He was wide awake and aware now. He quietly slipped out of bed and went to check on his new child, born just a few months ago and quietly and softly sleeping. Time to put on a pot of coffee. Making his way to the kitchen in the half light of the predawn he remembered it was Saturday and the usual work a day tension quickly evaporated and a sense of calm came upon him, then excitement as he now had a chance to take his fully functional radio controlled model sailboat out. He had spent almost a year painstakingly building it, painting it, installing the electronics and sail winch. His wife was not exactly excited about the project and the money it had cost, but she understood it had been a childhood dream of his to build such a boat, and having received a nice fat re-enlistment bonus a few months ago it didn't really strain the family budget.
As the sun rose so did the rest of the Williams family in turn and lovingly tended to. Now he could turn his attention to preparing his little sailing ship to face the little seas of one of the lagoons that held the melt water from the snows atop the hills surrounding Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, California, before flowing on into the Pacific. Promising his wife that he would be back home before lunch, he carefully loaded the model boat into the high top family camper van, without which, the boat could not be transported.
A reproduction of a late 19th century Topsail schooner, it was well over 3 feet long, and almost 5 feet in height from the bottom of it's keel to the top of the mainmast, and ballasted by over 10 pounds of BBs distributed along the length of the bilge and sealed in with paraffin. The model was guided with a two channel radio control unit, one servo for the rudder, and one for the little electric sail winch nestled amidships inside the hold. There was no motor, it was a pure sailing boat.
Arriving at his favorite spot, Williams unloaded the boat, tested the servos, trimmed the sails and set the boat in the water and let it go. As usual, the little boat darted away like a puppy being let out to play. With control unit in hand, he was able to determine just where that puppy should go, or so he thought. What had started out as a beautiful brisk day was becoming overcast and the wind was picking up, he determined it was time to go and turned the little boat toward shore, but the wind had other ideas, a sudden gust knocked the model boat on it's beams ends almost capsizing it, but it's sturdy construction and heavy ballast quickly put it back on it's keel but the boat had also spun around, and was now sailing away from the shore. Williams applied rudder input and tried to trim the sails out, there was no response.... the control unit was out of action.
With a slightly panicked and very sick feeling, he stood motionless by the water as he watched $300 and a years patient labor sailing away. There was a small sandbar about 75 feet out from the shoreline, but the boat was just to the leeward of it and passing when another gust of wind knocked the boat down again, and spun it into the wind, then the boat stopped, grounded just on the other side of the sandbar. For Andrew Williams sadness and dejection swiftly turned in to action and determination, he had a chance to recover the boat. Stripping off everything but his jeans he waded into the ice cold water. As a Marine he had been trained in water safety and survival techniques, and had also been taught the symptoms of hypothermia.
As soon as his bare chest submerged in the frigid water it felt like a vice had clamped down on his lungs making it difficult to breath, he knew he had very little time and swam as hard as he could. Reaching the sandbar, he crawled on to it, retrieved the boat and returned it to the water, then followed, trying to guide it manually back to the main shore as fast as possible.
No sooner had he gotten back into water and making for shore, he lost grip on the boat and it took off once again, this time however it sailed straight into the banks of the main shoreline and stuck, much to Williams relief...but there was a problem....his arms and legs were becoming numb and useless, he could not move them enough to try and keep his head above the water, the cold had been too much.
He was coming to the realization that he was going to drown. He couldn't see how it was going to end any other way, so he wanted his last thoughts to be of his wife, and his children. He wondered what they would put on his headstone;
“Here Lies a Dumb ass Who killed Himself Chasing a Toy Boat”.
The thought of that made Staff Sergeant Andrew Williams really pissed off . What had been a struggle to keep his head above the water, then a battle, was now total war and in his mind and heart he said “NO! You WILL NOT die today!” All of his training kicked in as he rolled on to his back and tried to keep his lungs inflated as much as possible, thus he was able to float on the surface of the water and breath as he slowly floated closer to the shore. Once he was close enough, he rolled back over, his almost useless legs sinking down, his bare feet barely touching bottom. Somehow he crawled out of the freezing water and lay on the shore shivering violently and trying to catch his breath. He had to get to the van. Grabbing his remaining clothing, he half stumbled and half crawled to the vehicle, climbed inside, started it up and turned on the heat.
Still shivering uncontrollably he struggled back into his shirt and socks and shoes and waited to feel warm again and shivering to stop, but it wasn't happening, what was happening was he was starting to get tunnel vision as blood was being shunted from his brain to his other organs, he had to get back to base.