Missing: One Red Canoe. Reward Offered…and No Questions Asked

My very happy feet enjoying a leisurely canoe around Lake Jocassee, SC last summer. Can't you just feel the ahhhhh?

This happened yesterday, I swear.  I’m having trouble believing it myself, even though it actually happened to me, so you will probably find it a little hard to swallow too.

Let’s start with a bit of personal history…Michael, my  eternally, wonderfully loving and tolerant fiancé, has many diverse interests, but one of his greatest passions is to canoe the lakes and rivers of Northern Georgia.  Our second date was probably the most magical second date in the history of dating.  It was a warm, sunny November Sunday.  The foliage was still clinging to its late autumn colors. Mike took me canoeing on Lake Tugaloo.  I had never heard of, much less viewed any part of that whole Tallulah Falls/Lake Tugaloo area, but he made it sound like a wonderland.   First, we drove about an hour to a very remote boat launch on the Georgia side. (Okay, I’ll admit, there were a few minutes while we bumped and jolted down the twisting, unpaved forest service road when I thought, what if this guy is taking me out into the wilderness to murder me and hide my body?!?!)   Eventually, we emerged from the trees to find a pretty little wilderness camping area, complete with not-so-pretty public toilet, wooden dock & cement boat ramp (and I breathed a small sigh of relief to see at least one other couple camping there). 

I relive that day in my memory all the time… we paddled and floated and talked about everything from family to philosophy and ate Subway sandwiches next to a hidden trickle of a waterfall.  It was splendiferous.

Mike has joked with me several times that he knew we were a good match that day because I fit perfectly in his canoe.

My seat in Mike's canoe at sunset.

Since then, we have paddled several lakes and rivers in North Georgia together, we’ve discovered secret waterfalls, explored undeveloped islands, met two curious river otters, startled a rather disgruntled beaver, come eye-to-eye with a bald eagle, watched a young doe swim from island to shore, shared a bottle of wine under a full moon and swam in the crystal clear waters of Lake Jocassee, all thanks to that canoe…and we had many more adventures and explorations planned for this summer. 

Currently, we live near two lovely little parks with boat launches on a quiet, less developed area of Lake Lanier.  This was a huge part of the attraction to the house we are currently renting.  When our landlady moved out without cleaning and refused to address many annoying repair issues, we consoled ourselves with the close proximity of the parks and the beauty of the nearby lake.  Whenever the weather is benevolent, we love to load the dog in the back of the canoe (Tessa does NOT love this part, but she grudgingly acquiesces because she loves us) and paddle over to one of the little undeveloped islands close by to explore the shorelines and wooded wilderness.

Yesterday was a gorgeous glittering day—not a single cloud in the china-blue sky, temperatures in the mid-60’s with only the hint of a breeze.  We debated going north to hike a favorite trail in the National Forest, but the day was too perfect NOT to canoe (plus, I am addicted to The Oscars and wanted to be sure we got back in time to watch the red carpet pre-show). 

We paddled over to a small island just north of Three Sisters Island (currently connected to the larger island by a wet, sandy isthmus), pulled the canoe ashore at lake marker 8TM (which figured prominently in our lives before the day was over), and pulled the canoe out of the water. 

Yes, dear reader, we pulled it 100% OUT of the lake because (1) we are not idiots (especially Mike, he’s an experienced boater who has lived near lakes and oceans most of his life) & (2) Tessa will not jump out of the boat into even 1 inch of water.  So the canoe was up on the beach and this is a man-made lake.  No serious tidal changes, no big surfing waves.  There are small waves created by motorized boats, especially speed boats, but even the most violent wake-induced waves only splash a foot or two on shore.  Since it was a gorgeous weekend day, there were several motor boats and bass fishing boats in sight.  As we have done MANY times before, we left our paddles, life jackets and windbreakers in the canoe and set off on foot.  The time was approximately 3 pm.  We enjoyed a lovely, long hike over rocks and beaches and wooded trails, then returned to marker 8TM around 5 pm.

No canoe in sight.

At first we thought maybe we were confused about where we pulled ashore.  But no, we both clearly remembered the ruined life jacket and empty gallon-sized plastic bottle bobbing in the cove next to our little slice of beach.  We clearly remembered the red 8TM marker.  And there was the well-marked line in the sand where we’d pulled the boat ashore.

