Retracing the steps you took, or rather the waters you swooped across, during a combat tour that enlivened your youth need not be a totally grim endeavor. In fact, there are aspects of it, I am finding out, that can actually be fun. For example, a couple of days ago on the Song Thu Bon, the Vietnamese skipper of our little single-diesel-powered double-ender (sort of a sampan, I’d say, with a roof and benches) let me drive for a while and I had a superb time doing it.
Now! We’re talkin’ simple here, folks. To make this baby go, you just sit in a folding chair that is balanced rather precariously over the heart of the craft, an uncovered Yanmar diesel engine that makes a pretty good racket. The steering system is comprised of pipes and gears essentially and it exceedingly direct…I mean you can feel the rudder’s resistance to the water’s flow as a shudder in the great big wheel.
See the gizmo I’ve got my right hand on? That’s the throttle…you pull up on it to go faster and, to slow down, you reach over and pull a wire that’s attached to an upright supporting the roof.
Gear changes are just as elemental. Shifting reminded me of an old Ford tractor I used to run as a kid. Only the knob was behind me. No big deal, though. Just ease off on the throttle, reach back there, pull ‘er into neutral, and then into reverse, let’s say. She decidedly back to port, too.
Anyway, the skipper runs his boat after dark, dealing with wicked traffic and literally thousands of islands, bays, lagoons, and channels, with very little in the way of aids to navigation (green, right, returning…not red, right, returning), and no radar, no VHF, no charts, no nuthin’. Not that I’m recommending such a minimalist navigation, of course, but it does make me wonder. Could I do with a tad less complication in my life?
Performance? As you perhaps know, I love single-engine diesel boats and this one was so darn efficient that we bought fuel at a riverside gas station in a jug not much bigger that a quart water bottle. And we put five or six hours on the Yanmar looking for, squinting for, pointing hopefully toward, and talking about old PBRs.
But no dice. And no dice on the Han River in Danang either. And what the heck. I’ll add a few pictures below so you can see some of the related stuff Jim and I are doing.
With the backwaters of two rivers behind us, we are checking out the Perfume River in Hue this morning—we’ll do four or five hours I’m guessing, with our eyes peeled for a ferry boat we’ve been told may a re-purposed PBR—and then we hit the trail by car for Dong Ha and the Cua Viet.