain gear, in the pouring rain, spraying water into, onto, and through every bit of the burning boat. Half the windows had shattered from the fire, and smoke was slinking out of every hole. I heard that the canvas on the boat to the south — the one between the burning boat and this one – was steaming from the heat of the fire. One doessn’t usually associate spraying a hose with adrenaline, but so be it. I worried that maybe the gas tank would catch fire/explode… but there was so much water getting spayed in that it seemed unlikely. One guy was standing on the foredeck, spraying water into the cabin. He didn’t seem worried. I heard fire engines in the distance, and within minutes a crew of firemen arrived. I ran over to my boat and grabbed my video camera, then followed them towards the charred boat. There may be no sadder picture in the world than a fireman with an axe chopping through charred remains on a boat floating in the water. It is devastating. I saw as the firemen poked through stacks of magazines, credit card bills, clothes, and mostly unidentifiable black remains. Worse, the boat owner’s elderly dog was aboard, and died in the fire. She had arthritis and a bad hip, and couldn’t jump up onto or down from the boat, The owner always used to do this very funny/patient routine in which he acted as a little dog elevator at the front of the deck. I saw the dog’s body in the stern of the boat, one short, impossible jump from safety. To die in a fire is a god-awful thing. There is, actually, a sadder picture in the world than a burnt boat, and that’s watching the owner of the boat arrive on the scene to discover that his house, possessions, and beloved dog are all gone. He came running up the dock in jeans and a flannel shirt. Nobody made eye contact. I turned off my video camera. By now there were only a few of standing around, because after I’d said “I don’t think i want to be here to see the owner arrive,” most of the others, out of a dozen, retreated humbly to their own boats. This was a smart, if not courageous, move. I stood there in the rain, and saw him break down in despair after he peaked in and saw his dog’s body. Someone gave him a towel to keep dry, and someone else held an umbrella over him, and someone else put an arm around him, while it continued to pour. He sobbed, put his hands to his head, asked someone to please cover his dog, fell to his knees… while the police inspector tried, as professionally as possible, to inquire about the circumstances of the fire. At the same time, one of the firefighters asked us if we knew anything about power boats, because he was searching for the batteries on the boat to no avail (i think most everything burnt). I heard the owner say that he had left nothing on, no power, no stove, no flames or anything – so I wonder if the cause of the fire will be determined, of if the boat is too much of a wreck to make any sense of. My heart is still pumping. My pants and hat are soaked and I’m shivering. I imagine the dozen or so people who ran to help out are in the same condition; terrified yet grateful, and in no need of thanks because they know that’s just what you do: you help out. I’m sitting in the cabin of my boat, listening to the firefighters gather their stuff and walk by, and to the rain falling on the deck, and the wind blowing outside, and noting the few leaks we have (we discovered them a few days ago, when it started raining for the first time in 8 months) and thinking now how inconsequential they are.

2 Responses to “a devastating reminder”

  1. Laureen says:

    I will never forget the sound of Rowan’s voice, screaming “I see smoke! There’s a fire!”, that launched Jason and I out of the boat and down to the scene. He still hasn’t really figured out that the dog is gone, and I’m dreading having to explain it when he does. Mostly I’m focusing on telling him he did well to react so fast.

    I hate that this happened, because you’re right, he’s the sweetest guy in the world. How can 45 minutes separate you from having everything, to having nothing? It’s so utterly unfair, and I think everyone’s still bleeding for him.

  2. Phil says:

    Sorry to hear about the fire. Your writing of the event was amazing. You guys need to find some publication that will pay for the Syzgysailing story. You haven’t even left the dock on the voyage and the story is captivating.

    Good luck,
    (Matt’s wine partner)

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