I was ten years old and we were living in Okinawa while dad was stationed at Kadena AFB. We lived in a house ten feet from a fifty or seventy-five foot cliff. it went vertically straight down from our back yard. There was a concrete block wall between our house and the cliff's edge, the wall about three feet high. We walked on top of that wall all the time. At the bottom of the cliff lay the Kadena River. It led out to the ocean about half a mile on down river.
On the river there was a small fleet of fishing boats, one man boats with motors that looked like large canoes. The fishermen would motor out at daylight and come back in the afternoon with all kinds of fish, including shark. There was also a rowboat rental place there where a wooden rowboat could be rented by the hour or day. During one typhoon that I recall (there were many) the river filled with hundreds of large sharks that were seeking shelter from the storm. The local fishermen jumped in their boats and went nuts on the sharks, killing them and pulling them to shore as fast as they could. It was a windfall for them. It was a wonderland for a ten year old boy.
I had a friend about my age, Yoshi, that spoke maybe ten words of english. I spoke maybe ten words of japanese. We communicated just fine. We developed a sign language accented with facial expressions that worked as well as being fluent in the same language. We decided to rent one of the row boats and go fishing. So we did. We each brought our fishing poles and bait, made the deal with the boat owner, and rowed out into the river. We didn't take food or water, didn't plan to be gone long or to go far. Heh. It didn't work out that way.
Fishing in the river soon got boring so we rowed towards the ocean. Then we rowed out into the ocean. The tide was just going out and pulled us way out into the ocean in no time flat. What they call a rip-tide. Big giant huge waves, fifteen to twenty-five footers not spaced very far apart. Rowing wasn't helping us other than to position the boat not to be broadside to the waves. When we apexed a wave one of us would stand and look for land. Couldn't see it. Couldn't see anything anywhere except huge fast moving waves and water almost black it was so deep. This went on for most of the day, best I can guess from memory.
We scratched our heads awhile, bailed a lot of water, and had forgotten all about fishing. Then we "talked" about where the sun was when we escaped land, reversed our position in accordance with that and began taking turns rowing like mad. At first we were rowing against the waves. After awhile we noticed we were rowing with the waves. The tide had turned and was coming back in. We crested one particulary big wave and could see land. Let me assure you that was one sweet sight. I can close my eyes and see it like a photograph to this day, fifty years later. Best looking landscape I have ever seen or ever will see.
As we got closer we could see the mouth of the river take shape, it had high cliffs on either side. We aimed at the river. The waves were helping us along now and we were making good speed. As we entered the mouth of the river, the tide was just past the turning point. The water was low but rising rapidly. A sandbar was exposed and the waves pushed us onto it. We were foundered and the waves were crashing over the boat. The boat was filled with water and we were hanging on trying not ot be washed away. Those waves were fierce. They were forced into the river channel between two sheer cliffs, which caused them to rise up even higher than they had been out in the ocean. Tons of water rushing at us like a runaway train, towering up so that they looked like they were reaching the clouds. Our fishing gear was swept away, never to be seen again. One right behind another the waves came at us, pounding and pushing then pulling then pounding and pushing. Cold water too. We were tossed like rag dolls, but somehow we managed to hang onto the boat and each other.
After a little while the water rose, the boat became unstuck from the sandbar by floating up with the tide. It didn't break the surface though because it was full. With one of us sitting in the boat and rowing (and don't you know that would have looked really strange from shore to see a boy sitting on the water and rowing with no boat in sight under him) and the other in the water pushing the boat by kicking his feet like a human outboard motor, we began inching our way back to the rental's little dock. The further we went the lower the waves became as the tide came up - until after a few eternities the river water was relatively flat - about like a medium-chop on a lake. As we slowly came in sight of the dock it started raining straight down and hard, as it only can in the tropics. Had the boat not already been full of seawater it would have been full of rain water within a couple of minutes. That rain was almost solid water, it was actually hard to breathe in. We kept inching along on pure instinct for direction - visibility was half the boat's length. Where the rain pounded into the river's surface there was a zone about a foot high that was as much water as air, moving up and down rapidly. With our low profile we were right in that zone. it was completely crazy.
When we finally got to the dock the old man came out, took one look at us and fell over laughing. Up until that moment neither one of us had been able to see the humor in the situation, and in fact we didn't see it for a couple more weeks. Eventually though one of us would make a rowing motion and we would both bend over laughing so hard we could barely breathe. Yoshi would point at me and make a scared face and I would point at him and using pantomine pretend to be shaking something unmentionable from a pants leg. We laughed about it a lot, but we didn't rent any more boats. We were cool, we had survived and reached the point we could make fun of each other and laugh about it. By mutural agreement neither of us told our parents - had we told them they would have not let us play together again, or so we assumed.
I wonder if Yoshi tells his grandkids about the crazy american boy that he spoke to in sign language, hung out with all the time, and had one hell of a fishing adventure. I bet he does, I just bet he does and slaps his thigh and laughs about it just like I do.