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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Saving Christmas With A Bowline

Bowline.  The King of Nautical knots.  And also my arch nemesis during basic training.

One aspect of basic training in the Coast Guard is to learn the various knots used by seamen because as one works on seagoing vessels, the knots are used for all kinds of applications.  The most important knot because of its wide applicability is the Bowline.  Of course, it was the one knot that I couldn't get down as hard as I tried.

The instructor beat into my head:  "The rabbit comes out of the hole, goes around the tree and back in the hole."  Somehow, my rabbit too often got tangled in the tree branches.

With much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I finally got a poor semblance of a Bowline knot good enough to pass the knot tying test and moved on to other subjects of basic training.

Fast forward to a dozen or so years later, I was on duty Christmas Eve with my duty boat crew at a Search and Rescue station on the East coast.  It was just the three of us manning the station on a quiet night.  As the lights blinked on and off on the Christmas tree in the corner of the radio room, I felt pretty lonely. Marti and the kids were home looking forward to opening presents the next morning and I wouldn't be there, I wouldn't get off duty until noon on Christmas Day and by that time there would be piles of torn wrapping paper all over the living room as the kids played with their new treasures.  I'd miss the fun of seeing their faces radiate with joy as each present was unwrapped.

A voice on the marine radio suddenly broke the peace.  A passing freighter sailing several miles out along the coast reported seeing some kind of flying craft fall into the water.  I quickly hit the SAR alarm and bolted down to my rescue boat, followed by my two crewmen.  The twin diesel engines were lit off, the lines tossed and we headed out as fast as we could to the location where the freighter reported the possible crash site.

After what seemed like a few minutes, we were in the general area that was reported.  I backed off on the engine throttles and we peered off into the darkness, trying to see something.  I turned on the cabin spotlight and rotated it all over the calm ocean waves, hoping that whatever went down would quickly be discovered.

Suddenly, the spotlight lit up something ahead on the water!  I gently engaged the engines and slowly motored over towards it.  What we found left us astonished, with our mouths hanging open.

It was a sled floating in the water.  A white bearded man in a red suit was waving his arms over his head, while swimming around him together were eight reindeer.  It was none other than Santa Claus!

"Ahoy, Coast Guard!  Can you help me? The harness to my reindeer has broken and I can't fly my sled!"

Shaking off the shock of the scene, I slowly eased alongside Santa's sled and my crewmen tied it up to the side of my boat.  Santa pointed to the hitch where the well worn leather strap had broken off from the reindeer's harness.

"Is there anything you can do to fix the harness?" Santa asked me with pleading eyes.

There was, a Bowline knot would be just the thing to reattach the reindeer's harness.  With a few quick instructions, my crewmen pulled the animals over to the sled and held them in place.  I grabbed a piece of line and leaned over, threading one end through the sled hitch point and the other end into the harness.

Closing my eyes, the mantra came back to me, "The rabbit comes out of the hole, goes around the tree and back in the hole."  It was a miracle because I tied the knot right the first time and it held.  Looking into Santa's worried eyes, I said, "I think that will hold your reindeer's harness in place and get you on your way, Sir!"

I could see the relief in Santa's eyes and we untied the boat from the sleigh and pushed it away.  I backed the boat to give him some room.  Santa called out to the reindeer as he shook the reins.  They paddled forward a bit, picked up speed until they broke the surface of the sea and launched into the air.

The sled rose, dripping wet and Santa maneuvered the sled around my boat in a circle and yelled:  "Thank you Coast Guard, and Merry Christmas!" as he sped off on his way.



As we cruised back to the station, we were quiet.  We all replayed what we had just experienced in our heads.  I just couldn't believe it.

In fact, I still can't believe it to this very day.

Merry Christmas to all my friends and readers.  May you have a special day.

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