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DOCK FIRE By Mark Hudnell


woke up. That’s how it really started. I hear Honey’s nails clicking on the floorboards as she does when she needs to go up on the bow to potty. Honey is an eight-year-old min-pin and one damn fine boat dog. So getting out of the warm bed I share with Tracie, my fiancée, is not that much to do for my Honey Girl—even just after midnight in January. I get up and open the sliding hatch on the companionway. Poking my head up into the still clear night, I hear a popping, crackling noise. Immediately, I see there is a boat on fire, maybe four or five slips in and on the same side as we are. The fire is between us and shore. The fire, which was under and somewhat contained by the metal roof which covers two thirds of the north dock of McCotters Marina in Washington, NC—where we live onboard—is leaping from boat to boat. Stepping down below, I was staggered by what unsuspecting Tracie and I were facing. “Tracie, there’s a fire. Get dressed,” thinking how calm that sounded, considering, “and call 911 and report it.” I quickly put on some clothes and went back up on deck. I hear Tracie say, “Somebody called in a fire two minutes ago,” as I climb the ladder. It’d been a cold night, in the 20s, but not anymore. What was a light breeze was now a hot 35-mph wind, gusting to as high as 40—which I would later use along with the forward sail to escape the burning dock. The roaring and hissing sounds hit me. In my mind, I see LP tank hoses melting, making them flamethrowers. Explosions one after another fill the night. There’s not enough time, I think. First, I untie the spring line, which is a struggle, since it’s frozen. Running to the bow I untie the starboard dock line. The fire is so fast, it’s already reached the boat next to us. The air fills with black noxious smoke making breathing and seeing difficult. Flames reach a tarp covering it; the wind blows the flaming tarp, causing it to flap, fanning the fire more. The heat rolls at me in steady waves, and I feel the back of my hands burn and blister. I drop the line into the cold water. Burning debris is raining down onto our boat. Tracie comes up from below to a hellish scene. Racing aft, I grab a life preserver, pushing it into her hands, saying, “Put this on.” I get her to lie on deck—shielded from the radiant heat of the fire by the dodger. Crouching next to her, a small voice pleads for me to stay there. It’s the beginning of panic. I ignore it and go back into the firelight of the cockpit. The fire has engulfed the entire covered portion of the

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Photo by Capt. Aubrey Moore

dock by now—and I think again there’s no time! Suddenly I could hear another voice screaming my name. I turned my head toward the sound, straining to see through the wavering heat. I spot movement on the boat behind us. “Mark, it’s too hot; I can’t get out the hatch.” Darrell’s head is just peeking out his hatchway. Darrell has been diagnosed with stomach cancer and had been working hard to finish repair work on his other sailboat, the Wizard. Now the fire had that boat, and the flames were going to get his boat Spritzer with him onboard. “Can you get me out?” he yells! I answer “No,” hating myself as I said it. “Not yet,” I added. Tracie lay on deck brushing fiery debris from her clothes and the boat until she realizes there is no end to them. Her palms are blistered and she stops trying. The heat is so intense I am forced back. As I back away, I hear Tracie yelling, “I’m on fire”! I go to her side in the protection of the dodger and pat out small licks of flame I find on her clothes. Never has the weight of the responsibility of being captain felt such a burden. Again the small voice wants to say, “It’s too hot; stay here. Maybe someone will come to help you.” No, I think furiously, and force myself to go forward, holding my breath, to untie the port dock line, then back to the stern, closing the valve on the LP tank as I get there, turning my face away from the tongues of flame reaching for me. I


May 2011