The Wreck of the Dog-Powered Craft Page 2

At Sea — April 2003
By Capt. Bill Pike

The Wreck of the Dog-Powered Craft
Part 2: When I say indomitable, I mean indomitable!
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• Part 2: Dog-Powered Craft continued

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Launch day arrived and with it, a big problem: The incredible weight of the raft made it immovable, even for a dozen kids all deeply motivated by the spirit of adventure. The river sparkled like diamonds in the sunny distance, tantalizingly beyond reach; the chances of actually being able to cruise over to England on our telephone-pole raft were starting to look a little slim. Always a more inventive tactician than I, Buck aimed his nose toward our house. "Your Mother's home," he seemed to advise.

I won't go into the details of the long, grueling haul to the river, except to say that if you've ever seen a flick called Fitzcarraldo, during which a cast of thousands actually pulls a real ship over a real mountain, you've got a good idea of the kind of effort the experience elicited from my mother. Well into her dotage, she used to toss the episode around freely in conversation with contemporaries or anyone else who would listen, mostly as a grisly example of the lengths to which parents go to support their children in harebrained schemes. Suffice it to say, we all ultimately gathered at the river, with the raft; we were sweaty, dirty, hot, exhausted, and intrigued by the novelty of the situation, which is where I need to call a temporary halt to my story and briefly fast-forward to the present.

A couple of nights ago, after a lengthy meeting of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla I belong to, four guys and I wound up sitting around a table at the flotilla station. We'd been hashing over operational details for a couple of hours. It was late, the fringe benefits of volunteerism were starting to feel a little fringy, and we were all tired and ready to go home, ASAP.

Then somebody started telling a story--a stirring tale of an auxiliary boat that had made a valiant rescue some months before. Long distances were mentioned. Plus driving rain and wild sea conditions, with wind speeds approaching 36 knots, a figure substantiated by the anemometer on the station's roof. Everybody was mesmerized by these details and energized by the indomitable spirit of adventure that fostered them, the same indomitable spirit that's been prompting people to build or buy boats and take them to unlikely places since the dawn of time. We stuck around the station for a whole extra hour.

When I say indomitable, I mean indomitable! As soon as Mom and we kids were able to slide the giant hodge-podge of telephone poles, old pine boards, and rusted nails into the water, it began to go down--glub, glub, glub! Within minutes even the flag atop the superstructure disappeared into the dark depths with a lugubrious burp. What had happened was simple enough. Exposed to the elements for years, the telephone poles had become totally water-logged--they'd simply sunk like rocks when launched, taking everything else with them. Mom lit a cigarette, exhaled with existential ennui, and said, "Damn, Bill!" Buck looked on stoically.

Me? I was already thinking about how I could create a speedboat from a big, slab-sided wooden box my grandfather used to mix mortar. There just had to be a good, high-powered engine laying around somewhere. And maybe a steering wheel!

Next page > Part 1: Feverish excitement set in. > Page 1, 2

This article originally appeared in the March 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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