By Bill Longworth
February 18, 2008
“I think we need a GPS for the boat,” I said to my wife as we pulled up to the government dock to unload the car and pack the boat for the eight-mile boat ride to our secluded cottage.
“Just another expensive toy,” she responded. “There are lots of better ways to spend our money.”
“It’d be great to help us across the lake tonight,” I stated, as I surveyed the dark fall sky and the brisk wind which churned up unusually heavy waves. “Usually the light from the moon and stars is enough for me to see the sillouette of the tree line to navigate the way, but tonight it’s impossible to see anything.”
This was a night-time trip I had made hundreds of times. My strategy was always the same. Turn off all the boat lights for better night vision, and drive standing up with my head through the roof hatch to catch my bearings. I always felt, though, that traversing the lake at night was like going through the vast expanses of outer space, as the lake is large and boat traffic is minimal even in daylight hours. In any case, I always figured I would hear the noise of any boats in the vicinity and would simply turn on the navigation lights so our boat could be seen.
“That's a cold wind,” observed my wife as she helped to load the boat. “The sky is black as coal. The only colour I see are the whitecaps of those breaking waves. Perhaps we should stay in town and go over in the morning.”
Despite our second thoughts, we decided to embark on the trip across the lake, figuring we’d be there in a short time and could settle in comfortably for the night.
I always keep enough gas in the tank to get me safely across the lake as you’d never want to run out of gas, especially at night. The large, heavy boat is impossible to move anywhere with the safety paddles I always stowed in the boat. Moving the boat was difficult in still water, but nigh on impossible with any kind of wind, and this night the wind and waves were both quite angry. Perhaps they were angry at me for venturing out when mother-nature was so venomous.
While my gas tank was a little lower than normal on this night, I was confident I had plenty of gas for the trip.
Land is usually quite close for most of the trip but there is a large expanse of open water a mile or so across that has to be crossed. The north wind in this section of the lake has a sweep of about twelve miles to kick up the waves. And this night, the waves were peaking wildly. About a quarter of the way across this open water, I figured I had better slow down a bit for safety’s sake and the emotional comfort of my family, who were huddled under the roof not having any idea where we were in the trip, but, of course, having the usual confidence in my ability to get us to the cottage safely.
I ducked my head under the roof to reach for the control to slow us down a bit and for that brief moment took my eyes off my bearings. As soon as I ducked under the roof, a giant wave struck the boat portside, knocking the bow to the right and changing our direction. I searched the horizon as best I could for the right direction and confidently headed off again.
I eventually found the narrow channel that I had to navigate and headed straight for it. As I entered the channel, it funnelled narrower and narrower, and didn’t at all look like the wide channel I should be in. As I gingerly turned the boat around, hoping that I was not going to run aground or hit submerged logs or rocks, I noticed that my gas gauge was reading dangerously low…and I didn’t know where I was.
Scanning the horizon, I did see a light in the distance, and so I headed for it, figuring that someone there could identify my location. As I approached the light, I recognized that it was the marina and knew then exactly where I was…and where I had been. Good thing I turned around, I thought. We would have bottomed out had we gone much further. The wrong course, though, did burn some precious fuel and the marina was closed. Despite the precarious fuel situation, I still figured that we had enough gas barring any further mishap.
Knowing our location, I once again took my bearings and headed out into the black again, making sure that I didn’t duck down again to lose sight of where I wanted to go. Much to my relief, we finally did get to the cottage, and even to this moment, I am the only one to know of our limited gas supply that night. I saved the stress of this problem all to myself, but Lord knows what would have happened had we run out of gas.
On our arrival at the cottage, my wife, sensing the difficult situation we had been in, suggested we needed that GPS.
“But they are a lot of money,” I replied, silently thinking, “All’s well that ends well,” but strongly censuring myself for our gas shortage while making a mental note to ensure it never happened again.
And, oh yes, I did buy that GPS!