Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Early Boating Memories - Awakening of a Passion

by William L. Gills aka Bos'n Bill

What is it about passion, where does it come from and why do most of us have one or more in our lifetime? I had one that started at an early age as I think it does for most of us. When my sister was a wee girl it was the majesty and beauty of horses; she became an equestrian. For one boyhood friend it was taking things apart and putting them together again; he became a mechanical engineer. Ken used to doodle houses and geometric structures on his school notebook; he became an architect. Me? I had an early boating memory that burgeoned into a zeal. The passion is still with me to this day and it's as fresh and clear in my memory as if it had happened moments ago.

In my vivid recollection, Dad rowed me out about a hundred yards offshore onto the Great Sacandaga Lake in the Adirondacks, NY in a fourteen foot heavy wooden rowboat, painted battleship gray with red gunwales. The anchor was concrete, hardened in a rusty paint can.  When we were out of sight of family and other fellow “beachers” on shore, he dropped a would-be anchor over the side and sat down on the rowing seat to show me how to thread a worm on a hook, to catch whatever fish was waiting on the bottom for a drop in meal.  I didn’t like seeing the worm squirm and writhe as he ran the hook the length of the defenseless victim.  I must have turned away several times with a pained look on my face as my father laughed in the knowledge that this was the same way he must have looked to his father the first time he had to endure the lesson of...sometimes life has to be gross to net a prize fish.

When the worm had turned soft, lifeless and pale we returned to shore, fishless to the throngs on the beach. As we were landing the boat, kids ran to our aid crying out expectantly, “Did you catch anything?”   They wanted to see some fish.

Truth be known, I was glad we hadn't caught anything because I wasn’t ready to endure any new lessons in the fishing primer which I would later learn involved the tearing of an embedded snelled fishhook from a pike's swim bladder and the removal of the head of a living fish, gills undulating apart from a severed body, giving me a bad case of the willies.  With time and experience I hardened into a snakes and snails boy and eventually into a fisherman, but in that process I realized it wasn’t the fishing I was so interested in, it was the boat!

Later, when I was a little older, Dad got serious and bought a three horsepower, blue Lightwin Evinrude outboard motor to expand our fishing horizons:

I was thrilled.  I couldn’t wait for him to clamp it on, gas it up and take us for a spin. After he had tested all its features, he let me come aft from the rowing seat to “drive the boat”.  Wow, I was the one propelling the boat through the water, moving us through the ½ ft chop with ease, splashing water port to starboard as the bow hit the backside of each wave, stirring up a bubbling, churning eddy behind us creating a white boat-made wave that I later learned is called a wake.  I was in control of a moving vessel with my dad, a veteran yachter in the WWII Picket Patrol.  The drone of the Evinrude, the little outboard motor at all levels of throttle sounded like to latest fifty horsepower engines, the most powerful of the day.
I felt I had arrived. I was exhilarated and hooked like so many fish I had caught.

As summer turned into off-season I solicited all the boating fodder I could muster in the manner of catalogues and manuals.  I was even going to build a wooden boat; they were cheaper, though still not within my budget until I was much older.  I dreamed of boats, I craved them, probably even more because they were out of my reach.  They have never lost their allure and I’m sure they won’t until I’ve departed my wits and find glamour in a wheelchair.  I hope it floats.

So what's so special about boating you wonder, it doesn't excite me! Who cares? Well, I understand how you feel, I don't get your passion either. All I know is this early memory is indelibly etched into my cerebrum and it's impact has been far reaching. I bet yours has too.

On further reflection, as I ponder the power of passion, I realize how consuming it can become to the neglect of other life's demands; it needs to be tamed, honed and leveled. But, you don't have to understand it to know that life is so much richer for having had it, not only for the pleasure derived in pursuing it and engaging in it, but in the way you can share it in a special way most can't comprehend, but can appreciate. For me my spark was an early boating memory, and it awakened a passion. Got a match?

Visit The Great Sacandaga Lake:  

William L. Gills aka Bos'n Bill is the author of the book, Lubber's Log published by Llumina Press; a boating primer and adventure story about a couples experiences in moving up to a bigger boat.  

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