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  Waterworks II

by Sarath Peiris
Sarath Peiris
Sarath Peiris

Funny, the thoughts that race through your mind as you roar off on a desperate search and rescue mission with a couple of strangers in a boat, your heart pounding, your clammy hands pressing a pair of borrowed binoculars to your pallid face as you feverishly scan the horizon.

The rational part of your brain insists that the boat you borrowed from your brother-in-law is out here somewhere in the middle of Lac Des Isles, even if it's been hijacked by unspeakably evil demons who sabotaged the lanyard that short hours ago kept it bobbing at a buoy in the gentle waters of Big Island Cove Resort.

The other part of your brain, the one driven by pure adrenaline and the one that makes life interesting, assures you that Rick's pride and joy, his mighty Sylvan Sea Monster, is somewhere out here all right: "It's at the bottom of the freakin' lake, Mr. Smart Guy, who had to bring that bloody thing back this year. Serves you right, too."

Yep, that's the thing about adrenaline. It has a way of cutting to the chase, of focusing your mind to deal with calamity, for that's certainly what you'd call the disappearance of a boat borrowed for a two-week summer holiday.

As I speed down the lake with the helpful stranger who has kindly offered to help me look for the boat that he and his fishing buddy had seen early that morning "bouncing around pretty good in some rough water out by the point", the awful truth dawns on me: It's other people who have normal vacations. It's those people who return from their annual holiday getaways tanned, relaxed and displeased at having to show up at work.

But for me -- ever since the rest of my family decided a couple of years back that bringing the boat is the ticket to endless and fun-filled hours of tubing, fishing and cruising -- the annual family holiday has become an endurance test. At my age, I don't need performance anxiety involving a Johnson, even if it's only an outboard motor. I can do without that vague sense of foreboding that stays with me day and night until the boat's finally returned to Rick in Craven. Then again, there's an upside to the stress. No one else I know loses weight while on vacation.

"It's around here that we saw the boat this morning," the voice of my guide cuts into my reverie. I idly wonder just what it is about fishing that's so important that these guys wouldn't have taken a few minutes in the wee hours that morning to investigate a boat, obviously unoccupied and its motor up, getting tossed about in choppy water. Common sense and a strong survival instinct tells me this is neither the time nor place to ask the question.

I again desperately scan the shoreline whizzing by, hoping to spot the runaway silver and blue boat. I silently pray that we find it one piece, although a churning gut tells me we'll be lucky to find a few hunks of metal for our troubles.

Then the inevitable "What If?" rears its ugly head. WHAT IF WE CAN'T FIND THE BOAT? How do I break the news to my brother in law, who dearly loves his boat but apparently loves his sister enough that he couldn't refuse her plea to borrow it, that the Sea Monster has found a home in Davey Jones's locker?

Just a minute.

Hadn't I implored Rick, only half jokingly, not to let us take the boat again? But he had insisted that we take it, hadn't he? He insisted, even though he knew full well that I'm not to be trusted with such a valuable piece of machinery, that my facility with boats is such that I had been reduced last summer -- like some pathetic, bearded and balding Mae West -- to rely on the kindness of strangers just to get the flipping thing started?

The Sylan Sea Monster: a mind of its own.
The Sylan Sea Monster: a mind of its own.

(So far, this year had been no different. Already I'd killed the battery trying to start the boat, had asked for and received helpful lessons from fellow resort dwellers on how to coax to life the outboard, and had gotten too many inquisitive looks from passers-by as I fought to stop some kind of alarm under the dash from letting forth a high-pitched beeping.)

Still fruitlessly scanning the shoreline ahead -- we were now several miles away from our resort area -- it occurs to me that every borrowed boat comes bearing two price tags.

The first is the price you quote your envious friends as you tell them that you've snagged a pretty snazzy boat to take on holidays. In this version, you're taking your family fishing, cruising and tubing on a $13,500 Sylvan with a 60-horse motor and "all the gadgets".

The other's the price that seems more than fair when the boat disappears in the middle of the night and you're facing the prospect of having to make restitution. Then the adrenaline-powered brain comes up with deep discounts that would make Krazy Kiley blush.

"So what if Rick paid 13-grand for the boat? That must have included the trailer and tarp, right, so the boat can't be worth more than $11,000, brand new. Well, it's now at least 10 years old, maybe even 15, and everybody knows it wasn't working quite right. So it can't be worth any more than $5,000, can it? And that motor, there must have been something horribly wrong for it to keep beeping like that. Oh yeah, Rick would have had to buy another one soon, if he was planning to keep that leaky boat. He'd be lucky to get $3,500 for the whole works, if people don't notice that the tarp's on its last legs, the trailer lights are wonky and the tires are kinda old."

