A Stern Warning To High-Speed Boaters
LAMENTATION is heard in all directions over high-speed boating accidents, and just lately we had a dilly here in Maine when two craft collided on Sebago Lake to injure 13 people. Thirteen? Sounds somewhat like the Marx Brothers who were able to ride together on one horse because they all had whips. Years ago the old Brown Company made ready to cut a pulpwood harvest near the Big Sag, just north of Kennebago Lake, and when the camp was completed they moved in a crew. I saw this. A truck came bringing 17 men and gear, and all 17 got into one bateau.
Bateau is the basic French word for a boat, but in Maine and Quebec, and perhaps along the Connecticut River, it means a particu-lar craft built for river driving - the annual spring freshet moving of logs from forest to mill. Fairly heavy, this bateau was a double-ender, usually lap-straked, and under competent management it was as safe in a churning flood as any dory ever was on the bank. A bateau could be up to 30 feet and was more often poled than paddled or rowed.
The main function of a bateau was to bring Cook with all his helpers and gear downstream ahead of the drive so he could set up and be ready to feed. Some bateaux had runners, so they could be returned upstream overland by horses after the drive. So this bateau at Kennebago Lake took its 17 men all right, each with plunder and ax, and one might liken the sight to a Viking warboat attacking Greenland.
When everything and everybody got stowed, the captain of this vessel reached around for the struggle string to begin getting the outboard motor about to commence, and all was ready for the four-mile voyage down the lake. Get the picture! The motor was hung on a bracket, since original bateaux never had square sterns, and this contributed to a list once the motor ``took.''
Also, since this bateau sat low in the water with its overload, the starting of the motor drew down the stern to ship water. Besides, the bateau was sluggish and didn't respond to the push. Slowly, ve-r-r-r-r-y slowly, the bateau began to move, but by the time it was 10 feet from shore the men in the bow had wet feet and those toward the stern were waist-deep in water. In abject slow-motion the bateau went under, man by man, and then the motor quit. Whereupon all 17 men stood up in the shallow water and waded ashore.
This attests, I feel, that speed is not necessarily to blame for boating accidents, and also that boating accidents need not always cause injuries of a lasting nature.
Dr. Drummond of the habitant verses has left us the tale of the aging coureur-de-bois who found his paddle no longer nipped the water with its one-time cunning, and who addressed his craft thus, ``My ol' canoe, my ol' canoe - why was you be so slow!'' The jaunty days were over. Once he ran the white water, but now h'ever't'ing is gone pass-away. It's comforting to reflect that before the 75-horse outboard motor was invented there were those who considered a canoe speedy.
When I built my 14-foot flat-bottom skiff for my own pond pleasures, I went to a dealer and asked him to get me a two-horsepower outboard motor. That's all I wanted. Two horsepower would send my skiff along at adequate trolling speed, if I wished to troll, and they wouldn't speed me along past things I wished to look at. I was not pleased with this dealer's response. He said, ``Aw - you don't want anything like that. Here, look at this beauty!'' I was looking at a 50-horse Mercury, and I left and went to another dealer. Have you ever seen a loon's nest?
The loon is a large bird, and almost any fresh water pond in its range will have a pair. There is fear they are endangered, and I'd guess their real threat is the overpowered outboard motor.
Agile in water (they swim with their wings), the loon has weak feet and is almost helpless ashore. The loon can't ``take off'' from dry land. So Mother Loon nests right at water's edge with her two annual eggs right where she can hop on them without walking. And when some idiot goes by with a 50-horse motor on a 10-foot tin boat, pulling another one on skis, the wash takes care of all loon nests. When I go by with my little two-horse job, there is no wash. One day in a head wind Bill and I rode for two hours and ended up a mile behind where we started.
I think I could solve the high-speed boating accident problem in an extremely short time if called upon to do so and given adequate authority. The only reason I keep a motor at all is that I go altogether too fast when I row.