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Thursday, October 4, 2012

SCREAMING BANSHEE ON A SUNDAY MORN



        Blind Jimmy isn't blind. He gets that way when he drinks. "Blind drunk", as kids, we all thought this phrase was named after Blind Jimmy, or should have been.
         He rents some of the rooms downstairs, or so we'd been told.

          He came into my office the other day soaking wet. Now my office is not a formal place. In fact. my secretary hs been on her annual vacation for the past 13 weeks.
          But soaking wet! And there were a few people waiting in the outer room.
          He walks in and he says, "Those fuckers!"
           "Who you talking about?"
I ask.
            "Those guys in the highway patrol. They took my car off the road!"
             "Jim, you're drunk!" I say, "You're pissed! Eight sheets to the wind! You're drooling, too! Like a hungry dog, a whipped cur! You're slavering like a beast who has met his doom! You're lucky you're not in the slammer! In fact, I should report you now! Ha! Ha!"
               "You can't drive smashed out of your mind like this --- at least, not any more!"

                He stared at me as if he had no idea what I am, let alone who I am, "No, no!" he shouts, "I started to drink after they took my car!"
               It was starting to make sense to me now. And the truth I was beginning to see was an ugly truth - one I'd rather keep suppressed, repressed, and blocked in my uncobscious. But this was not to be, "You came by boat?" I ask.
                "I came by boat," he said, standing there dripping on my brightly patterned wool rug,"
... only I didn't make it all the way..."
                 "You bastard! You took my boat!"
                  "Yeah, I had to. I wasn't going to walk all the way from town."
                 I'm thinking, "You didn't have to come here at all!"

                   I have a very light weight little eleven foot racing boat, which is really too small to take out onto the water, when the big lake starts to blow and roll.
                   You really shouldn't launch it when the waves are high and white-capping. Unless you really know what you're doing.
                    It's a delicate balance. The boat is wooden and like a feather and I have it dramatically overpowered. I used to have what was called a "20h" on it. And it moved like a bat out of hell back then.
                     But I've since had a fifty horsepower Mercury
 outboard  chopped and shortened and reduced down to almost nothing,  and added a tiny brass prop with evil thin slicing blades, which will cut a finger off a fish at fifty yards.

          This boat has its name emblazoned in flames along its wood-stained sides. Written in flames is the name "Run-a Risk" which should give you a clue as to what sort of fun you're going to have if you choose to kneel on the plywood floor and clutch the wheel and the molded sides and take off towards the horizon.
           If you want to order the little beast, it's called a "Foo-ling". You can order the plans. You have to build it yourself  The bow comes to a sharp, elegant point. It's  3 1/2 inches thick at the tip. The sides are not deep. You're about seven to eight inches off the face of the water at the boat's highest point.
          I highly recommend it, if you can still bend like a sixteen year old, and if you still have the same insane desire for jaw-clenching, shuddering speed that many teenagers share, until their first major crash, that is.
           Some people maintain this need for a bone-shaking thrill far into those later years, when I'm told, 'one really ought to know better.'
            
          The transom is teak, and all you boaters out there know why. Though I had to reinforce it with an inch of oak, so it could stand the thirty extra horsepower I added only recently.
             When your motor weighs more than your entire boat, you know you may face certain structural difficulties, not to mention legal ones.
           (Boat structure and bone structure can suffer and the fines can be enormously expensive if they ever catch you, which is highly unlikely).
             Still the transom's always threatening to tear off, so I had some  old iron railway brackets screwed into the hull. And then, of course, I added lots more waterproofing, ha! ha! Lots more fiberglass under the wooden carcass of the boat. Mostly to "save the intetgrity of the hull."
            So at least no water boils in from below. But that's not really the problem. You're going too fast for that to happen.
                But when you hit a solid wave the wrong way, you'll  immediately get drenched from either side. And you'll get a smack in the face from the water harder than any human being is likely to slap you for the rest of your life.
                 I have what is called a"dead man throttle" which works on a heavy spring, so when you're thrown loose from inside the boat, at least the motor quits immediately, and you can swim to the boat from wherever in the water you happen to land, when you regain consciousness.
        This is the theory, and I'm not going to lie to you like some kind of craven cowardly snivelling swine and pretend that what actually happens has any ressemblance to what is supposed to happen theoretically. No, nothing usually comes out the way we plan it to -  and I suppose life would be terribly dull if it did.
                Now  don't squeeze the pin and lock the dead man throttle full throttle open at top speed, if you have any intention of changing your kneeling-sitting-cringing position  by even a little. The delicate balance which you've become a part of at sixty miles an hour screaming along the crest of a breaking wave - it really won't tolerate any shifting of your body position whatsoever.
         Think of surfing, except you're riding above the curl rather than below it. And you're travelling at a far, far greater speed in a motorized device.
           Does it take the poetry out of it? No, I don't think so. By no means!

            Though it is illegal. In fact, it's highly illegal and I shouldn't be writing this and sharing it in public... but what a blast it is when you're howling along on the crest of a wave at fifty or sixty miles an hour!
              It doesn't sound that fast compared to some of those cigarette boat ocean racers. But those boats travel four or five feet above the water line. This little wooden platform is seven or eight inches tops above the  waterline.  And you're blasting along with your nose practically in the water. The joy is to find that delicate point of equilibrium between the wave and the boat and the motor and you.
          The engine weighs more than the boat.  You yourself weigh more than the boat. And the wave below you is inexorably heavier than you plus the boat plus the motor, plus any thoughts you might have in your mind.