At this rate Rick would be owing me money before too long, just for getting rid of his boat.

Then, almost magically, I spot it. Not only does it appear intact, Rick's beautiful, $13,500 boat looks almost majestic, pulled up on shore amidst assorted other water craft at the distant Northern Cross Resort, where someone, presumably a non-fisherman, has caught and released it.

My ride refuses to get much closer to shore, his demeanor suggesting that it's time I get busy. An ardent non-swimmer -- Hey, I'm like former PM Joe Clark, my head doesn't float -- I jump into the water with a silent prayer that the water is shallow. I have no desire to further embellish my reputation around here as a lost cause -- the notoriety acquired just the previous summer in various tussles with the Sea Monster -- by drowning within 100 yards of shore while trying to rescue a boat from dry-dock.

When the boat allowed us to accompany it, we sailed to a distant shore for a picnic on an isolated beach.
When the boat allowed us to accompany it, we sailed to a distant shore for a picnic on an isolated beach.

But at this stage I'm so euphoric at having found the boat that I could have walked on the water if I had to. I scramble ashore, run to the boat and check it over. Nothing seems amiss, just a few scattered ropes the anonymous Samaritan has used to perform his good deed. Without batting an eye I start pushing the boat into the water. It occurs to me that any other time, I couldn't push this thing two inches.

With a cheery wave, my posse roars off, leaving me to fend for myself. I suppose even Mae West realized that the kindness of strangers can only go so far. Amazingly, the boat roars to life on the first turn of the key, a feat so unprecedented in my experience that I wonder if I've got the right craft. Then I'm on my way home, the Johnson purring as I open up the throttle, the alarm completely silent under the wads of duct tape I'd previously employed to muffle its deafening shrieks.

That trip back to Big Island Cove was probably the most enjoyable ride I've ever had, and will likely ever have, in Rick's boat.

It's almost as if the demons who undoubtedly have possession of the Sea Monster had decided that I'd suffered enough. I know they heard my heartbeats turn irregular upon discovering the loss. They saw me dumbfoundedly wading out in chest-deep water to where the boat had been to see if it had somehow gone under. And they smiled as hundreds of stones stabbed my soles when I maniacally ran barefoot up the hill to our cabin to get the boat key before heading out on the search. Maybe they were granting me a few moments of pure pleasure as reward.

The rest of the holiday with the devil boat was more or less as my family had optimistically predicted: My son, Taylor, got the first of many tube rides I'd so rashly promised upon our ignoble retreat from boating last year; the joy of my daughter, Caitlin, and her friend, Kira, at double-tubing registered high on the screams-per-minute scale; we did a bit of fishing, cruised the lake, went over to the far shore for a picnic; in short all the things we'd enviously watched people with boats do, back when we didn't have Rick's to bring along.

But, you know, that vague sense of dread never did leave me the entire holiday, even when the boat was performing well. While the others were enjoying the picnic on a distant shore, I was wondering if the boat would start or whether we'd have to paddle back; ditto for those moments when, upon reaching our favorite fishing hole, we'd shut off the motor and drop anchor. Nothing kills joy on a holiday quicker than your fevered brain automatically translating every distance into paddle strokes. At this rate, I might as well have borrowed my buddy Gerry's canoe.

Launching Taylor is far less stressful.
Launching Taylor is far less stressful.

But then again, I wonder if it would have made any difference.

As the Big Island Cove Resort operator, LeRoy James, who probably has seen thousands of vacationers with water craft of all type come and go over the years, so bluntly observed when I finally got Rick's runaway back to camp: "What's with you and boats?"

Standing there on the dock, draped in yards of bright yellow nylon rope with which it was my intention to lash the monster to every available outcropping capable of holding a knot, I could only shake my head in dumb response. Sometime soon after, LeRoy reappeared with a lanyard he'd found in his well-stocked shop. It was about as thick as my ankle, with what seemed like 20 ropes wound together, on each end a locking-hook mechanism capable of holding at bay a team of spooked Clydesdales.

"Oh yeah," I said, "that's exactly what I need. Next year, I'll buy one before we bring the boat up."

I wouldn't swear to it, but I'm sure I saw LeRoy wince.

When he's not battling boats, Sarath Peiris works as a journalist with the StarPhoenix newspaper in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

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