The Wreck of the Dog-Powered Craft

At Sea — April 2003
By Capt. Bill Pike

The Wreck of the Dog-Powered Craft
Or why Mom deserved a medal.
 More of this Feature

• Part 1: Dog-Powered Craft
• Part 2: Dog-Powered Craft continued

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• At Sea Index

On a warm summer afternoon 40 years ago, out back of the house where I was attempting to grow up, a heck of an idea hit me. For some reason unbeknownst to anybody, a half-dozen trashed-out, old telephone poles had been deposited at the end of our cornfield and left to just waste away. Maybe it was because these babies had been dumped alongside one another in a suggestive, platform-like configuration. Maybe it was because my father had just commanded me to nix another promising project--the reinvention of gunpowder. Or maybe it was because I'd had an alluring realization while reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: The dark waters of the Oswegatchie River I lived next to ultimately emptied into the vast, cosmopolitan Atlantic Ocean! Whatever it was, I decided to build a raft.

Feverish excitement set in. I sensed I was on the verge of my first, big-time maritime adventure, the precursor to an entire life shot through with exploits afloat. Friends and associates swarmed to the building site. Kids came to carry planks for decking, scavenge tools and nails from various barns, garages, and outbuildings around the farmy landscape, and eventually drag the completed raft to the launch site on the river's edge, about a half mile away. Days passed in a blur, so synched into the project was the whole gang. But for me, nights were a different story. I spent them sleeplessly designing, planning, and solving potential problems in my mind. Dark circles began forming under my eyes. My dog Buck gave me looks of concern.

Buck was my mentor. He was old, wise, worldly, smart, friendly, and selfless to a fault. As the raft slowly took shape, his presence on the job--punctuated by brief stints of chasing rabbits and entertaining females of his species--was inspiring. In fact, it was so inspiring that I began factoring his burly physique into my nighttime brainstorming sessions, a development I believe he intuited with vague foreboding. More to the point, as the completion of hull and superstructure drew near, a cold, hard fact was starting to obtrude: In order to travel to remote ports on the Atlantic Ocean on the raft, I was going to need a reliable source of marine power--Buck!

Engineering the treadmill system was fairly easy in the quiet, well-ordered atmosphere of my moonlit bedroom, and figuring out the interface with the paddlewheels wasn't all that tough either. However, actually building the stuff in the light of day proved so perplexing that after a week of trying, I decided to go ahead and launch the hull and superstructure, and then address the propulsion issue later. Once this decision was made, I noted the disappearance of a nervous tic Buck had developed right after I'd taken treadmill-related measurements of his physiognomy with a tape measure. He seemed calmer, too.

Next page > Part 2: When I say indomitable, I mean indomitable! > Page 1, 2

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

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