Props and rocks

May 24, 2009

The ice on Newboro Lake took out more than docks this year.  It also removed two shoal markers from Miller’s Bay.  In my defense I must state that this was my first expedition out from the new slip at Newboro.  The boat’s been used to coming from Chaffey’s Locks, and it can be forgiven for not quite knowing its way, yet.

Navigation on Newboro Lake is mainly a matter of perspective.  Everyone knows the hidden rocks of the lake will reach up and bite you if you stray off certain rigid lines of travel, but I had given up my line of sight when I approached Miller’s Bay from the wrong direction.

I remember thinking, “Odd, I seem to recall a floating marker buoy in this bay, right about here”…CRUNCH—zzziiiiinnnnnggggggg—clunk.  The engine flipped up after the impact, then dropped back into place and slowed to an idle as I shut the throttle down.

Hoping for the best, I reapplied the throttle and the boat climbed back up on to plane without much vibration, so I continued on my course, though at reduced speed.

This was nothing.  A prop on a Merc 35?  No problem.  Dave Brown probably has a dozen of them.

Things used to be a lot different when I was skipper of the old wooden yacht, WYBMADIITY II.  WYB could only be lifted out of the water on a travel lift, and the nearest one to Chaffey’s Locks is in Portland.  That’s two or three locks away, a long, expensive tow. The prospect of a summer lost to delays and huge costs made me stick to the channel.

Sailors can afford to run aground just for the adventure, or to get a new perspective on the world in tidal regions.  Their hulls and propellers are protected by a deep lead keel.

Actually, Wyb  has a full keel, too, but it didn’t do much of a job in protecting the prop on two occasions during the twenty-five years we cruised on her.

The worst was during the first month we owned the boat.  Bet and I had just brought her down Lake Ontario from Port Credit when I received a phone call inviting me to a summer course in Peterborough.

I had four days after school ended to get the boat from Smiths Falls to Peterborough.  Brock Fraser, one of my students, volunteered to crew for the trip.  After university Brock went on to a career with Parks Canada in British Columbia.

The cruise down the Rideau and west on Lake Ontario had gone well.  We found the entrance to the Bay of Quinte and cruised merrily up the Long Reach as darkness fell.  Then came the fateful decision:  do we stay on the marked channel with its illuminated buoys, or pull into that well-lighted harbour off to the left and moor for the night?  We stayed on the channel, found a wide spot and dropped anchor.  In the morning we discovered the “harbour” was actually a large barnyard with no docking facilities.  Good call, Brock.  Proud of our navigation success, we headed on into Belleville for breakfast.

The problem came when, full of bacon and confidence, we pulled out of Belleville.  Here was the Moira. There was the bridge across the bay.  What we didn’t notice was a little green marker way out in the middle.  No, we came out of Belleville and turned right.  Before long we heard the juddering thump, thump, thump, bump.  WYB has a long oak keel, and that rock ground about a half-inch off the bottom of it before she eventually floated free.

I’ve heard it said that powerboat skippers are limited to two emotions:  fear and anger.  For the rest of that morning I certainly had the fear part down.  The boat still ran, though with a little vibration.  I couldn’t tell how much damage I had done, but the scraping of the keel over that rock certainly hadn’t done WYB any good.

When we pulled in to Trenton I put on a mask and had a look underneath.  The beautiful, 3” oak keel’s bottom was no longer pristine.  I had run the old girl aground for the first time in her long career.  The prop, protected by the keel, had only had the tips crushed, and I hoped it would get me to Peterborough and back.

At the end of the season, Ross Ayling sent the prop to be recast.  The next time I crumpled it, on a log in the Mud Cut on the Lower Rideau, he pounded it back into shape with two large hammers.  It turned that way without further accident for another twenty years.  I had gained the essential attribute of the successful skipper:  fear.

I hauled the fishing boat home on its trailer, unbolted the crumpled prop and took it in to Brown’s Marina in Chaffey’s for an exchange.  Dave trotted off with it, leaving me time to gaze into the crystal clear water.  Two beautiful splake darted into view.  This had to be an omen!

Surely enough, Dave had a prop, and at a reasonable price.  I was back in business after my navigation lesson.

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