I have gone back and forth on whether to write about this particular field work adventure for a while now and finally decided the story is pretty much to good not to be told. Last weekend I was helping out a friend with some field work, he is using elemental fingerprints in the shells of hard clams to investigate natal origins and dispersal, which is really cool and very interesting so I decided to help out. We were collecting newly settled clams and water samples in the Moorehead City/Beaufort area, I can't remember exactly what rivers we were in but I think it was the Newport River, North River, Core Sound and Back Sound. The plan was to head out Saturday morning, camp out at Cape Lookout Saturday night then finish up work on Sunday.
The trip started out innocently enough, we got out on the water with no problems, and it was absolutely beautiful outside, unlike previous field work endeavors. We started collecting clams in a tidal marsh and immediately had success! It was really cool and I was impressed that we had success so quickly. We finished up at the first location with a decent number of clams and moved on to another location, this is where the story get interesting so it's important to pay attention to details, I'll bold the important parts.
We got to our second location, which was an island near Core Sound I think. We anchored our boat a few yards offshore and headed around to the other side of the island, where there was a salt marsh to find some clams. This marsh on this side of the island looked promising as a clam nursery area. The location was pretty awesome, the water was shallow and clear with a nice sandy bottom. We immediately started to find some clams in the marsh area and were completely focused on the clams. Eventually we started collecting closer to the beach an I noticed the beach had begun to expand. I mentioned this to my friend and he agreed, the beach was getting bigger. Almost immediately after this conversation he said "I think I should go check on the boat", I agreed. He made his way back to the boat and I started gathering up our gear, and then made my way back to the boat.
I was greeted by "we might be fucked". The boat was about three quarters on the beach with only a small amount of water lapping against the side. The tide had gone out quite quickly leaving our boat minutes from being landlocked. We tried to push the boat into the water with no success before deciding to try and dig it out. Unfortunately, we had no shovels so we were forced to dig by hand. We dug frantically for an hour periodically stopping to push the boat a little into the water. However, the whole time we were battling against the receding tide. We had some success digging and pushing the boat and eventually we had the majority of the boat in the water. Unfortunately, the part of the boat that wasn't in the water was the stern (the heaviest part of the boat) giving the engine no access to the water. This was frustrating as it rendered our digging efforts useless because there was no way for us to push the stern of the boat off the beach.
Luckily, we had camping gear, food and water with us because we had planned on camping out anyway and we had gotten comfortable with the idea of camping on this island until the tide came back in. We sat on the beach for a while, then decided to collect more clams. After a few minutes of collecting we noticed a boat motoring up to us. My friend walked over to talk to the man in this boat, I followed shortly after. The first thing this guy says to me is;
guy: "you ever dissected a badger?"
guy: "you're shirt says Wisconsin veterinary medicine, there the badgers right?"
me: "oh yeah, no can't say I've ever dissected a badger"
We talked to this guy for a while and he introduced himself as Davey, and said he was a commercial fishermen who mostly gill-netted for flounder. We explained who we were and what we were doing. Naturally he found our situation pretty funny and offered to try and pull us off the beach with his boat. Unfortunately, this effort was futile and we remained stuck. After chatting for a bit more this conversation took place;
Davey: "what are you guys gonna do until the tide comes in?"
my friend: "we'll probably just camp out here for a while"
Davey: "ya'll can come back to my place, it's right across the river (he pointed to his house), you'll be able to see your boat from there, then I can bring you back later"
Davey: "I mean I'm a trustworthy guy"
my friend: "that sounds great, thank you so much"
I'm pretty sure I was standing there during this whole conversation wide eyed with my mouth agape looking particularly nervous. Not that I didn't trust this guy, I mean he seemed like a really nice dude, but I've seen way to many horror movies that start out this way. We got on Davey's boat and headed toward the other shore. His house was in a really nice location overlooking the water (and we could see our boat), and he had two really awesome dogs, it was about what you would expect from a commercial fishermen. We had some good conversations about the North Carolina gill-net regulations, amongst other fishing related topics, as well as our travels. However, we mostly talked about sports specifically about college football, which we watched all day (Davey is a die hard Duke fan so hearing him bash UNC was pretty funny). Occasionally, Davey would say something along the lines of "just can't believe you boys didn't realize the tide was going out", we were still pretty embarrassed about about this leaving my friend to compare the interaction to this scene from the movie Happy Gilmore.
Davey really is one of the nicest people I have ever met and he had a really good sense of humor. The tide finally came in at round 10:30 pm that night, and we went to push the boat of the beach, and it slid gracefully into the water. Since it was so late at night Davey offered to let us stay at his house and since we had already spent the whole day with him we said "sure". I can't really say I slept much that night, and we woke up pretty early to leave. We said our farewells to Davey, and graciously thanked him for saving us from being stranded on an island and his hospitality. I'm pretty sure Davey's final farewell to us was "you boys better watch them tides" and we wholeheartedly agreed.
It was another beautiful day and our work went quickly, we even saw about 100 dolphins throughout the course of the day. We had a ton of success finding clams on this day and finished late in the afternoon and headed back home. This will probably be one of my more memorable field work adventures, and I can almost guarantee I will never let my boat get stranded on the beach by the tide again.