I was pretty sure we had lost GOOSE and was doing my best to prepare Shelly. Things were miserable around Yume.
Not only had Goose been missing for two days on a 6 square mile swampy island inhabited only by hundreds of huge feral hogs and alligators, but when he ran into the swamp after a pig on the first day he was already dehydrated from vomiting, plus he had bloody diarrhea just an hour before. I felt sure he would have come to our calls if he were able.
Things looked bad.
But I didn’t know Goose, and I did not know the townspeople of Darien, Ga, nor the absolutely incredible support system of friends and complete strangers we are so fortunate to have behind us.
This will take time to write (and read) and I will cry as I write it. But we feel it is very important to tell.
On Monday morning at Ft McAllister Marina, GOOSE had run off, and I thought for sure an alligator had gotten him. (I wrote about his in the last blog post here) He had never been gone that long before without coming to a whistle or call. He came out of the woods just as I had decided to wake Shelly (it was 6am) and tell her to come help call. I knew immediately he had been gorging on something dead just by his look and his attempt at cleaning the gore from his lips.
I was ticked and told Shelly I hoped he paid the price for his stupidity. Not sure now who paid the most.
We left that morning from Ft McAllister heading South slowly with our oldest son Ian visiting from the Air Force, and younger son Ryan and wife Shelly. We stopped early at Blackbeard’s Island to walk the beach on the north side and enjoy family time.
GOOSE started his diarrhea just after we went to bed. It was pretty bad and we could see that whatever he had eaten had a shell of some sort. He woke us up about 3 am so we put him out on the deck for the rest of the night. There were 3 piles of presents on the deck in the morning.
Fortunately, it is easy to get a bucket of water and wash the deck off. It was a little harder to clean out the dinghy when he did not quite make it to shore before letting loose that morning.
When I got back and ready to go, it was clear I goofed and let the boat settle in the mud when the wind shifted, and had to wait for the tide to come back in to leave about 11. No harm done and I washed the starboard hull while Yume was keeled over.
Once underway, we headed for the Altamaha River inlet as there is a really cool place to anchor. GOOSE was feeling pretty bad, throwing up bile and looking pitiful. We had stopped his food and made sure he had plenty of water. Served him right.
Just as we reached the anchor spot, GOOSE let go again in the cockpit, (narrowly missing my foot!) but this time there was blood. Of course that changes everything to a more medical concern.
We decided to continue toward the nearest veterinarian who we thought would be in Brunswick about 20 miles away. An hour later, we decided to go ahead and stop, allow GOOSE to eat white rice, and monitor him overnight as I am loathe to run the waterway at night and we still had a good four hours to go.
I saw up ahead a decent place to stop that looked like it had a couple of big sand dunes. This was great as most of the shore in this region is swamp grass and thick black mud. Not fun to get off in at all.
We dropped anchor in the South Altamaha River about 3 and everyone piled in the dinghy to give GOOSE an opportunity to clear out bladder and bowels if needed.
I stayed with the dinghy as the tidal current was roaring out, and felt better holding the dink and waiting.
Then I heard Shelly yelling to GOOSE and knew he was running after something again. I ran over the top of the dune just in time to see Shelly stop at an impenetrable wall of thicket and swamp grass calling GOOSE to come. He didn’t.
We could hear him baying and it got further and further out into the swamp. I was really ticked at GOOSE and was going to kill him when I got my hands on him.
We called for an hour or more, and the boys even tried to go in after him. They found numerous hog beds in the thick undergrowth and decided to come back when they realized it was very easy to get lost. There was no way I was letting anyone in there with darkness coming on.
We went back to the boat thinking GOOSE would come back soon. But when we went back at dark to call him there was no sign. We thought we could hear him, and could sort of pinpoint a direction, but no GOOSE . Plus it was obvious that there were a lot of very large feral hogs out there. It also looked like alligator heaven.
I was having a bad feeling about this. If a dog – weakened as he was – had cornered a boar or a sow in that muck, he would probably come out on the losing end of a fight.
Shelly was beginning to panic a bit to say the least.
