A little background:
For those of you who don't know, the Central Valley of California has two main rivers, The Sacramento and San Joaquin. As with any rivers, there are tributaries and split-offs. We also have channels, canals, and sloughs. Stockton (where I live) is the heart of the San Joaquin Delta. A delta is simply a triangle, or in the shape of a triangle. How the two main rivers connect together is the shape of a triangle, hence the designation. But, as I said, we have more than just the two rivers.
In fact, we have thousands of miles of waterways in this valley, twisting and turning and winding all throughout the land, which is the biggest reason our land is one of the most fertile in the world.
If you're out on a boat on the river, taking some of the other paths, without a map, you can get lost pretty easily (although no matter which way you go, you will eventually make it back to the main river, somewhere). At night, everything looks the same when you're out on the water. What may look like a small cove may in fact be another canal or tributary, and something that may look like a familiar path turns out to be just a break in the water plants.
Not having all the lights on the boat working properly is also dangerous. The stern light is the main white light that has to be seen from all 360 degress around your boat. On the starboard side (right side) you have a green light, and on the port side (left side) you have a red. These don't mean the same things as they would on the street. Boaters use this so they can tell which direction you are going, due to the angle which someone needs to see that particular light color.
I'm sure that everyone knows what Taco Tuesday is, but in case you don't: Many places (especially the restaurants that are scattered everywhere along the thousands of miles of waterways of the Delta) offer some sort of deal on Tuesday evenings. Either two tacos for the price of one, or buy one get one half price, or whatever. It seems to me that this is an American thing, not a Central Valley California thing.
So, I get a call at 4:00 from one of my friends who got off early. Let's call her S. S wants to go out on the boat. Can we take another former co-worker (We'll call her C) with us out for Taco Tuesday? Cool! So I get up (I was asleep) and get the boat ready to pick them up at 5:30. So off we go.
Our first stop, Windmill Cove, is where Taco Tuesday takes place on our area of the Delta. We stop, but it's packed with a bunch of rednecks (don't get me wrong, rednecks are the ones you want on your side in a fight!), kids who are still all of 21 trying to drink as much beer as they can, and older women in the skimpiest of bathing suits and really shouldn't be, if you know what I mean.
We order drinks, but decide to forget about the tacos, we'll go to a restaurant a little further along the course and just have a regular meal.
Coming into port at the new restaurant, we run into someone familiar. We'll call him T. Actually, it was more at he recognized us and made a bee-line for the boat as we were still tying up. Nevermind that his boat is nowhere near where we docked. And so he talks. And talks. And continues talking. Even though the two girls knew him better than I do, even they were getting impatient... we were trying to get into the restaurant to get some food! T finally says his goodbyes.
He probably delayed us by a half hour. Now, on a time line, we launched at 6. Was at windmill cove from 6:15 to about 6:40. Made it to Garlic Brothers (the restaurant) around 7:10. The sun is still high in the air, but noticibly lower. So, having T talk to us for a half hour wasn't really conducive to still enjoying the water after our meal, as the sun would be very low by the time we were done eating.
So it's almost 8 by the time we are seated. S's husband, M, calls. M was also able to get off work early, so she says come meet us at the restaurant for dinner. It takes him almost an hour to get there, but that didn't really matter as the food had just arrived not 10 minutes before he showed up. Again a time-line, it's getting close to 9PM, and the sun is in a place where we're starting to see it set.
By the time we're done eating, it's close to 9:30, and the sun has set. Not quite dark, but not so light, either.
I do not have a speed boat, so I knew it was going to take some time to get back to main dock.
C had somewhere to be (a party?), so S convinces M to let her drive his truck back to their house, and he can join us on the boat ride back home.
By the time all this was figured out, it was actually getting quite dark... already past dusk.
Start the boat up and turn on the navigation lights.... except I have no stern light. Damnit! I just had that thing fixed last year! It shouldn't be out again (it's not a burned out bulb, either). So, now we're going to have to pilot through the Delta Waterways without a sternlight so other boaters can see us (except from the front, where they can see my red and green lights--but it's from the rear that I'm worried about for two reasons... I'm completely black in the back, and most of the other boaters still like to drive fast, even at night).
Now, we're not on the main river... we're off on some man-made canal a good two and a half miles away from the main channel... and it's not a straight shot... there are lots of side channels off the one we're riding... so, in the dark (boats don't have headlights), mistaking a path for a cove, and a cove for a path is pretty easy. We missed the turn we wanted (We missed our exit!). In the dark, it took us over 45 minutes before we realized we weren't starting to see the landmarks that we should have by that time.
You also have to remember that I had to work that night... had to be there at 11.)
So we turn around and make our way back... or so we think. By this time, I had already called into work, saying I was going to be late... I think we're lost out on the Delta... no, not driving from island to island, out on the water.
It's also starting to get cold. We had hot weather clothes on... not cool night-time stuff.
Slowly, we're making our way along, looking for anything familiar (everything looks the same at night).
We find a few places to turn, knowing that the main channel was in that particular direction... would this path get us there?
I don't know how many times we turned and tried different paths, but we ended up passing this really long house a couple of times (didn't we see that before?) which we knew not to be one of our familiar landmarks (now you know why they're called LANDmarks).
Around 10:30, something unexpected happened. Suddenly, there it was. Garlic Brothers. The restaurant we had left was in sight again. How the hell did we end up back where we started I have no idea, but at least we now know where the hell we are.
So we turn around and start making our way back the way we're supposed to. This time, I turn on my docking lights (you're not supposed to use them as driving lights, but that's basically what we did, anyway).
M goes up front and swivels them around like spotlights, making sure we're passing coves, and not the exit we need.
Time goes on, and we're starting to see something familiar... lights.
Oh shit! There's that long house again!
Flip back, take the next path, and there's Ski Island, or so it's known. You mean we were THAT fucking close to where we were supposed to be!!?
Once we hit Ski Island, it didn't matter. Passing that island meant the main channel was right there.
It's 11 (I'm supposed to be at work now) and we got a couple of miles to go.
The water is as smooth as glass.
I open up the throttle to full (as I said, on a pontoon boat, this still means nothing... a go-kart could still win the race). With all the lights along the shore, I knew where the edge of the river was, so I just went as fast as my little boat could take us.
We were freezing! Both M and S were both pretty stressed. They both felt like it had been their fault (M was halping me navigate and had told me to turn some places that we shouldn't have turned, and S because she had dragged us out there to begin with... but you gotta remember, I should have known that my lights weren't working properly and should have insisted that we take off sooner, etc).
Finally made it to port.
Grabbed the truck, loaded the boat, and took off. I didn't even secure it down with all the ties because our plan was to get back out on the water the next day (Wednesday) too. So I left the bimini (shade structure) up, and left the gas tank and battery hooked up. We just loaded and took off.
I dropped them off at their home, and went straight home myself. Jumped in the shower, got dressed, and headed off to work for a wonderfully busy night of bullshit.
Okay, this was just Tuesday night's adventure. We had another... "experience"... on Wednesday, when we went out on the boat again.
However... I'm tired of typing--and if you actually read this post, you're tired of reading.
Let's just say I almost lost my brand new truck and you can pester me to tell the story later.