We hailed a couple in a motorized boat just off shore.  They told us they’d been there “awhile” and had never seen our boat.  He motored all around the area looking for our canoe but did not find it.  When we asked if we could have a ride to the Two Mile Creek shore (less than a 2 minute trip in his boat) he was hesitant.  He made a show of trying to back in closer to us, but claimed he could not get close enough and asked if we wanted to wade out (up to my waist) and ride on the back.  We hesitated.  I took off my shoes and worried how to get Tessa out there.  The water was not freezing, but it was pretty darned chilly.  Then, the guy asked us if we had a cell phone. Yes.  He told us we could call 911 and give them the 8TM location and they would know exactly where we were and out come get us.  I turned around to talk to Mike and the other boat motored off into the sunset.   

Let’s just take a moment to realize that this was BOGUS, totally shabby behavior!!  This guy acted in direct violation of every piece of boating etiquette and just plain human decency expectations anywhere on the planet!  I think either (1) they were doing something on that boat they did not want us to see (or smell) or (2) They did not own that boat & did not have the owner’s permission to be out on the Lake (so did not want wet dog mess on the seats). 

Whatever.  What comes around goes around and I trust in my dear buddy karma to dish out some justice and balance and such.

So…having no other options, we called 911.  Rather embarrassing, but we had to get off that island and there was no one else within hailing distance. 

Now, I am a huge fan of 911 and rescue workers in general.  I will not be bad-mouthing them.  A sheriff’s deputy arrived on the opposite shore within minutes to confirm our location.  Bless his sweet heart, he stood on that shore and flashed powerful lights at us and generally tried to keep reassuring us that they knew where we were & help was on the way.  Unfortunately, we had no light to answer (since we only planned on a brief, two-hour canoe jaunt). 

I think the strategy/protocol they used to plan our rescue was a result of the fact that (1) we were not injured, nor (2) in any immediate danger.  The decision was made to refer the call to the Department of Natural Resources.  DNR arrived with a boat, put it in the water, discovered the boat wouldn’t start, fussed with it a bit, and had to give up (we did not witness any of this, it was explained to us later).  So the 911 folks had to start all over around 8:30 pm and dispatch the Water Rescue Unit of the Forsyth County Fire Department…and we had to wait for the second boat. 

We did not get off that island until 10 pm. 

Our Forsyth County Fire Department rescue team finally arrived and made quick work of getting over to us. After making sure we were not injured nor in any distress, they wanted it to be known that THE FORSYTH COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT’S BOAT ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS STARTS…and if they would have received the call in the first place, we’d have been off that island hours before. I have no doubt of this.

We were a little nervous about Tessa since she is pretty much arch enemies with anyone in a uniform, but one of the firemen jumped off the boat, swept her out of Mike’s arms, climbed aboard in one easy motion and stood there holding her like a baby until we were seated with our life vests securely fastened.  Tessa didn’t even offer a wimper of resistance or protest (thereby proving the age-old adage that ALL chicks dig firemen.) 

Once we arrived back at Two Mile Creek Park, quite a bit colder, hungrier and frazzled than we left, we filled out the obligatory police statement.  I don’t hold out much hope we will ever see our beloved red canoe ever again, but Mike will probably do everything he possibly can to find it.  He hates parting with ANYTHING, but that canoe was especially precious to him.  (He is probably walking the shoreline with binoculars as I type this.)

My second favorite line of the evening was delivered by our wonderful sheriff’s deputy.  We asked him if this sort of thing had happened before, were small boat/canoe thefts a common problem in this area.

He looked at us with a totally earnest face and said, “No, ma’am, this is my very first boat stolen from island call.”

Yep, mine too.  MINE TOO!!!! 

If I would have read this little incident as part of a fiction novel, I would have thought this whole comedy of errors was just too ridiculous and unbelievable.  Who on earth would steal a well-used canoe in the middle of a busy lake, in plain sight of miles and miles of shoreline, on a sunny day, full well KNOWING that whoever was using that little boat would be stranded???

If our canoe wasn’t stolen, where did it go?  Could it have been pushed out as a mean prank?  Or could little tiny splashes of wake water truly pull a 14-foot, very solidly built canoe off shore and spirit it out of sight within an hour or two?  Or did aliens abduct our boat? Is there a Bermuda-type Lanier Triangle?

Seriously, can anyone out there hypothesize on what happened here?  It seems impossible.  Not quite a locked door mystery, but pretty darn difficult to figure out.  Or am I missing some obvious explanation…like flying monkeys?  A Lake Lanier Monster with a hunger for red canoes?

Here’s what I do know:  Truth really is stranger than fiction.