I wanted to act like it wasn’t a big deal. I’d driven boats, after all. Lots of them. Long ones and short ones, ones with small engines and ones with big engines, indeed, ones without engines. I’ve driven nice ones and bad ones, new ones and old ones, fast ones and slow ones. I’d like to think there’s not a style of boat that I haven’t driven, but if I thought that I would be wrong. I haven’t driven a wooden boat, not on purpose and not by myself, not until Monday evening that is.
When I turned 30, there was bitterness. In quick succession, I blew my back up on a hard tennis court at the Princeton Club in Milwaukee, and in an unrelated event had my first, and only, colonoscopy. These were not shining moments. When I sat in front of the doctor, both the back one and the other one, he told me that my injuries could be caused by stress. He asked if I had been experiencing a lot of stress. I told both of those doctors that I have been under an undue amount of stress ever since May 13th of that year, because on that date I turned 30 and on that date I was never given the keys to my father’s boat as I had been promised would happen for such a long, long time. I told the doctors this story, and they agreed that both of these incidents were likely caused by the incessant lies of my father, which is similar to dreams of my father except nothing like that at all.
And so it came and went, my 30th year, and then the years passed, one after another, quickly, and mercilessly. I never did get to drive that boat, not on my 30th birthday or any birthday since. By the time my 35th birthday was tolerated/celebrated, the thought of driving that old wooden Chris Craft didn’t even enter my mind. Why should it? I hadn’t been able to drive it for the past five years, so why should this year be any different? It shouldn’t, and so it wasn’t, and the summer passed by with no mention of driving that boat, no thought of driving that boat, no dream of ever driving that boat.
My father lives his life in fast forward. All 69 of his years have been rushed. He rushes to have gas station coffee in the morning, and he rushes home to eat cereal for breakfast, and then he rushes off to somewhere, for something, but for exactly what he isn’t entirely sure. He only knows that he must get there quickly, and so he goes. He lives with a fear of rain, constant and unending rain, which is why anything weather dependent must always be done immediately. Cover that tractor with this tarp! It’s going to rain! Mow that lawn quickly! It’s going to rain! Get down here and cover the boat! It’s going to rain!
Sometimes it does rain, but most of the time it doesn’t. It just looks like rain, and so my dad plans on rain. Always rain. This has been the case forever. This is also why he pulls his boats from the water earlier than anyone with a private pier should ever pull their boats from the water. Last week the Cobalt was pulled. It was 75, or so, and sunny, without a cloud in the sky and barely a breeze rippling the surface of our deep lake, but still, the boat had to be pulled. It would be winter soon, after all. I think winter arrives once it starts to snow, but my dad feels winter in his bones while still sweating under a summer sun.
On Monday, it was the Chris Craft’s time to be pulled. To be driven, for the third or fourth time all year, from the pier and to the launch. I imagine this boat is tired of doing this. Some bits of it are varnished or chromed or sanded each off season, and then, in very late spring, it is towed from its barn and pushed into the lake, where it runs quickly- but not too quickly- to the shade of a pier canopy. It will hang there, bored out of its mind for a few months, driven only sparingly, before it must reverse course and drive from pier back to launch. Its entire life has been spent within a four mile circle. And this boat knows the lake is seven miles long.
As I am the only son with some flexibility of schedule, I was the one to arrive at my dad’s pier at 5:30 Monday evening. The water was calm, the sky deep blue, the sun fading somewhere over a farmer’s field to the West of Williams Bay. I figured, as with every Chris Craft launching/pulling episode I’ve ever been part of, that I’d take my dad’s truck while he drove the boat, and I’d meet him at the Williams Bay launch. Instead, without warning and without a lesson on operating procedure, my dad told me to meet him at the launch. I was to drive the boat. My son jumped aboard, and after cranking the engine for what only felt like 10 minutes I grabbed the giant throttle and pulled it towards me. The old engine purred and rotated that old prop just enough to drag the boat from its slip. I was free of the pier, free of my dad’s boating company. Just free.
The boat drove like I thought it would. It isn’t agile, it isn’t fast, it isn’t powerful and it isn’t particularly sleek. It isn’t the nicest boat on the lake, nor is it the nicest boat within 300′ of the shore path in either direction. It was covered in dust, draped with so many webs from so many spiders. A towel was strewn across the engine cover, life jackets littered the floor. The boat creaked a bit, and cracked some, the engine dutifully but not enthusiastically doing what it was told. I cruised north, past Pier 290, and towards the launch. My hands gripped the old cracked wheel, not tightly but not loosely, either. My son stood next to me, and I couldn’t help but smile. The boat was everything I expected it to be, and easily so much more. The trick now is to make a habit of it.