Maritime disasters all seem to be unique, and each has their own, bizarre sequence of events that led to their untimely demise. The Edmund Fitzgerald was loaded with oar, caught by a storm, and took on too much water; the Titanic sped with over-confidence into the iceberg laden waters of the the North Atlantic, and the builder’s use of brittle steel and inferior rivets made it incapable of withstanding the breech in its hull; the Poseidon, of course, was caught by a freak, tsunami-launched tidal wave that capsized it, killing all but five passengers.
But every single boating accident has one thing in common: they all began because someone decided they really wanted to buy a boat. My father bought his twelve foot aluminum in May of 1961 for $164.68. Oh how it must have been exhilarating to start the spring with a two-year old toddler, a pregnant wife, and an aluminum boat. There is no mention in my mother’s financial log of the purchase of a trailer, so, no doubt, the boat was transported on racks attached to the top of their Ford.
From my own memories, there was a trailer for the boat, and for a number of family vacations, the boat became a way to transport camping supplies. I remember a trip to northern Minnesota, back to where my father’s grandparents homesteaded, during which we camped, and put the boat in a smallish lake to fish. It was still probably a row boat at that point, but perhaps it had a small outboard by then, and the focus of each day was getting the boat in the water to fish.
My mother had a deadly fear of water. The one time I recall her in it, she gripped both sides of the boat as she herself was gripped by terror, her eyes wide and staring without seeing. There had been an incident in her past involving water, and she did not want to relive any part of that incident. My father was very cynical of this; he did not understand her fear, nor why she would not confront it, and so there is just that single image I have of her in that boat.
I don’t know if my parents ever argued over that boat. If they did, it would likely have been over the succession of outboard motors that began. Different lakes impose different limits on the size of the motor, some as small as one horse power, others allowing up to ten horsepower. My father had a variety, with one horse, two horse, two-point-five, five, and nine-point-nine. With each one was a gas tank, and so, along with the clutter in the garage, there was also the expense involved. And what good is a boat if you don’t invest the time to actually go fishing. My father was in the habit of taking a week’s vacation in the summer to fish with other men. Perhaps that was the secret of their marraige, the guaranteed separation, time for each to be without the other, and so the boating paraphernalia was a worthy investment.
So what was the disaster with this boat? Only in that the family outgrew it, and led my father to believe that he needed a newer, larger boat. That is a dangerous itch to scratch, and one that, time reveals, can not be relieved. As for the boat, my brother now has it, 47 years after it joined the family. He has replaced the rotten wood, and proven it sea-worthy. Without question, my father got his money’s worth from that boat. I only worry that the boat may seek its vengeance on the second or third generation. Putting a boat in the water is like keeping a gun in the house: at some point, there’s going to be an accident.