I love water and being on water and that usually means being on a boat. I have been on dugout canoes, sampans, rubber dinghy’s, kayaks, canoes, narrow canal boats, fishing boats and ferries. I have even been on a tornado class catamaran. But even though our cousins, the black rat (Rattus rattus), were famed seafarers, stowing away on ocean going vessels and spreading the Black Plague during the Middle Ages, squirrels tend to be landlubbers – well, tree-huggers actually. This naturally means that it is generally not a good idea to leave me in charge of a vessel or responsible for any important maneuver cause my brain is just not wired for anything nautical.
Take my friend, Mike previously of Ottawa, Canada (and more recently of Silicon Valley, California). He was the proud owner of a Tornado class catamaran. So proud of it was he that he invited me to go out with him for a day on the Ottawa River. We spent several hours out on the water with the wind in our hair and the spray in our faces. Basically, Mike handled everything; pulling this rope, raising this sail, etc. And I was mostly ballast. As you can see from the photo above, the crew have to lean out over the side of the craft so as to balance the boat and not allow it to tip over when making a turn or when a strong wind has caught the sails. So as ballast, it was my job to follow Captain Mike’s instruction to hang out over on the starboard or port (yes, I do know a few salty sea words).
I think I must have been one of the best and most obedient ballast that he ever had cause suddenly, he offered to let me take over the steering for a spell. I protested my inadequacies for the task but Mike insisted that I was ready. So with some trepidation, I took over the reins of the boat. Now I don’t know how I did it but it was not more than 30 seconds later that one of the hulls of the catamaran lifted clear out of the water and we were in danger of tipping over and capsizing while traveling at warp factor 10. Only by Mike’s quick action of relieving me from the steering and sending me leaning out on one side prevented us from being a contender on TV’s Top 20 Most Spectacular Wipe-outs. A clearly shakened, Captain Mike, went a whiter shade of pale and developed a stutter. Nevertheless, I understood from the sign language and rude gesticulations that he would not ask me to steer his beloved Tornado again even if Hell freezes over.
And yet, that is not my most embarrassing moment on the water. For that, I will have to bring you back further in time; when I was in my early twenties and going on a canal boat holiday with three friends. For more about that adventure, read this previous post.
It was a fun holiday and a great experience. But the moment in question came right at the end when after a week of boating on the canals, we had to return the canal boat to its spot moored to a dock in the village of Heyford. Now my friend, Julie, was trying to guide the boat in close to the dock using the steering and the engine. However, there seemed to be a bit of a mud bank near the dock and the boat would somehow deflect outwards when Julie tried to drive it in and in the end, there was still a gap of about 5 feet between the boat and the dock. We both agreed that this was not acceptable. Julie then suggested that I grab a rope from the middle of the boat and as she tried to drive the boat in once again, I was to try to pull the boat alongside the dock with the rope.
So, I got hold of one end of the rope and jumped off the boat onto the dock. With rope in hand, I signaled to Julie that I was ready. She revved the engine and made her approached. At what I deemed was the right moment, I proceeded to pull on the rope. Expecting that it would require quite some effort to fight the mudbank, I decided to lean backwards and use my whole body weight to pull the boat in. The last thing I remember was falling back and off the other side of the dock, was my eyes looking up into the clear blue sky and seeing the other end of the rope flying freely in the air. I remember the whole episode in slow motion. I watched with the calm serenity of those who know they cannot avoid their fate and just watched the other end of the rope continue its beautiful arc across the sky. And then there was the inevitable splash and I was covered up to my chest in foul smelling mud.
Lesson: Always remember to check that the other end of the rope is actually tied to the boat!