The man in the rubber raft was flapping his arms in panic and desperately shouting for help. Tom and Nikki stood on the shore watching him. Trapped in the river’s swift current, the raft was rushing downstream toward an outcropping of jagged rocks.
Pointing toward the danger, Tom yelled to the man, “Drop your anchor! Big rocks ahead! They’ll rip your raft!”
The man in the raft bent over, picked up the end of a rope, and waved it in the air. “My anchor’s gone!” he shouted. “And my outboard’s dead!”
Tom turned toward Nikki. “Those rocks will slice his raft into rubber bands,” he declared.
Nikki grabbed Tom’s arm and looked downriver at the exposed, sharp rocks. “He’ll never get through all that,” she said despairingly.
Tom and Nikki had been heading upstream along the river toward their favorite fishing spot when they first spotted the rubber raft. It was drifting down toward them, and they didn’t know it was out of control. Now the raft was obviously trapped in the rushing water in the middle of the river.
Tom threw down his fishing gear and quickly tried to assess the situation. The raft had swooshed downstream and was now in a position nearly opposite to where Tom and Nikki were standing on the bank.
The man in the raft was working frantically to alter his course away from the jagged rocks. With great effort, he manipulated the flexible rubber sides of the raft. Then he stretched his leg over the side of the raft and finally succeeded in snagging it onto a large flat boulder.
Tom cupped his hands. “Good work!” he called. “Maybe it will hold long enough for us to find a way to help you.”
“It won’t hold very long!” the man shouted back. “I can feel the current tugging. It’s going to push me right off this rock!”
“Try your outboard motor again,” Tom suggested.
“Won’t start!” the man hollered. “I was fishing upstream, and my anchor snagged on some sunken logs! Had to cut loose! When I tried to start up the outboard … nothing!”
“Have you checked your fuel line?” Tom asked.
“I’ve checked everything! It won’t start!”
Nikki glanced toward the rapids again. “Just see how that water is churning,” she said. “There isn’t a calm place anywhere.”
Tom sat on a nearby boulder and began unlacing his boots. “When the raft clears that rock,” he said, “the current will drive the raft straight to disaster. Maybe I can wade out to him.”
“The current’s too strong,” Nikki warned.
Tom slipped off his socks, rolled up his pants, and stepped into the river. Near the shore the river was shallow and the current wasn’t very strong.
“Don’t do it!” the man in the raft shouted. “You’ll never make it!”
About ten feet from shore, Tom paused as his feet stepped down into deeper water. It was up to his knees and he could feel his feet beginning to slide on the slippery rocks because of the swift current. Tom shook his head. “He’s right. I don’t think I can make it,” he admitted half aloud.
Reluctantly, Tom made his way back to shore. “Hold on a little longer!” he shouted to the man. “I have another idea!”
When he got back to shore, Tom picked up his fishing rod and ran back down the trail alongside the river. Nikki followed anxiously. “The raft looks like it’s about to go,” she declared.
Tom glanced at the raft and saw it was teetering on the rock that had snagged it. “Hold on just another minute!” he urged.
“It’s going over!” the man shouted. “I can feel it going!”
At an open place along the shore, Tom halted.
“What are you going to do?” Nikki implored.
“Watch,” Tom answered as he quickly crimped two heavy lead sinkers onto the end of his fishing line. Then he positioned himself firmly on the ground and called, “Watch for the line!”
The rod snapped forward and the line arched out over the river and beyond the raft.
“Grab it!” Tom shouted as the line crossed near the man.
The raft’s weary passenger saw the line and reached for it. “Now what do I do?” he asked. “This light line will never hold me!”
“Fasten the line to the cleat in the bow of your raft!” Tom answered. “Then work the raft off the rock! It’s your only chance!”
Unsure that it would work, the man nevertheless tied the end of the fishing line to the cleat. But then he sought for a last desperate hold on the rock.
“No!” Tom cried. “You’ve got to let go!”
The man hesitated.
“You’ve got to trust me!” Tom insisted. “Let go of the rock!”
The man stared ahead at the dangerous rocks, paused a moment longer, then nodded and proceeded to manipulate the raft’s rubber sides until it slid off the rock.
Tom watched intently, then he reeled in the slack line and was working his rod the way he would if he had caught a huge trout. “Steady now!” he shouted. “Let me control the raft!”
He was reeling in the line as fast as he could without snapping it. “Just a slight tension,” he explained to Nikki. “That’s all I need to get the raft headed toward shore.”
“What if the line breaks?” Nikki asked.
“Nikki,” Tom said softly, “pray that it doesn’t.” Then he shouted to the man in the raft, “Keep your eyes on the water ahead of you! If you see any rocks, push the raft away from them!”
The man leaned over the bow and stared down into the turbulent water. A couple of times he had to reach down into the water to steer the raft away from a threatening submerged rock. Tom was relieved now to see the raft respond to his control on the line. A few more gentle tugs and he expertly guided the raft to a riverbank sandbar just a dozen feet away.
The man jumped ashore, smiling broadly. “If it hadn’t been for your quick work with that rod, I’d be smashed to pieces against those rocks,” he said gratefully, pointing downstream.
“I’m just glad that we happened by with our fishing gear,” Tom said. Then with a grin, he added, “I’d been hoping all morning I’d catch a big one!”