             I once piloted a 32 foot  Botved cabin cruiser from Vero Beach Florida to Orillia, Ontario, and I was crossing Chesepeake Bay in twenty-five foot waves. I wasn't very experienced at the time and I had the cabin cruiser surfing across those waves.
            The boat  could cruise at 32 knots and while I had the boat surfing across the waves, it was travelling half again as fast.  But then when that boat stopped surfing, its bow would dig into the wave in front of it and about two feet of water would wash over the entire 32 feet. One of the cabin windows was open and I soaked the owner in his bed, and he wasn't too happy about it when he finally made it  back up on deck.
           Also the sound of the twin props howling every time the wave behind lifted the stern out of the water, it was a loud horrible sound,
and so at least the owner was awakened and had a chance to guess what was happening about twenty seconds before every inch of him  and all his possessions were inundated.
           Imagine lying almost asleep, safe in you own bed, or so you think, just as someone pours a large swimming pool right through your house.
            But that was a real boat and really dangerous situation.It was a different time and a very different story, but funnily enough it was an experience very close to the one Blind Jimmy had before he showed up in my office just the other morning.
          He drove the bow of my  boat right into a wave, almost right through the wave. He broke the boat right in half, and he rearranged the angle  which his head sits upon his shoulders, perhaps permanently.

           So I asked him quietly, "Where's the boat now?"
            He said, "I got  the bow pulled up on shore."
             "Where's the motor?" I ask.
              "The motor sank," he tells
me. "It's not far from shore, but you can't see it. We'll have to get divers."

               He couldn't see it because forty feet from shore here, the bottom's 120 feet down. And even in the summer, once you dive more than thirty-five feet below the surface, you hit what they call "the thermal." Once you pass through the thermal and go below it, the water temperature stays about the same summer or winter. In winter there's three feet of ice on the surface of the water.
           So, yes, I needed to hire divers and the divers had to wear wet suits and then couldn't stay in the water for longer than about ten minutes at a time at a hundred feet below the surface.
           Luckily the necessary chains are readily available in this part of the world.

          More of this story later. I'm going to sit in a comfortable
armchair in silence and alone. And I'm going to drink a bottle of whiskey or perhaps two bottles of whiskey before I talk to another living soul.
          My only consolation at the moment is it looks as if Blind Jimmy will have to see a chiropractor for a least a year and a half in order to have his neck adjusted until he looks half-way normal again.
           We don't have to worry too much about Blind Jimmy's appearance. He never did look more than half-way normal to begin with.




POSTSCRIPT

            The Foo-Ling,  is closer to a surfboard than a real boat. I was used to handling it. Though when you're blasting along with your nose practically in the water, the joy is to find that delicate point between top speed and disaster.
           But if anything should break loose, for example, if a fuel tank starts leaping around in the front compartment, you can't lean forward and attempt to tie it down with the throttle locked open and the boat skittering along wildly and slapping against it's fin in the water.. even if you're in some kind of a race.
         You really only have a few seconds at the time, though it seems much longer later, as you relive the experience  . It's best to make the smart choice, even though I never have managed to do so myself.

         So if any  children are reading this article, slow the boat, even if your're going to get soaked or swamped. Paddle or swim the boat home, even if the heavy waves sweep you twenty-five miles off course.



              If for example a seagull  smacks into your face, and you have to peel blood and feathers out of your eyes, remember to concentrate and don't move much,
and slow the boat down.
              And if that thirty gallons of gas in a bright red tank starts to leap around in front of your nose, don't worry about losing the race.
             Forget about losing the race to some presumptuous fool. Forget the  jackass who had the gall to speed by your dock  at seven A.M. on a quiet Sunday morning, showing everybody he has the fastest boat in seven towns.      
            Be the bigger man. At seventeen years of age, it's easy. Lose the race.
             Don't gun the boat and scream across the water after the idiot. Don't  lean and reach after that flying gas tank, even if you think he's making a fool of you in front of all the women.
             Slowly and gradually reduce speed. Do the sensible thing.  Twenty years down the line you'll be glad you did.
              Or maybe you won't be glad.

              Even though ridicule, hilarity and ugly insurance claims might follow you for the rest of your days... Remember kids, slow the boat down.

              Also, it's best to be sober, when you drive a little monster boat like that.... unless you're like me and your acuity improves with every shot of whiskey you have, in which case you'll be fine.
             In Blind Jimmy's case, drunk or sober, he should never set foot in such a craft. His balance never was good at any time, and his focus is not improving as the years go by.
             The problem with this little boat at high speeds under rough conditions is that it flips.
              Imagine a motor screaming like a banshee at high revs, then screaming even louder because the prop is out of the water, and the boat's doing an arc in the air as it turns over. And you're in the water, too, and the boat flies about 30 feet in the air and then smacks facedown in the water right beside your head.
        And all of a sudden there's silence. Bacause the engine's in the water too, and the howling has ceased. And the silence is wonderful and all the world makes sense.
        (I'm told some of the cottagers along the shore cheered at the sudden quiet.
          I'm thinking of a time quite early one Sunday morning when the lake was calm, and you could hear people talking  from miles away across the water. Both before and after the  crash).

           Anyway, joy is joy, and you've gotta  take it where you can find. Even if half your neighbours look at you sometimes as if they hate you.
            Not to worry, these are the ones who probably just pretend to like you when they smile. As a wife of mine once said to me, "You think people like you just because they smile at you!"
           
             No longer.

             

Respectfully submitted, etc. etc.  
                                           R.R.