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Red Sky at Night with JB Cornwell | The Storm
Article courtesy of JB Cornwell

It was June, sometime in the early 70s. The whole family, plus a neighbor BFF of one of my three girls, were at Pine Ridge Resort on Big Sissabagama Lake near Stone Lake, WI.

The musky and walleye fishing had been very good, as usual, for several days. Finally, on this day, the teen girls agreed to take their young brother under-wing so that the love of my life and I could enjoy a quiet evening on the lake.

We were using one of the resort's 14' tinny semi vees with a Johnny 6hp on it. One pull produced a muted purr from the outboard and we set off for a good walleye spot about a half mile up the lake. She was bundled in a PFD because she had a fear of drowning carried over from a near-death incident as a child.

The lake was still and the blue sky was peppered with marshmallow clouds. Loons called from afar.

We parked on the rock bar that had rewarded us with enough fat walleyes to feed the family since we had arrived. I had even caught a 36” musky there.

I don't remember what we talked about. Probably it was about our children and local politics at home in Warrenville, IL.

Quite suddenly a breeze sprang up. I moved the boat to the lee of a nearby island for shelter from the wind. Bad idea; the air on that side of the island was so full of tiny bugs that it appeared foggy. Well, we had enough walleye for breakfast so we decided to start back.

We rounded the south side of the island to find whitecaps rushing at us and a howling gale driving them. To the north, where the Resort was, the sky was black and an anvil cloud towered 50,000 feet above. All this had been hidden from us by the towering trees on the island.

“We need to get back before that storm hits.” I shouted over the shrieking of the wind. My beloved was as pale as a sheet. “Come back here by me so that we can keep the bow up.” She obeyed and we set out into the wind and waves.

It would not have been smart to head directly into the wind and the growing waves so I zig-zagged the waves at about a 45 degree angle. That reduced the risk of being swamped, but it slowed us down to a walking pace. Spume from the tops of the waves flew horizontally, pelting us with high velocity spray.

Up, down, looking up at water on both sides of the boat and being sprayed regularly, I wondered if we shouldn't have beached on the island and waited this out. Well, it was too late for that, so I called on all of my seamanship training at summer camp when I was a small tad.

The LOML looked at me. “Are we going to make it?” she quavered. “Oh, yes.” I lied. “We will get a little wet, but think of the tale of adventure we can tell our grandchildren some day.”

That wonderful Johnson 6hp “Fisherman” just kept purring along as though this was exactly what she had been built for.

We were about half way back by then. I looked toward the Resort and beheld four teenaged girls and a seven year old boy lined up on the shore waving at us. I guess they were shouting, but to no avail.

Then came the rain. Visibility dropped to a hundred yards. We couldn't see the Resort for a few minutes. When we could see, either from reduction in the deluge or because we were nearing the dock, the children had disappeared into the lodge.

We now entered the wind shadow of the tall trees lining the shore, so the waves and wind diminished. Docking was pretty simple. The children and the Resort owner rushed out to help us ashore.

I was thinking, “Well, we beat that one.” But the storm had the last word. As we got under cover lightning hit one of those towering trees, knocking the top twenty feet or so into the lake. It missed the boat by about 12 feet.

(JB Cornwell writes from “The Hideout” in Whitt, TX, and is also an expert moderator, instructor, and fountain-of-knowledge in the Boating Forums, where he may occasionally share a yarn of his own.)

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