Putting Down Roots

in which I am involved in a buzz boat rescue
August 21, 2011, 2:27 pm
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One of my favorite parts of camp is our tubby little rescue boat, a little aluminum skiff with an outboard motor that you have to start like a lawnmower. Even the best of us usually have to yank the cord a half-dozen times to get the motor going, and if you don’t give it just the right amount of gas, it smokes for a while. It’s a charming vehicle. Someone has to start it at the begining of each day, to make sure it still works and to get it warmed up, in case we have to rescue anyone, which we generally don’t. During the regular camp programs, there’s never a real reason to take it out: kayaking and canoeing classes have instructors that can flip tipped boats, the ski boat–finicky as it is–usually can make its way back to shore, and the sailboats can generally make it back on their own strength.

This weekend, though, we’ve got the 177-strong youth group from Boston Chinese Evangelical Church: a whole bunch of city kids who don’t know a thing about boating, and yet who all want to go boating. As we washed up lunch dishes yesterday, Lydia and I nominated ourselves to be the resuce crew for flipped over boats during the afternoon free time.

As we were lifeguarding on the dock, we noticed a neighbor’s motorboat that seemed to be stuck on the rocks in the middle of the lake. The people who had been in the boat were now out of it, and it looked like they couldn’t get back in. At the same time, several of our kayaks were heading towards the cove on the other side of the lake, all set to slip out of our sight. Lydia told me that there was a lifejacket and a walkie talkie in the boat, and that I could head out to redirect the kayaks and check on the boaters. As I cranked the motor, I was thinking about the rescue Beatrice got to do during family camp that involved swimming fast out to a turtled sailboat (the boat had contained a father and two small children), bossing around a father, and muscling the boat upright before it sunk to the bottom of Lake Bunganut. I wanted to be epic like that. I wanted to save someone.

I got the boat started in two pulls and unhooked from the dock. I was ready.

The people in the motorboat, it turns out, weren’t stranded at all: they were just out for an afternoon swim. The kayakers saw me coming and realized my mistake, and I herded them back towards open water like a sheepdog rounding up obedient little lambs. I was keeping a good distance from them, enjoying the sun and the little splashes of water, thinking, as I always do when I’m in the buzz boat, “this is my job.” And then, the motor’s nice pur put-put-puttered out.

I struggled for a while to get it started, but nothing happened. I radioed Charity to tell her I was stuck but not to send anyone yet. I looked around and laughed and started to get the oars out, figuring I could row myself the half mile back to camp, and then I saw a woman waving at me from her lawn, a hundred yards away.

“My husband’s getting the keys to our boat! Just hang on, we’ll be right out!”

And with that, what I had hoped would be a resuce mission turned out to be, well, a rescue mission, just of a different sort. The couple–retired folks from Massachusetts who spend a few weeks each summer on the lake–introduced themselves, guessed that I was from Camp Cedarbrook, and hooked me up to the back of their boat. The woman–her name was Beth–said, “it’s a long row back.” Normally, I’d argue: I like rowing, and I like being self-sufficient, and I like getting myself out of pickles. But sometimes you just need to let people help you. And so, they started up their boat and asked questions about camp, about me, about what I was doing out in the water, and about what I thought happened to the motor on the boat. I shrugged and I laughed, and they shrugged and they laughed, and we puttered back to shore. When we got close enough, I unhooked and rowed myself in, and when I thanked them they just said, “oh, it’s a nice day for a boat ride.”


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