Monday, September 22, 2008

Astern Warning

It was a beautiful evening at the lake.

Crowds of single people were walking on the beach, looking hopeful as they lived up to their personal ads.

From across the water I listened to the haunting, plaintive wail of a boater examining his fuel bill. 

The beauty of the moment overwhelmed me, such that I decided then and there to pick up milk on the way home.  And write something about boats.

Now when it comes to power boating, my only real experiences were the times I putt-putted about a large, shallow, mosquito-covered lake with my father.  Or perhaps it was a mosquito covered boat, and my father was shallow.  I can’t remember.

The engine in our fine vessel, as I recall, was one of those ancient outward motors.  Outbound?  Outdoor?  Something like that.  Outhouse motor maybe.  Anyway, it had one of those ropes with a knot in the end with which to start it.  You would wind the rope around the spindle thingy and pull with as much swearing as you could muster, and with any luck it would start. 

I learned some of my best bad words watching grown-ups attempt to start these beasts.  It was an idyllic time.

Another type of boat that can teach you swearing is a sailboat, which has spinnacles, ropes, jibes, ahoys, tilleys, witches, starboards and other stuff to play on.  They are terribly complicated and don’t go very fast, and I am quite good at setting them on fire. 

A chum and I had moored our sailboat at the dock in Vancouver after a hard, cold, wet day spent trying not to sink (known as ‘fun’ in sailing parlance).  We had been imbibing liquid anti-hypothermia medications, safe in the knowledge that since we were now tied up at the dock, nothing dangerous or stupid could happen. Ha ha!

Actually, something stupid could happen. You could put an idiot (me) in charge of refilling an alcohol stove that an idiot (me again! Hi Mom!) had never filled before. 

With the confidence born of idiocy and heavy drinking, I extinguished the stove flame briefly, then poured a bunch of fuel onto the red hot stove parts, which blew up. 

With a mighty “Crump!” my arm was aflame, as were the alcoholic vapours of my breath, my eyebrows, nose hairs, mustache, shirt, and large sections of the boat itself. 

Like a scene out of The Matrix, I leapt in slow motion for the fire extinguisher, while at the same time thrusting my flaming arm into my crotch, which I realized might be counter-productive.  By then I was committed to covering my aft, though, so I resigned myself to having not only burnt arm flesh but also crisply roasted privates.

Server: “And how would you like those done, sir?”
Me: “Rare please.” 

My mind played tricks on me and I imagined I was a crazed gunner at Pearl Harbor, leaping to action stations. I aimed my anti-aircraft fire extinguisher skywards and let fly.  My flaming eyebrows spoiled the sight picture, however, so I corrected the spray of white powder downward at the conflagration, which mercifully was extinguished. 

My friend helpfully stomped out my eyebrows and gave me a smoldering look.

Thinking nautically and being in the moment, I shouted “Damage report from all stations!”  My friend smacked me again and loudly noted that I was not, in fact, Admiral Halsey or Charlton Heston but a klutz with a smoking head and a lost damage deposit.

So as you enjoy these early days of summer, take a few moments to listen to the water rhythmically lapping at the shoreline, and the muffled whooshing sound some people make when captaining a vessel or making tea. 

And when you hear stories of large, flaming sailors shrieking like school girls and squirting fire extinguisher powder over most of the western hemisphere, remember this old mariner.

They still call me ‘Red’ you know.

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