Warren Miller: Row boat becomes the tow boat
Vail, CO, Colorado
I have spent my life lurching from one near disaster to another, and that lurching habit is continuing.
I have not spent much time this summer rowing my dory, and I think there are two reasons for this:
1. I’m still young enough to try to learn how to play golf, though I have found out that life is too short to learn how to play golf, no matter when you start.
2. I have started writing my biography, so I offered to lease my blister-builder rowboat to my friend Ron.
I told Ron that I would tow the boat down to Anacortes, Wash., and he could cruise up from his home in La Conner in his Boston Whaler, and we could meet somewhere for lunch. He would buy lunch, of course, and after lunch, I would have him sign the lease papers for the boat. I am charging him 15 cents a year, plus 3 percent interest annually.
I walked down to my dock on a sunny Sunday morning and launched my rowboat, tied it on a long rope behind my Shamrock powerboat, fired up the engine, turned up the hi-fi and began the 20-mile cruise to where we were meeting for lunch.
Ron drove his antique Boston Whaler 30 minutes west from La Conner, and we met at a nice restaurant. It had a great view of a humongously large freighter that was loading coke from the nearby refinery to be transported somewhere in the world, probably China, to help make aluminum.
Everything worked out great, except I did have a bit of a problem towing the rowboat. I didn’t have a rearview mirror, so I couldn’t constantly monitor the towed rowboat.
About halfway to the restaurant, one of the knots came untied in the tow rope, and the two boats became separated. When I realized what had happened, the rowboat was nowhere to be seen, so I made a U-turn and motored back.
I found the drifting rowboat about a mile and a half back up the channel where I had just come from. As I approached the drifting rowboat, I took my engine out of gear. What I forgot is that as a boat glides along out of gear, the propeller automatically rotates, and my propeller had automatically rotated at least a dozen times while it wound up about 6 feet of half-inch, double-braid Dacron rope around the propeller and the shaft.
My stupid habit of lurching offered me two kinds of solutions. Solution No. 1 – take a sharp knife, dive over the side and cut away the tangled rope. The 48-degree water quickly eliminated that from my brain, and anyway, I couldn’t figure out how I could climb back on the boat while shivering uncontrollably.
Option No. 2 was me trying the engine for a second or two in the reverse gear so that the propeller would revolve the other direction for only two or three revolutions every time I put it in gear.
Somehow this worked, and each time I was able to retrieve about six inches of tangled line. By the time I had done this reverse-gear, unwind-the-rope solution at least a dozen times, the end of the tangled rope broke free. I was able to then re-tie the rowboat behind my powerboat and get back on my way.
Before I did that, however, I got out my handy guide to knot-tying the proper way to ensure that I did it correctly.
Twenty minutes later, I ran into pea-soup fog, and naturally, I don’t have radar on my small boat. I learned years ago that if you see the wake of a boat that is going in your direction, you just follow them and hope they aren’t heading for the rocks.
I arrived about 10 minutes late and tied up at a rusty, old fuel dock with a big sign that said, “Trespassers will be shot.” I didn’t believe the sign, and as I walked up the rusty gangplank, there was a 10-foot-high chain-link fence that was supposed to keep me from going any farther ashore. Fortunately, I found a body-sized hole in it and headed for where Ron’s boat was tied up.
Before we ate, I handed Ron three sets of oars and four packages of Band-Aids for the blisters that he was sure to get while rowing his new boat.
Then we walked up to the restaurant and had a couple of root beers and great shrimp Louie salads. After lunch, he tied his own tow rope on the rowboat and started back home toward La Conner in his Boston Whaler, while I headed back west to our home on the small island.
I called Ron when I got home to see if my rowboat got to his house in La Conner.
You see, Ron has an old-fashioned, “save a nickel, earn a dime” attitude, so the gas gauge on his boat is never over the one quarter full mark. so the gas gauge on his boat is never over the one-quarter-full mark. For this trip, he misjudged the fuel consumption because he was towing my rowboat, and he ran out of gas 800 yards from his dock. Fortunately for him, he had his new rowboat in tow, which he climbed into and towed his old Boston Whaler the rest of the way home.
The Boston Whaler is now for sale. And it sure feels good to have a friend who lurches from one near disaster to the next as much as I do!
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to more than 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff, log onto WarrenMiller.net.
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