At first light the next morning (neither of us had slept much) we went back to the dunes and called. Nothing. T
he wind had picked up from the north and it was cold, windy and miserable. So we got in the dinghy and started up the river calling, then saw a creek and went up that.
Almost a mile into the creek we saw a hunter in camouflage in a duck boat. We came up behind him and whistled trying not to startle him.
Charlie Williamson turned out to be our hero.
We told him our story while we drifted out with the current, and he told us he would look for, and call for, GOOSE – and would call us on the phone if he found anything.
We went back to the dunes and called GOOSE for another hour and then heard GOOSE howl!
I ran back to the dinghy, out to the boat, got the boys and something to semi -protect ourselves, and hurried back to Shelly. We called and he answered but it seemed a long way off.
Ian, Ryan, and I headed in after him. It was surreal in the marsh, easy to get turned around, hog paths everywhere, and then you break out into the true swamp. Black gooey mud with 7 ft tall swamp grass all around. You try to step on the grass to keep from sinking but not always successful.
Once we got into the swamp, GOOSE went quiet. No matter how much we called we could not hear him. We stood out almost a mile in the swamp and had to make the decision to return as there was no way we were finding him if he did not call to us. We were heartbroken.
I decided to pull up the anchor and go up the north end of the island just to see. It was about three miles against the current. We anchored, got into the dink, and motored all along the bank for 2 miles or so.
The wind had really kicked up, and since it was against a strong outgoing tide the ride was uncomfortable and wet. The waves were breaking against the shore causing a lot of foam, and since the tide was low we were 6 feet below the level of the grass and could not see anything.
When we got back to Yume, there was a call from Charlie who said he had called and called GOOSE with no answer. I was lost at that point not knowing what to do.
Charlie suggested motoring up the river to a local marina and he had some ideas. I was glad for some direction so we pulled up anchor and motored 6 miles up the river to Two Way Fish Camp and marina.
We will never forget this place and these people.
Charlie met us at the marina with his son Chase and they had brought us a loaner car, and an offer to help that was beyond our imagination.
We got to the marina at 3 pm. By 4 we had been introduced to Rick, the owner, Cricket who owned the marina store and managed the marina, and everyone knew our story and was doing everything in their power to convince us we would find GOOSE.
By 430, Charlie and Chase had retrieved their fast boat and we were on our way back to the north end of Broughton Island to call for GOOSE.
What I had not considered was that we were calling GOOSE upwind, and they explained that there was no way GOOSE could hear that. So we called from the north end and downwind.
It was while we were at the marsh calling for him that a small plane made its appearance and began a search pattern. Rick had arranged a search plane and the pilot was in the air and searching within 45 minutes!
I began to have some hope, but the effect on Shelly was even greater.
We searched until dark. By this time I was back feeling like there was no way GOOSE could survive two nights out there. Being sick, and weak, and that he might be lost – or injured in a fight. Plus the fact we were calling from all these different directions could have him starting one way just to hear a voice from another way.
It was overwhelming.
Shelly and I talked about how horrible it would be to have a child or loved one go missing.
I was still trying to prepare her for the worst. There were lots of tears. No one ate much that day.
New Year’s Day dawned kind of cool and cloudy but the wind was much less. I did not know what was happening with our help, and also did not want to impose.
Charlie, who owned a printing company had graciously printed some lost flyers (those were REALLY hard to write) had delivered them Wed night to the boat, so we resolved to get those out as early as possible at the local hunter’s restaurant, and the boat landings. It was even harder to do that looking at the pictures of GOOSE on them but we were done by 7 am.
Back at the marina, Cricket was opening up for the day and was about to make a big difference. Cricket has lost one of his dogs on the same island. They did not find his dog Frog, for four days and then only by helicopter.
What Cricket did for us that day is convince us that GOOSE was much stronger than we were thinking, and that if we did not give up we would find him.
I still tried to stop Shelly from getting to hopeful as we split our forces for the search that day.
What a way to start the year hmmm?
