Warren Miller: Adventures On My New Boat
A while back I purchased a beautiful new fiberglass rowboat so I could get some quiet exercise while rowing around the many islands that are near where we live in the summer.
I could spot eagles, whales and all sorts of wildlife as I rowed silently through the early morning light. I read all of the pamphlets, saw all of the videos at the January boat show, and settled on a modified ‘Captain’s Gig.’ At least that’s what the brochure called it.
It is now officially called, “The-muscle-breaker-blister-builder.”
The other day I started out for my usual three-mile row around a nearby small island and made the mistake of going counter clockwise instead of clockwise.
At one point I have to go through a narrow pass and the tide was at full flood or about three or four knots. That’s about five or six MPH. It took me about 20 minutes to row upstream, but I hung in there and figured on the way back I could coast almost all of the way home.
I stopped on the far side of the island to see a friend of mine who is building a house and needed a hand moving some lumber. By the time I got through helping him, the tide had really come in and my Captain’s Gig was adrift at the far end of a long line in four feet of water.
Fortunately I had tied it to a tree branch that was on shore when I did it. So it was no big deal to walk out on the overhanging tree trunk and lower myself down into the boat.
The 14-year-old kid in my senior citizen’s body doesn’t quite have the coordination anymore to pull something like this off. As I let go, headed for what was supposed to be the bottom of my Captain’s Gig, I landed on the side of the boat.
It immediately capsized.
I’m instantly in 54-degree, waist deep, freezing cold water. At the same time, my oars are floating away, and I now have to retrieve them from chest deep water. Then I got to wade ashore and drag the boat behind me.
Since it was now high tide, the shore was about 11 inches wide and a sandstone cliff rose up above a four vertical foot lava flow, which was also two feet under water. My now former friend, who I had just helped with all of his lumber, was laughing so hard he was no help at all.
Laurie’s Scottie dogs, that came along for the ride, were barking and generally getting in the way. But they were at least dry for now. A 14-foot rowboat full of what seems to be about 20,000 gallons of water is no mean trick to bail out in the fast fading light when you are sopping wet and freezing cold.
I finally got everything back in order and I thought the two-mile row home with the tide would be a breeze and would keep me warm enough until I got there.
The tide had shifted, and I had to row uphill all of the way home. Instead of 20 or 30 minutes of exercise, it took almost an hour. When I finally started across the bay in front of our house it was pitch black.
Two different powerboats, whose skippers were also trying to get home before dark, almost ran over me in spite of my loud, piercing, staring-death-in-the-face screams. The first boat at 24 mph splashed water all over me and the second one, going in the opposite direction came even closer with his stereo playing full blast and a passenger in the seat beside him.
My wife, Laurie, had all the lights on the porch turned on, so in the darkness I had some sort of target to row towards.
Our dogs were shivering almost as much as I was by now, and trying to snuggle up to me for warmth. This makes rowing a little difficult with two 20-pound dogs in your lap, who are also whining. The blisters on my hands were the only warm part of me as I finally got the boat back to my dock.
I came in on the wrong side of the dock and the current kept pushing me away from it. My numb brain finally figured that out, and I rowed around to the other side. My new rowboat now banged against the dock because of the current and the dogs jumped out and ran for the warmth of the house.
This left me all alone in the dark to unship the oars, and then try and climb out of the boat. About four percent of the muscles I owned still worked. I finally took a chance and somehow managed to stand up in the rowboat and fortunately when I fell over, it was onto the dock.
We get a lot of wind and rain where we live so I couldn’t leave the boat in the water overnight. So I still had to drag it up on the dock. This took whatever I had left in me and I finally staggered up towards the house.
Inside were three couples that I had forgotten we were having over for a welcome-home-for-the-summer, dinner party. I was two hours overdue and Laurie had already called the sheriff, the coast guard, and every neighbor within three miles.
Once I warmed up, which took about a week or so, I planned to spend three days working in my shop to build some outriggers for my new rowboat so it won’t tip over in the future. I can do that, or I can practice walking on horizontal tree trunks over freezing cold water.
When you are retired you have a lot of options.
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Photo: Filmmaker Warren Miller