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The Southern Cross My Way Comes

chronicled by
Dick Shobe

When Jimmy hauled me out of the Chagres into the Sea Scout crew boat he saw the top of my head was bleeding from a two inch cut, a cut as straight as a line drawn with pencil and ruler. It wasn't much of a cut, less than one-sixteenth-of-an-inch deep.

You all know our Skipper, Mr. Holmes, either personally or by the Gamboa stories enticed, compiled and distributed by Lou. When Mr. Holmes said "The Southern Cross leaves the dock at 9:00 AM" everyone knew to be there early.

That didn't keep six of us from missing the departure.

The day's outing was limited to that part of the Chagres river between bridge and golf course. The troop was new with a new boat and had much to learn before we would take longer, overnight trips. We launched the crew boat and rowed in search of the Southern Cross. It was not long before we found each other.

We noticed the rope bumpers on the bow had not been stowed on-board. That might be a way to get on the boat.

All six of us took turns diving into the Chagres into the path of theSouthern Cross. When the Southern Cross reached each of us in turn we would grab the rope bumpers to pull ourselves in. Nice plan, but we did not count on slippery bumpers; no one could hang on. It was easy enough to take a few quick strokes away from the hull, placing us a safe distance from the propeller.

On my third try the helmsman turned the boat sharply as I slipped off the starboard bumper. This left me in harms way with no good choices. I choose to dive believing six feet will put me below the propeller.

Bad choice!

I hear the propeller churn its way toward me, see the white water reaching out and feel the turbulence surround me.

The Southern Cross my way comes.

I dive deeper, faster and am within one-sixteenth-of-an-inch of escaping when the Southern Cross clips my head.

Yes, I did see stars, but that came later.

I don't remember the blow to my head as happening in the Chagres. I remember Frankie Blair hitting me on the head with a baseball bat during school recess and waking up in a dark place with stars unlike any I have ever seen. Brilliant stars , ranging from small to large, each star a collection of bright lines intersecting at its center.

All too soon the stars fade leaving me in a dark, small room. Very dark and very cold. There are no stars to distract me. I'm cold and for the first time, frightened, a kid who wants his mother. I cry out to her, "Mom get me out of here."

She does and sends me back to the warm waters of the Chagres, too deep for the Southern Cross to cross me a second time. I swim to light, and near the surface a hand reaches down to me.

Jimmy pulls me up and into the crew boat.

The only harm from my time under the Chagres was the injury to my head, little more than a scratch. I show no sign of having been under water for more than a few seconds. The legacy of my encounter with the Southern Cross is my crystal-clear memories, most of which never happened.

You will have to ask the five kids in the crew boat about their search for me when I was playing ball during recess and watching stars in a dark, cold room. I never asked them; they never told me.

But don't ask Jimmy; he doesn't like to talk about it. What was seconds to me was minutes for him.

And I don't like to think about what would have happened if my dive left me one-sixteenth-of-an-inch closer to the Southern Cross.


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