This past Sunday we rowed out to Point Bonita, a lighthouse about three miles out the gate. I'd like to say the water was as smooth as in the shot above, taken just as we glided past Sausalito. Not so.
Once we got out the Golden Gate, five-foot swells mixed it up with random chop that sideswiped
our beam and robbed us of rhythm. Combine that with tanker wakes and it was a wet slog of a row. We made it back without incident, but I couldn't shake the feeling that we weren't alone.
Exactly a year ago, Stefan and I rowed the same route with our friend Ken, who accompanied us in his single. On the way back, we were racing each other when suddenly Ken dug in his oars and came to a halt.
"Is that a body?" he shouted.
Stefan and I rowed back. Sure enough it was.
What to do? Stay or go? Fortunately, we had our phones (stored in waterproof cases). After a confusing conversation with the 911 operator ("What is the name of your boat?" "It doesn't have a name. It's a rowing shell…"), we waited for help, rowing large circles around the body as the tide pushed us all out to sea.
We left about 40 minutes later when the Coast Guard arrived and chose not to stick around as they pulled the body aboard their craft. Our balance had been shaken, our work was done – we had to go.
When you think about it, it's amazing we hadn't had this happen before. I read that in 2011, someone either jumped – or attempted to jump – off the bridge every two and a half days. We row to the bridge roughly three times a week, year-round. Still we'd never encountered this.
Stefan, Ken, and I wondered if this was going to change our view of the bridge and if we'd return. The next morning we met at the boathouse. I had fresh-cut flowers from my garden. We rowed out to the bridge and scattered them over the water.
Over time, through a series of coincidences. we learned a
little about the woman who had jumped. She was young, a graduate student. She'd
left a note. Her family had been reached and because we rowed by her, they were able to say goodbye, although too late.
I thought of her as we made our way back under the gate, surfing swells so big that they swallowed the horizon. It was a beautiful row on unsettled water and I was pretty sure her spirit was out there with us.