My plan was to take Yume to the north end, anchor and call GOOSE with the PA system I use to play music. Shelly and Ian took the dinghy for the 6 miles back to the sand dunes, armed with a borrowed whistle to call GOOSE from there.
As we motored out into the morning, messages began to pour into the phone, and Facebook. The support was amazing.
Just as we dropped an anchor, I got a call from Davis Poole in Atlanta saying he had received an email flyer and wanting to know if it was legit. He had even tracked us back to High Country Stables and called the new owners to see if we were real! He told me he spent a lot of time in Darien, and was calling out the shrimpers and fishing buddies he had to help and to look for them. I had a lot of trouble talking as I was very choked up by his (and everyone else’s) willingness to help complete strangers.
Shelly’s Facebook post had over 75 comments of support!
Ryan set up the PA, we turned the volume all the way up, and started calling GOOSE. It was loud for sure.
It was within minutes that Ian called on the phone and said they could hear GOOSE and he was going into the swamp. Shelly was against Ian going in alone but we were more that 6 miles away by water and it had to be done.
He told me to keep calling so we did. Whistling, calling his name, telling GOOSE to,”speak” and “guard” which is another command to bark loudly. I was worried that if GOOSE was weak and I kept getting him to put out the effort he might run out of steam before Ian got to him. I slowed my call down some and tried to call Ian for an update.
There was no answer. I thought great – now Ian has lost signal.
Meanwhile Shelly is standing on the dunes with no way to communicate to us or to Ian, worried about Ian out in swamp alone with 400 pound feral hogs and alligators, and a lost GOOSE.
My friend Wade Everett called from Atlanta to give support, but I was too choked to talk to him either.
We just kept calling hoping for the best.
Meanwhile Ian had gotten on a relatively dry hogs nest, but GOOSE had gone quiet. If you cannot hear GOOSE, you can’t find him. We had learned that the day before.
Ian stood on that hammock and yelled for GOOSE to “speak”. No answer. Then in a normal tone of voice he simply said “GOOSE speak” and he heard something right in front of him.
He took a step and something jumped in the mud and growled. Ian jumped back just as he realized it was GOOSE he was looking at. He said “come GOOSE” and it was over.
He called me on the phone and said “I got him” and I started crying.
Shelly realized I had stopped calling on the PA, but could hear Ian coming back through the tall grass talking to GOOSE and she started crying. It was quite the reunion.
We picked up the anchor for the 45 minute trip back to them, and I got on the phone first to Charlie. He told me Rick had just called and pilot was ready to go back up, and that they were looking for both a helicopter, and for two hog hunters who knew that island like the back of their hands.
I was simply astounded at these people.
The dinghy with two very happy people and one very happy, hungry and filthy dog raced up to the sailboat. GOOSE, except for being very muddy, seemed healthier than when he ran off.
The news spread quickly!
By the time we made it back upriver to Two Way Marina, got GOOSE washed on the dock, everyone was calling, texting and face booking congratulations and relief.
We introduced GOOSE to his supporters and began looking for ways to give some sort of incredible appreciation we all had for the amazing efforts of these people we were complete strangers only two days prior.
So to these and others we do not their names (including the local police lieutenant who gave me a speeding warning for 87 in a 70 that night when he heard the story) we want you to know our home and our help is always available to your amazing openness, willingness to give, and awesome support through a very difficult time for us.
Charlie Williamson owner of Sea-to-Sea.com a printing company in Darien. Without Charlie and his son Chase GOOSE would probably still be in that swamp.
Rick Smith owner of Two Way Fish Camp and other businesses who in the middle of the holidays and horrible situation of his own spent time and energy finding a plane a pilot to air search. Wynn Baker the Viet Nam veteran and pilot who was in the air searching within 30 minutes of being called for GOOSE no questions asked.
Cricket Mobley and his lovely wife – owner of the Two Way Marina Store, who provided amazing support and encouragement. We will post his story “The Legend of Frog” when he sends it to us after he gets back from his hunting trip in Louisiana next week.
And to each of you who offer encouragement, support, thoughts and prayers, we cannot begin to tell you what it means.
From the bottom of ours hearts, (and GOOSE’s) thank you!