I was driving up from Payson two months ago when I found myself at the tail end of a slow-moving convoy. And for once, I am not using a word facetiously.
It was an actual convoy. Of boats. Traveling at a brisk 15 miles an hour.
The Queen Elizabeth XXII and her escort vessels. Sixteen scows, two pontoons, and a jet ski.
From where I was at the back of the pack I couldn’t get a look at the monster up front until we hit the four-lane, but as I passed it, I took a look. I can only describe it one way.
Ye gods and little fishes!
Where those folks were going I don’t know. Wherever it was, I hope it didn’t overflow when they put that thing in it.
As you may have already guessed, I am not a boat person. Well not out here in Arizona anyway. Owning a big old boat here in a desert state has always struck me as nothing short of odd. Like owning a camel in Connecticut.
I do remember a few boats I’ve had fun on, though. One was a 21-foot sailboat belonging to my friend, Earl. He kept it anchored by his house, right on the shore of the Niantic River, and he just loved living along the shore of a slow-flowing river, and being able to jump into his sailboat anytime the mood struck him.
What a beautiful place the Niantic River valley was. Picture a slow-flowing river winding its way through Connecticut hills, past tall elms and spreading maples, through meadows dotted with quietly browsing cows, alongside centuries-old farms. Then picture the place where it flows beneath the Boston Post Road a mile from the Atlantic and bursts out into a wide, sun-drenched bay edged by sandy beaches and lush stretches of green grass.
What a place to sail a little sloop on a sunny afternoon!
Another boat I remember well had no name, nor did it operate on a slow-moving river either. It was an old rowboat hammered out of two-by-twelves. It came down the river with the ice during the breakup one spring, and my brother Charlie, 14 years old at the time, saw it, went out on the racing, grinding, twisting ice, tied it to a rope, hauled it ashore, and hid it. That summer, when I — age 11 — arrived for a vacation, Charlie and three of his nutty friends carved paddles out of boards, jumped in the heavy old monster, and took it over the falls to the lower river.
But that’s another story, one I’ve already told.
A few miles downriver, Charlie and his friends had a camp at a wide bend opposite a half-acre island which Charlie had planned to turn into a victory garden, this being 1943 and growing your own food being considered the patriotic thing to do.
For reasons I’ve already mentioned a few times, Charlie lived away from home with some folks in upstate New York, and had spent the whole winter planning his garden and waiting to take his boat downstream so he could get out to “his” island.
Didn’t work out, however. The island was already occupied.
Snakes, Johnny. A lot of snakes! Scratch one victory garden.
Well, Charlie didn’t have a victory garden, but at least he had a rowboat.
It may have been built like a rock, and just about as mobile, but at least you couldn’t sink it. Being one mass of solid pine, it had about as much freeboard when it was filled with water as it did when it was empty. But move it? I saw times when four kids paddling like maniacs could barely get that thing to move. Charlie should have named it U.S.S. Immobile.
Unlike me, Charlie was a regular water baby. When he finally came home to live with us, we had moved up to Connecticut, which is famed for its beautiful beaches. Charlie spent so much time in the water I thought he would grow fins.
One year he bought a little war surplus one-man life raft, and after that we couldn’t get him out of it. I’ll admit I enjoyed messing around in that old raft though, but only at Rocky Neck State Park where you could walk a quarter mile out to sea at low tide. If the raft sank, so what? I could walk home.
That’s my idea of a sensible sea voyage.
The kind of sea voyage I’m not crazy about is the one we made to Iceland.
You know? The North Atlantic? In September? Waves half as high as the mast on that old scow they stuck us on?
Good old M. B. Stewart. What a trip! Ever seen 2,800 guys upchucking over the rail? That is not a pretty sight.
Man! Was I glad when we landed in Iceland! I might very well have become a permanent resident of the place if they hadn’t flown me home, and considering the fact that if the Earth ever needs an enema the tube will enter through Iceland, that’s saying a lot.
Of course, the M. B. Stewart was not the bottom of the barrel in World War II boats. I found that out while on Okinawa. I learned that Ernie Pyle, a truly loved war correspondent, was buried where he fell on the small island of Ie Shima, a few miles off the coast of the main island.
There was no way I was going to go miss making a trip out there to pay homage to a man like that, one who died reporting the fighting from the front lines, as he had all the way through the war, and was unlucky enough to be killed in its last major battle. I looked around for some means of getting out there, but with no luck. Then, much to my surprise I found that an American Legion post on the island made a trip out there once a year on the anniversary of the day Ernie fell.
They didn’t tell me it was on a 24-year-old landing craft.
Add that to your list of boats to give a miss unless you have no other way of getting somewhere.
It was worth the trip, though. Standing before that plain white memorial, I felt both proud and humble to remember a great journalist. When Okinawa was returned to Japanese control after the war, the Ernie Pyle monument was one of only three American memorials allowed to remain in place. That says something.
Ah yes, boats. There are boats and there are boats, but one thing I can guarantee you is this: If I had been on the Ark and I had seen that dove I’d have been rowing for Mount Ararat.
C’mon! Full speed ahead! Get me offa this %$#@ tub!